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Story of a Place That Never Was: Valente Reads from “The Habitation of the Blessed”

Island author Catherynne M. Valente, a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award Nominee, treats us to another new novel (she introduced Palimpsest last year) at her Longfellow Books reading on November 18th.

When I don’t see Catherynne on the ferry, I know that she’s either writing or off on a book tour, connecting with friends. Her upcoming travels launch The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, the first volume of a trilogy that tells the story of, well, a place that never was. Think Shangri-La, Thule, or the Fountain of Youth – legendary places that have fascinated explorers and writers for centuries.

The Habitation of the Blessed imagines the “Kingdom of Prester John,” a utopia described by an anonymous, widely-disseminated 12th document. Pope Alexander III’s conviction about the existence of this marvelous kingdom led him to write to Prester John in 1177. Valente asks “What if there was such a place…where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?”

The Habitation of the Blessed

Come hear from The Habitation of the Blessed‘s protagonist,¬† a Brother Hiob of Luzerne on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century. Brother Hiob discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books that chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John.

November 18, 2010 7 p.m.

Longfellow Books

Portland, Maine

The Habitation of the Blessed, 2010 from Nightshade Books

Catherynne Valente, “Palimpsest”

Catherynne, taking a break in her office, surrounded by feathered masks and shadow boxes of her creation

Catherynne, taking a break in her office, surrounded by feathered masks and shadow boxes of her creation

It never ceases to amaze me how Peaks Island attracts talent to itself as though it were a magnet, poised two miles offshore, lonely for companionship. The island deployed some form of magic when it convinced author Catherynne Valente and her fiance, Dmitri, to commit to renting a house and moving here without previously setting foot in Maine. “It might have been Stephen King novels that drew me here; I’m not sure, but it’s been a dream to live in Maine,” Catherynne told me over one of Dmitri’s fabulous cups of coffee. You may not have met Catherynne on the ferry yet in the way that islanders do. A prolific author with numerous novels and short stories to her credit, she spends a lot of time hidden away on Central Avenue writing. One of her books, Orphan’s Tales, won the 2008 Mythopoeic Award, an honor shared with none other than the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Yolen, and J.K. Rowling (those are just some of the ones I recognized). Shortly after moving here, Bantam Books published her newest, Palimpsest, a fantasy novel which tells the story of Palimpsest, a city that lives somewhere between dreaming, desire, and maps of the city tattooed on the skin of those fated to make the passage (nice YouTube trailer, Catherynne!).

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

When I asked her how she titled the book, Catherynne replied “Palimpsest is a perfect metaphor for a city, the way it is built over and over upon itself.” To launch this book, Catherynne traveled for several months on book tour, most recently returning from the World Science Fiction Society‘s convention in Montreal. The coming year will be a busy one for her as she works on a historical novel based on a retelling of a Russian folktale. If that isn’t enough, she’s also preparing for a November wedding that occurs on the same day that the World Fantasy Awards will announce its winners; her short story, “Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica“, has garnered one of the nominations. Good luck to the rest of us in keeping up with her!

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