I’m Mary Bergman, a writer and historian living on Nantucket. I’m also the chair of the Nantucket Book Festival, held annually on the third weekend in June.
I am fascinated by the people, places, and landscapes that make up Cape Cod and the Islands. I have dedicated my work to helping to document the unique people and places here at the edge of the world.
You can hear me the third Tuesday of the month on A Cape Cod Notebook, a weekly nature/natural world radio essay program on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. My work has also appeared in Historic Nantucket, N Magazine, The Common online, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Provincetown Arts, and other places where great stories are told!
I’m working on a couple of different projects including an essay collection and novel informed by my growing up at the edge of the world in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod.
It’s been a busy winter, but I am so thrilled that spring is on the horizon. Here are a few essays of mine that are out in the world you may have missed.
In January, The Common published an essay on–of all things–sewer systems in sandy places. It’s called Effluent of the Affluent . I wanted to give you a little background into how this came to be, and how long publishing can sometimes take. I’d written another piece called Waste/Water that was a short three-part essay about my various experiences with, well, wastewater. A strange thing to write or think about, perhaps, but as someone who is interested in infrastructure and life at the end/edge of the world, it made sense.
I revised that story and it became another longer piece, also called Waste/Water. I submitted that in winter/spring 2022. I work on non fiction essays between longer manuscripts. I heard in October 2022 that the piece was accepted. A lot had happened between spring and fall last year, including the failure of one of the sewer systems I’d written about. I then did two short rounds of revisions with the editor, who was lovely. The resulting piece is one you read today.
At the time, when it was accepted, I felt like it was too weird to publish. I almost wanted to withdraw it. But acceptances are so hard-fought in this game that I did the hard thing of sitting with the piece and figuring out what I wanted to do to make it better. That is a lot of work for 1,000 words. It is a long time from submission to publication, and hopefully we are always improving as writers, so it can be strange to read something you wrote just ten months ago and think, “I know I can say that better.”
Strangely, after the piece was in its final form, but before it was published, a shipwreck was revealed at the south shore on Nantucket, right in front of the sewer treatment plant. That is the image that accompanies the essay.
You can still hear me the third Tuesday of each month on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station on “A Cape Cod Notebook.”
The most bittersweet time of the year. You can hear me next week (9/20) on WCAI (or on capeandislands.org or point your podcatchers to A Cape Cod Notebook) with a timely essay on the surprise of being able to hang on in a strange, fragile place like this.
I also have a longer piece up on Literary Hub about escapist novels and the fantasy vs. reality of Nantucket Island.
I don’t know when it got to be late July either, but it is, and here we are.
It’s been busy–first, we had the Nantucket Book Festival in mid-June, where I interviewed Tiya Miles about her National Book Award winning book, All That She Carried. If you haven’t read this exceptional, stirring history–you must. I cried while interviewing Tiya, and then other people cried, and it was a Whole Thing. Tiya is one of our national treasurers.
Then, as always, on the third Tuesday on the month, you can hear me on WCAI. The fine radio folks who do the website have organized things over the last few years, and you can click here to be brought to a link that has most of my essays (not all of them, the first two years are not filed this way).
It’s crazy, but next month marks four years of essays for “A Cape Cod Notebook.”
This essay from July, about living more in memory than in the present, really speaks to how I feel these days. I have heard from some listeners that it resonated with them, so I’m particularly happy to share it here.
I’m constantly working on one project or another. This winter, I was asked to contribute a few short essays about growing up in Provincetown for a new art book a few folks are putting together.
It’s been a busy winter on Nantucket. The days are getting longer, and it looks like maybe we’ll end up on Atlantic Time after all. I’ve been hearing from more of you in the coffee shop, at the post office, or on the street that you’re listening to my essays on CAI, and I’m pleased as punch that you’re not only listening, but letting me know!
Here are a few essays you may have missed since the last update.
I’m happy to report the 10th annual Nantucket Book Festival will be back in person and features some heavy hitters, emerging voices, movie stars (??!), and local favorites. It’s going to be a weird and wild time, as it always is. Would love to see you there.
And the other thing that’s tangentially related to writing is that my sister and I have started making some hyper-local bumper stickers, so if you’re from the Cape and Islands and appreciate a certain seabird sense of humor, click over to our shop, Shoulder Season, to be part of a mobile public art project.
Hello, pals. I have been finishing a grad certificate program and working on some longer nonfiction works, and a queer (in every sense) climate change novel. You can catch my essays on WCAI on the 3rd Thursday of the month, or at capeandislands.org or in your podcatchers.
I’ll make it easier, you can click right here to read/listen to my November essay for CAI, which is all about how I can’t grow anything in my sandy garden, and more about trying to figure who I am supposed to be. the things you can write about if you write about nature!
And next week, the third Tuesday of the month, you can tune in or listen online (capeandislands.org) to catch my latest essay about the Titanic, the lifeboats, and the vaccine. I’m also told that the From the Farther Shore poetry anthology, which was supposed to come out last year in line with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, is back on track and planning to come out later this year. I’ve got two poems there!
I can’t seem to get excited about fall. Back when it was March, I remember thinking how difficult it would be to be dealing with a pandemic as the winter light waned. At least in March, the days were getting longer. There was the inherent hope that comes each year with spring.
No such luck now.
It seems everyone will have to learn to live more of their lives outside until the end of 2021, at least. It isn’t so bad out here. You need a warm coat and lots of layers. A hat. Oh, and don’t forget your mask.
But in the hopes of holding tight to summer as it slips away, here are the essays that were published this summer you may have missed.
July: An essay for WCAI about swimming, about the ocean as the only being allowed to break pandemic rules and reach out and touch you.
Also July: An essay in Stonecoast Review called “Out Here” for issue 13–the superstition issue. It’s an essay about berry picking and sharks and the lingering fear of the end of the world.
August: I got this second hand rowboat and now some seven-and-a-half foot oars live inside the Ford focus…anyway, this essay on WCAI is about that, and finding strength in your mind and arms.
September: I went over to Martha’s Vineyard in September and was floored by the trees. Can I ever live in a place that isn’t a scrubby pile of sand? Seems unlikely. I wrote about it for WCAI.
That’s it for now! You can catch me on WCAI the third Tuesday of every month. Until then, I’m in the sea or along the shore.