Gov. Kunin’s new memoir is personal and poetic

Photo by Lee Krohn
Madeleine Kunin, middle, stands with Flying Pig Bookstore owner Elizabeth Bluemle, left, and her publisher Dede Cummings at the book launch Tuesday in the Coach Barn at Shelburne Farms.

By MADELINE HUGHES

Boisterous laughter roared from the secluded Coach Barn at Shelburne Farms Tuesday night as Madeleine Kunin read excerpts from her new book “Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties.”

Kunin’s reading also at times evoked solemn “mmmm-hmmmms” from the audience.

At the launch of her fourth book, Kunin shared more personal stories than she has in the past, reading about ridding her closet of business suits from her former life, dancing the night away with her late husband, and her attraction to the color red.

Kunin, who turned 85 last Friday, calls this a coming-into-age memoir. She describes in the foreword “a slower and more subtle process” as she looked back to various events of her life to “sort them within the covers of a book.”

Kunin stood at a podium before a seated crowd to reading excerpts wearing green glasses and a  silver patterned suit jacket. The memoir, which is a mix of prose and poetry, offers a more intimate look into life than her other written work.

“It’s a new experience to be so personal,” Kunin said after the event. “I’m happy with the reception. People seem to connect.”

Kunin admitted trepidation about the book’s release. Her children were getting their copies “tomorrow,” she told the audience.

Some of the more than 200 audience members thanked Kunin during the questions and comment portion of the evening.

“We’ve had tears, we’ve had laughter,” one woman said, thanking Kunin for opening up both in her memoir and in front of the audience at the Coach Barn.

Another woman asked Kunin what she was most surprised by while writing the book.

“The surprise was that I could put it into words and other people could understand it,” Kunin said. The author said she was afraid she may have “revealed too many emotions,” which she was careful not to throughout her public life.

As a state legislator, lieutenant governor, Vermont’s first woman governor, and later deputy U.S. Secretary of Education and ambassador to Switzerland, Kunin has lived about half her life in the public eye.

She wrote her first memoir “Living a Political Life” in 1994 to share insight into her career, though, she joked, she still doesn’t exactly know how she got there. Politicians write a memoir before their next political move, Kunin pointed out, but “I’m not running again,” she said.

With the expectation of public office off the table, she said, “a door opened into another part of my being. I tore off the plastic wrapping I had found myself in as a politician.”

Kunin said she began seriously thinking about the book about three years ago. Teary-eyed after Kunin read the last poem of the evening, audience member Mary Van Vleck said she felt “gratitude and just intense admiration” for Kunin.

LynnAnn Prom came to the event not knowing what to expect. She moved to Vermont 18 years ago, after Kunin’s tenure as governor. She said she found Kunin to be funny and charming. Kunin’s readings made her realize, “I have something to look forward to in my old age,” Prom said. “There is always time to figure out your own end game no matter how old you are, which is positive.”

The book launch event was sponsored by The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne. Kunin’s book, published by Brattleboro’s Green Mountain Press, came out on Tuesday.

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