Merrell and McMullan Will Speak at Book and Author Luncheon


McMullan Photo

James McMullan is one of two authors who will speak at the John Jermain Memorial Library’s annual Book and Author Luncheon this Sunday. 

By Stephen J. Kotz

Two Sag Harbor writers, Susan Scarf Merrell and James McMullan, who have both published new works this year, will be the featured speakers when the Friends of the John Jermain Memorial Library hold their annual Book and Author Luncheon on Sunday, December 7, from noon to 2:30 p.m. at the American Hotel. The event is already sold out.

Both writers said they are happy to lend a hand to the library, which they both described as a community treasure.

“I love this library. I’ve spent a lot of time writing in the old building, and the people at the library have always been so good to me,” said Ms. Merrell who won a seat on the first elected library board. “I’m very committed to what this library brings to our community.”

“I’m so happy this little town of Sag Harbor has such a vital library,” added Mr. McMullan. “On the human level, I’m very impressed. We’re so lucky to have those kind of people on the library staff.”

Ms. Merrell describes her second novel, “Shirley: A Novel,” as a book of suspense and obsession that was based on her own fascination with the writer Shirley Jackson, who lived in Benington, Vermont, with her husband, the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman.

Merrell Photo
Susan Scarf Merrell

In the novel, a young woman named Rose moves into the writer’s former home with her professor husband and slowly begins to believe she is living in a gothic horror writer’s novel, Ms. Merrell said. She is haunted by the ghost, real or imagined, of the writer who both idealizes and believes is linked to the disappearance of a student from Benington College years earlier.

Rose, Ms. Merrell said, “doesn’t really now how to be an adult and a mother and she becomes obsessed with Shirley Jackson who she thinks is a brilliant writer and great mother.”

Like her two previous books, Ms. Merrell said “Shirley” grew out of her own deep interest in Ms. Jackson and she weaves events from the writer’s life throughout.

Ms. Merrell is also the author of “ The Accidental Bond: How Sibling Connections Influence Adult Relationships” and the novel,  “A Member of the Family,” and other short stories and essays. She teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton College and is fiction editor of TSR: The Southampton Review.

Her speaking partner, Mr. McMullan, is well known for his theater posters and book illustrations. He described his memoir, “Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood,” as “a project I had started myself, with no editor or art director involved. I did more than half the book before I ever approached the publisher. I knew this was a book I was going to do whether or not it ever gets published or not.”

In the book Mr. McMullan pairs each page of prose with an illustration, which describes his childhood in China and the moves he made halfway around the world and back, following the Japanese invasion in World War II.

Although Mr. McMullan said he would not characterize his memoir as “a heavy” book, he said it explored the complicated relationship he had with his parents and the upheaval in his life that came with the war.

“I’m going to speak about why it took me so long to write the book and the feelings I had about the story, the anxieties the story brought up,” he said, “and how it was an amazing act of moving through the process. It’s some of the best painting I’ve ever done in my life.”

Besides his freelance work, Mr. McMullan is the principal poster artist for Lincoln Center, the illustrator with his wife, the author Kate McMullan, of 12 children’s books, the designer of U.S. postage stamps, and a teacher for many years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He is also the author of three books on his work, “Revealing Illustrations: The Art of James McMullan,” “The Theater Posters of James McMullan” and “More McMullans: The Lincoln Center Theater Posters, 1987-2012, a book on drawing,  many articles and reviews.