Sunday, February 8, 2009

Becky McClanahan—aka Marion the Librarian

After Mike McGrew checked in from Lukenbach, Texas, I started wondering what ever became of Becky McClanahan who played opposite Mike in the Music Man. I wonder no longer, Jeff Genet supplied this biography of Rebecca which she has OK'd for our perusal. Becky is an accomplished poet, author and teacher. Her work speaks for itself, but Garrison Keillor also speaks for it here. Rebecca and her husband Donald moved to New York City, here's a piece Becky wrote about the move, and her website is here. Congratulations Ms. McClanahan on your brilliant career! - Jerry

Rebecca was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and lived the first year of her life less than a mile from her maternal grandparents’ farm, the spiritual homeplace to which she often returned for visits during her childhood and adult years. She is one of six living children of Juanita and Paul McClanahan, whose Marine Corps career occasioned family moves to several states, including North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and California.

Her interest in words came early. Thanks in part to her Great Aunt Bessie, who was an avid reader and with whom she shared a room for several years, Rebecca read everything she could get her hands on--from the Bible and classic novels and poetry to crime thrillers and Hardy Boys mysteries and seed catalogues and the backs of cereal boxes. Her first original creations, beginning when she was six, were songs she composed in the bathtub, one of the few places where she could be alone. Her first payment for writing was in 1964, when she won $15 in a contest sponsored by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In the essay she made an admirable case against alcohol, which she had not yet tasted.

As far back as she can remember, Rebecca has held outside jobs--first to put herself through college and graduate school and later to help support her writing obsessions. Some jobs were odder than others. Her many paid occupations have included church organist, proofreader, soloist for weddings and funerals, nanny, school teacher, secretary, summer-stock actress, Avon lady, and even one of those unfortunate souls condemned to stand behind the return counter at the Sears Catalog Store.

Rebecca earned a B.A. from California State University and a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. The writing of her dissertation, she recalls, was the most painful encounter with words she has ever known or ever hopes to know, an experience she locates somewhere between the seventh and eighth circles of Dante’s Hell. Many times during those dissertation years, in fact, she fantasized about returning herself to the return counter at Sears. But thankfully, the years in South Carolina proved more than bearable, for there she met and married Donald Devet,later moving with him to Charlotte, North Carolina. While in Charlotte, Donald established and performed with Grey Seal Puppets and Rebecca served as Writer-in-Residence for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, a tenure for which she received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education. Rebecca estimates that she taught over 5000 students, grades K-12, over the course of her fifteen years in the program.

In 1998, Rebecca and Donald finally realized a long-deferred dream: they moved to New York City. At the time of this writing, Rebecca has published nine books—of poetry, nonfiction, and writing instruction—and is hard at work on two new writing projects. When she isn’t writing, teaching in one of several writing programs, mentoring, or giving talks and readings, Rebecca is putting in hours at another occupation: professional aunt. The current count is 15 nephews and nieces and 9 greats-. Some days she fears she is channeling Great Aunt Bessie and that she will live out her twilight years sharing a double bed with one of the great nieces, reading seed catalogues aloud until they both fall, exhausted, into dream. Other days, she thinks maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go. Certainly there are worst fates. And, yes, she still composes songs in the bathtub.

Rebecca McClanahan's newest book is The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings (University of Georgia, 2002). She has also published four collections of poetry and three books about writing, including Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively (Writer's Digest Books, 1999). She has received the Pushcart Prize, the Wood Prize from Poetry, and the Carter prize for the essay from Shenandoah. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry 1998, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, and Boulevard. Her Website address is

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