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Kratz Center for Creative Writing Presents Carolyn Chute

Release date: October 22, 2009

© Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, 2009

Carolyn Chute — a novelist and founder of a nonpartisan populist militia — will read from her works on Thursday, October 22, at 8 p.m. in the Hyman Forum of the Athenaeum.

A presentation by Goucher College's Kratz Center for Creative Writing, this reading is free and open to the public. Tickets must be reserved in advance, however, by calling 410-337-6333 or e-mailing boxoffice@goucher.edu.

Chute has said her life in impoverished, isolated parts of Maine served as the “involuntary research” for her five novels, which interweave rural domestic drama and themes of social justice.

A high school dropout at age 16, Chute married almost immediately and gave birth to her first child. After the marriage ended in divorce, Chute raised her daughter by working a long series of dead-end jobs — including plucking chickens, driving a school bus, and working on a potato farm, rarely making more than $2,000 a year.

It was only after marrying her current husband, an illiterate jack-of-all-trades named Michael Chute, in 1978, that she completed high school at night and began taking classes at the University of Maine. She started writing stories while attending a writing workshop there and eventually had fiction published in magazines such as Grand Street and Ploughshares before beginning work on her first novel, The Beans of Egypt, Maine. Published in 1985, the book became a national bestseller and launched her reputation as an eminent voice for America’s working poor.

Chute’s next two books, Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts (1988) and Merry Men (1994), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, are also set in the town of Egypt, Maine.

Her 1999 novel Snow Man deals with the underground militia movement, something that Chute has devoted more of her time to in recent years. She is the leader of a group known as the Second Maine Militia, a loosely organized and ideologically diverse group of working-class people living all over Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Chute often refers to the 2MM as a “no-wing” militia because its members include Democrats, Republicans, Greens, libertarians, feminists, and anarchists — all of whom share a deep commitment to Second Amendment rights and extreme distrust of the Fortune 500, Wall Street, the U.S. government, the United Nations, and most other large organizations.

Chute often speaks out publicly about class issues in America and publishes The Fringe, a monthly collection of in-depth political journalism, short stories, and intellectual commentary on current events. She once ran a satiric campaign for governor of Maine.

In 2008, she published The School on Heart's Content Road, which deals with a polygamist compound in Maine under scrutiny after an article on them goes national. The project was originally conceived as a novel of more than 2,000 pages, which has since been broken up into a projected five-part cycle.

Chute is also the author of a book of nonfiction (with Oliver Pierce) titled Up River: The Story of a Maine Fishing Community (1996), and her work appears in Inside Vacationland: New Fiction from the Real Maine, edited by Mark Melnicove (1985), and I Was Content and Not Content: The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry (2000).

She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Thorton Wilder Fellowship.