Katherine Howe is a writer of historical fiction and biographies. With Anderson Cooper, she’s also co-authored Vanderbilt, and Astor, two NYT best sellers.

Educated at Columbia and Boston Universities, her chops as a historian have street-cred. But, the forty-seven year old also has an intuitive quality enabling her to conger tales that exist between realms. Ms.Howe possesses the ability to speak of this world and write of another. She annexes a mystical spirit just beyond the ether we all sense, but can’t quite grasp.

On an early spring afternoon, in historic Marblehead,Massachusetts the wordsmith spoke in a Common Room of The Old North Church.  Built in 1635 the Church towers over the quant seaside community. Old North’s stoney facade fits the rock solid traditions of those who follow the United Church of Christ. Yet, the soft patina of the old building offers new assurances that all souls seeking a place of reflection are welcome to call.

Old North Church, United Church of Christ, Marblehead, Massachusetts

It was a perfect venue for Katherine Howe to hold a reading of “A True Account~ Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amoungst the Pyrates, Written, by Herself.”  The book’s pages document sea-lore that, like the church, are a mix of solid facts and spirit.

Katherine Howe and Saint Joan @ONC in Marblehead 3/17/24

“A True Account” is a cleverly written novel loosely based on the adventures of Hannah Masury, one of Ms.Howe’s distant relatives. Faithful to historic details, Howe uses facts as a mast to tell the tale of Hannah who as a young woman followed her Ship-Captain husband to sea. As the vessel loaded with valuable cargo sailed between Salem, Massachusetts and California, catastrophe struck. Tested by troubles young Hannah became the unlikely Captain of a belligerent crew.

Howe’s sense of history mixes with intuition in “A True Account” to conger waves of circumstances the diminutive Captain likely navigated between exotic ports of call. The author’s command of maritime narratives also leaves readers space to imagine the realities of a woman living in a man’s world.

This isn’t the first time Howe has fastened her literary sails to a distant relative. The modern-day Marblehead’er is directly related to Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe, both of whom were convicted of being Witches in the 1692 Salem Witch Trails. Elizabeth Howe’s name is memorialized in stone at the Salem Witch Trail Memorial dedicated in 1992, by Elie Wiesel.

Elizabeth Howe’s Marker in the Salem Witch Trail Memorial, Salem, Massachusetts (hanged in 1692)

The Salem Witch Trial Memorial, Liberty Street Salem, Massachusetts

Creative license is a tool Howe often summons to craft her novels.”The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, “The House of Velvet and Glass”, “Conversion”, “The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen”, and “The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs” are novels in which the author demonstrates a novel agility, mixing documented history with unknowable vectors in the of mysterious lives of legendary women.

While each of Howe’s novels are creatively meritorious, the collective maps the bigger story. When recoded history is the exclusive domain of men, perspective suffers significant gaps in credibility. Scribes ignoring the roles women played in society reflect only part of a culture’s values.

The talents of Ms. Howe fuse history with imagination giving a plausible, although largely undocumented, voice to generations of women. Because women were largely illiterate and unable to vote they lived lives without agency.

Howe speaks hypothetically of the swashbuckling times of Hannah Masury. She like the women known as Witches are mere footnotes in historical records written by men whose prism of gender bias often missed the full spirit and perhaps the truth of their stories.

Katherine Howe’s novels are a source of wonder. They’re a treasure map of history with an X-factor encouraging readers to speculate on how much of woman’s history is buried beneath the tower of records written almost exclusively by male historians in a Common Room of thought before all were welcome to call.

“A True Account Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amougst the Pirates,Written by Herself” is a novel of facts misted with a Marblehead’er’s penchant for embellishment. Add it to your book-club list not only for it’s adventurous journey, but for the intuitive trip it launches into the multi-dimensional stories of woman’s history across the centuries.

 


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