I’ve just now finished the final proofing for my next book, Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries. Today we’ll order a paperback proof to check the quality of the photos one last time, then I can order the books and start fulfilling the Kickstarter pledges. The book will be available to everyone else in October.
It’s such an exciting time. The genesis of this book began in 1994, when my friend Blair gave me a box of photos he’d taken in cemeteries. Automatism Press published the first book inspired by them in 1996 and ever since, I have wanted to do a sequel. This book exceeds all my expectations.
I cannot wait for everyone to see how beautiful this new book is. I knew the text was going to be powerful, emotionally affecting, and life-affirming, but Automatism Press had never done a full-color book before. The photos truly are all I had hoped.
If you are interested in preordering a copy, you can drop me a note via my bookshop and I will let you know when the books are available.
In the meantime, enjoy some of the photos from the book! My phone isn’t really doing them justice, but you can get the idea.
Old Stirling Cemetery, photographed by Ann Bollen.
Unnamed graveyard, photographed by Greg Roensch.
St. Stephen’s Cemetery, photographed by Emerian Rich.
I was completely burnt out by the time the Death’s Garden Revisited Kickstarter ended in April, but I meant to post that not only did the book reach its funding goal, it bypassed it by a factor of five!
The book is in the proofreader’s hands now. Once she finishes with the text, I should be able to finalize the book’s layout and start ordering printer samples. Backers will have their copies on schedule in October.
I’ll post the order link for everyone else once I have the book is ready for preorders.
Tomorrow I’m giving a talk called “Using Crowdfunding to Support Cemetery Projects” at the virtual portion of the annual Association for Gravestone Studies Conference. I’m excited to share what I learned during my Kickstarter.
Almost 30 years ago, I received a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.
I decided to put together a book to feature Blair’s photos. I planned initially to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story they were eager to tell.
The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people — people I knew, even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with, either because family members were buried there, or because they’d visited it on vacation, or because they’d grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.
The contributors varied from people I met through zines to a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, writers for the LA Weekly, professional artists and photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and most incredibly, punk rock diva Lydia Lunch, who provided some glorious photos. As the book came together, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries blew away my expectations.
The initial print run of 1000 copies sold out 18 months after the book came out. I’d only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once the books were gone, Death’s Garden went out of print.
Over the years, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.
Marilyn’s lipstick-pink marble
Seven years ago, I did a project on this blog where I invited people to tell stories about a cemetery to which they had connected. The stories ranged from falling in love in a cemetery to exploring vacation sites, from leading cemetery tours to visiting family members’ graves, from pilgrimages to famous graves to rediscovering the forgotten and alone.
At this moment, I am in the process of assembling a sequel to that original Death’s Garden book. Like the first book, Death’s Garden Revisited will explore all the different ways people relate to cemeteries: through family ties, as sites of history or settings for one-of-a-kind artwork, whether pursuing genealogy or paying respects at famous people’s resting places.
I’m thrilled by how the book is coming together so far. Stay tuned to this blog for the announcement of the Table of Contents and cover artist!
Every so often, someone writes me to ask for a list of cemetery books I recommend. I haven’t had a list assembled, so the best I could do was point people toward the 171 cemetery books I’ve reviewed on Goodreads.
Slightly more useful was the Listopia list I started of Must-Have Cemetery Books. 82 people have voted on the list, adjusting the ranking of the books beyond what I would choose, but it will give you a good idea of what’s popular.
Finally, I have a solution to the cemetery book list dilemma! Bookshop.org allowed me to put together a list of Cemetery Books Every Taphophile Must Have. I was limited to books available on their site, so it doesn’t include some of my favorites that have gone out of print. (Those appear on the other lists, but you’ll have to scour ABE Books for them.)
If you’d like to start — or add to — your own cemetery library, the Bookshop.org list will set you up nicely.
You should know that I am an affiliate at Bookshop.org, so I earn a small commission on any books you order from either of my lists. (The other list is my books available on Bookshop.org. It also doesn’t include everything, but I’m trying to work that out.)
Remember, you can always order a copy of my cemetery books directly from me by clicking on the bookstore tab above.
199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die came out four years ago today. My encyclopedia of graveyards, tombs, and burial places spanned the US and circled the globe. It never stood a chance at being comprehensive, but I tried to make it as wide-ranging as possible.
I’m not sure if it’s obvious to anyone but me, but 199 Cemeteries is my most intentionally political book. From the start, I didn’t want it to be a collection of stories about dead White men, so I knew I would include Black History, Native American heroes, and Suffragettes. The real turning point for me, though, came the morning after the 2016 election.
Powazaki Cemetery of Poland, whose records were destroyed during World War II
In the fall of 2016, I joined a group called Shut Up & Write that met on Wednesday mornings at the Borderlands Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. We sat down at the big tables in the back of the cafe and everyone said their name and what they intended to work on that morning. Then we put our heads down over our own writing and silently worked for several hours.
By November, I’d learned most of everyone’s names and their recurring projects, but I hadn’t really gotten to know any of them. We were pleasant acquaintances, nothing more. Still, when I’d gone to bed on election day, Hillary Clinton was winning. When I got up the next morning, I could not believe the news. I thought about taking the day off but, to be honest, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to bury myself in work. And, election or no, I had a deadline to complete 199 Cemeteries by the end of January. I couldn’t afford to get depressed.
The Jewish Cemetery of Chernivitsi, Ukraine
In a daze, frightened for my kid and my friends, I packed up my laptop and notes and went to Borderlands. Z’ev, the cafe manager, was kind. I settled at the table in the back and watched the other writers drift in. We all talked briefly about our disappointment and shock, our sense of betrayal by the rest of the country. I discovered how much more we had in common than just our creative pursuits.
As the writing session progressed, people wept silently. We passed a box of tissues back and forth. Some of them were simply journaling. Others were writing letters to the editor or outlining articles or penning essays. I sat there with my cemetery notes, wondering how I could possibly make sense of what had just happened…and became increasingly angry.
The Soul-Consoling tower at the Manzanar concentration camp.
My inclusive table of contents morphed. I believe fiercely that humans have more in common than we have differences. I believe that we are all in this together, all of us around the world. We have to get along right here, care for each other right here, and care for the earth. We have one planet. There is nowhere for us to go.
So my table of contents expanded. I wanted to include the Islamic prophets and the artists of Russia, the Apartheid martyrs of South Africa, the world’s indigenous cultures, if they welcomed visitors to their burial grounds. I wanted to examine the legacies of genocide and racism and war. I wanted to make the point — 199 times — that we are all going to end up dead. What matters, what will be remembered, is what we do right here, right now.
My contribution to making the world a better place, as small as it might be, is 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.
Monument to the Native warriors killed at the Little Bighorn National Monument, placed more than a century after the battle.
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