Key Porter Books is located on The Esplanade not far from the railway line that splits downtown Toronto cleanly off from its own waterfront. I made my way there several weeks ago to meet with senior editor Barbara Berson. A native of New York, she takes pleasure in the ways that this part of the city looks like the "Big Apple." I take pleasure in it too, but not because it reminds me of home.
I first spoke to Barbara last February when I applied to Key Porter for an Ontario Writer's Grant. Even then I knew that I wanted to write a book about collaborating with my mother to produce the Fabrications exhibit. I was unsuccessful on that first attempt, but Barbara wrote me a note encouraging me to pursue my idea. Months passed during which I grappled with exhibit text, Elm Street magazine and the documentary for CBC's "This Morning". It wasn't until after Fabrications actually opened that I was able to describe the book that I want to write. It turns out to be a book that Key Porter would like to publish.
"Seamstress's Daughter" will begin with scraps of autobiography, tracing the path of my growing up through the outfits that Mom sewed for me: our successes, our mistakes, and the dilemma of our sometimes conflicting visions of how a girl should look. Chapter two will take the reader across the generations, into the mother-daughter divide that Mom and I have journeyed through over the past couple of years. It will lead into a third chapter that focuses on Fabrications as "the little exhibit that could." What questions does it raise about museums as public spaces? From there I want to move into a chapter on the wedding dress itself, its symbolic meanings for the women whose dresses constituted the exhibit and also for women who rejected the form. My portrait of the dress would then yield to a discussion about women's work and the peculiar ways in which my mother and I, although differently, are both "pieceworkers" in this economy. This is true in spite of profound shifts in women's social roles over the past four decades. As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
With introductions, conclusion, and 35-40 photographs for illustration, "Seamstress's Daughter" will be a substantial volume. (Will it come to rest in the bookcase in the front hall??) During my visit to Key Porter, Barbara and I envisioned a somewhat oversized paperback (with nice jacket flaps) for easy reading. I expect to sign a contract soon with a deadline for summer delivery of the manuscript.
My next task is to free up the time required for writing. That may come as a surprise to my colleagues down on Queen Street.
What joy! What terror! What next???