PLATTSBURGH — Get a jump on Veterans Day with U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army veteran Suzanne S. Rancourt, an award-winning, author, who will read from her original works 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10 at Bookburgh Books in Champlain Centre.
“It's Veterans Day weekend,” Rancourt said.
“It's an act of gratitude. It's an act of acknowledging not just only military veterans but first responders. It's a way of giving back. The fact that it is in Plattsburgh where so many people helped me out, it's a way to give thanks to those folks.”
BRAGGING ON BRAGA
Her latest 202-page collection, “Murmurs at the Gate,” released by Unsolicited Press in May, contains poems that she wrote in the early '80s here when she worked at the Plattsburgh YMCA, Head Start, St. Peter's School aftercare program or participated in open-mic readings hosted by Dr. Thomas J. Braga, a SUNY Plattsburgh professor of English emeritus.
“Tom Braga really encouraged me,” Rancourt said.
“He is the one that created a forum that was safe and respectful for new writers. It's really important to give thanks and to acknowledge those who have helped us.
That's part of that community aspect.”
Rancourt commends Braga for having the courage to create and cultivate an expressive arts forum with phenomenal longevity.
Years ago, she was co-founder with Jeff Cochran and Pat Ostrander of Local Vocals, an open mic for music, story, song and poetry.
“Jeff was working at the deli that allowed us to use the space,” Rancourt said.
“All three of us had been inspired, especially Jeff and myself, because Jeff was also a writer, again I don't think people realize how significant Tom Braga's nonjudgmental presence and passion for literature and writing really set the stage for the creative seeds.”
The other reason why this is such a significant reading for Rancourt is it's a rural community.
“So many of the veteran's retreats or retreats that are created for first-responders, veterans, PTSD, families and so forth, they are all so very far away or they're in large cities,” she said.
“If you live rurally, you tend to get lost in the shuffle. I was born and raised in rural communities and I've always lived in rural communities. That's a special place in my heart.
“This is an opportunity for people to come out, ask questions, connect and find ways to not only to use their writing, but their arts in general to help people tell stories that they think for whatever reason didn't think was important but they are. They are extremely important. Our stories of survival and experience and resiliency: this is the fiber of community.”
Her work is published in the “Journal of Military Experience, Volume II,” and she will lead a writing workshop for the upcoming Nov. 15-17 Songwriting: With Soldiers retreat at the Carey Institute for Global Good.
Next, she will lead another workshop for Veterans Writing Program Initiative sponsored by the Amherst Writers & Artists at the Carey Institute.
“We don't have to be award-winning anything,” Rancourt said.
“Our voice is already a powerful voice because we are a part of that fabric and that alone is significant. So this is an opportunity to honor and welcome all of that.”
It doesn't matter what branch of the military a person was in or whether they're firefighter or EMT or any number of occupations where they may be trauma involved.
“If one person serves, the entire family certainly serves,” she said.
Rancourt is the recipient of the 2001 Native Writers' Circle of the Americas First Book Award for her debut collection, “Billboard in the Clouds.”
Northwestern University Press just sent it for a second printing.
“For a book of poetry to go to a second print by a large press, that is good,” Rancourt said.
She encourages people to purchase books from independent presses and independent booksellers like Bookburgh Books, who typically host such readings as Rancourt's couple of times a month.
“We are in a stretch right now where we've been running them weekly for the fall, Charles Loscalzo, general manager, said.
“We will lighten up for the holiday season. During the winter, it will resume weekly or bi-weekly, and then in the summer it lessens up again. People are distracted with the weather and all kinds of other things. We are trying to gauge demand, interest and it's pretty flexible.”
Part of Bookburgh Books' mission is to promote literacy and the arts in the community.
“There is a strong, local arts community,” Loscalzo said.
“A lot of local authors have approached us about carrying their books, and we have a very good selection of local authors and part of that is to give them exposure. This is a reason to do the readings. We have a wonderful location in Champlain Centre mall that we're very happy with. It's been well received. Physically, it's a comfortable space.”
In the store's rear is a “Community Room,” which is flexible and can double for merchandising or an event space.
“We can clear the tables,” he said.
“We have a lectern. So why are we doing this? Because we want to encourage these type of activities and give authors a venue to promote their works.”
Last month, Bookburgh celebrated its two-year anniversary.
It regularly supports the North Country Honor Flight and other veterans' initiatives.
'OPEN TO IDEAS'
Rancourt will emcee an open mic after her reading and veterans are welcome to share their work.
“Most of the time, we do a question and answer with people,” Loscalzo said.
“It's more than a static reading but that's largely up to the author. A lot of the public is interested in the writing process, how did you get your book published, what did it take to do this, in addition to the content of the material itself.”
He said the discussions are usually pretty lively.
“People like the opportunity to talk to somebody who actually has their work out in print,” Loscalzo said.
“Somebody like Suzanne in particular, She's won awards. She's highly regarded. She's got national exposure, so her support of veterans and her support of the art form, they all complement each other. So much the better.
“We're always open to ideas and suggestions. It's a mutual thing. We do want to do whatever we can do to promote anyone who is going this kind of stuff.”
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