This spring, with the publication of Bette Howland’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, A Public Space Books restores to the literary canon an extraordinarily gifted writer, who was recognized as a major talent, with Guggenheim and MacArthur “genius” fellowships, before all but disappearing from public view for decades, until nearly the end of her life when she was rediscovered.
Bette Howland herself was an outsider—an intellectual from a Jewish working-class neighborhood in Chicago; a divorcée and single mother, to the disapproval of her family; an artist chipped away at by poverty and self-doubt. Each of these facets plays a central role in her work. Saul Bellow, Howland’s mentor, champion, and (for a time) lover, urged her to mine her deepest emotions for her art. It was a model for writing she embraced.
With direct and powerful use of language in the tradition of Lucia Berlin, Kathleen Collins, and Grace Paley, Bette Howland chronicles the tensions of her generation. She is a wry, brilliant observer, and a writer of great empathy and sly, joyous humor.
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage showcases the full formal and emotional range of a brilliant writer in a collection that spans the entirety of her career.