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Upper Valley Inspires Dartmouth College Literary Journal ‘40 Towns’



Friday, May 02, 2014
Seven Days recently featured a project called 40 Towns , a literary journal written by students in Dartmouth College creative nonfiction courses that aims to document life in the Upper Valley.

Find the Seven Days piece here, and the 40 Towns website here.

When I first saw the 40 Towns site a few weeks back, I’ll admit I sort of wrote it off. I read the tops of a few stories, and they didn’t really grab me.

But the Seven Days article pointed me in the direction of a few pieces that really gripped me, especially one called The Shady Lady: Children of the Transient Motel by Danny Valdes. (You might recognize Valdes as one of the Dartmouth students who filed a claim against the school with the U.S. Department of Education over its response to sexual harassment claims on campus.) The piece describes some of the people and situations Valdes came across in writing about the Shady Lawn Motel in White River Junction.

I liked the simple profiles that emerged from the piece — of a young pregnant woman struggling with depression, of a black man who had a hard time finding acceptance in his adopted white Upper Valley family and community, of three siblings who play together in the motel parking lot.

And I liked that there was no trace of pretension that is often associated with the Ivy Leagues, and even a recognition of commonality between author and subject, as in this passage:

Her name is Maddy. Her mother left her dad three months after Maddy was born. Since then she has had a number of bad stepfathers.

“I saw my mom being beat up since I was five. I was a depressed kid.”

“Damn. I actually just started anti-depressants a few weeks ago,” I tell her.

“I went on anti-depressants when I was eleven years old. I was hospitalized in the mental institution when I was thirteen. I was anorexic.”

Valdes described how he ended up in at the Shady Lawn in the Seven Days article:

“Jeff told me about it [the motel], and then told me not to go,” Valdes says, referring to Jeff Sharlet, the Dartmouth English professor who sent him on assignment. “He didn’t want to be responsible if anything happened.”

In the end, Valdes followed his instincts and came back with a great story.

40 Towns publishes new issues twice a year. Learn more here and follow its progress on Facebook.

■ Posted to the Upper Valley Dispatch blog Thursday at 3:55 p.m. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com.