Monday, August 17, 2020

Gretchen Cherington Interview - Poetic License

Photo Content from Gretchen Cherington

Gretchen Eberhart Cherington grew up in a household that—thanks to her Pulitzer Prize–winning father, the poet Richard Eberhart—was populated by many of the most revered poets and writers of the twentieth century, from Robert Frost to James Dickey. She’s spent her adult life advising top executives in changing their companies and themselves. Her essays have been published in Crack The Spine, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, and Yankee Magazine, among other journals and newspapers, and her essay “Maine Roustabout” was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. Cherington is a leader in her community and has served on twenty boards. Passionate about her family and friends, she most enjoys spending time with them at home or in wild places around the world.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I grew up around a lot of creative people, mostly writers, but also painters, sculptors, playwrights, and actors. My parents were each creative—my father as an acclaimed, award-winning poet, but also my mother for her sculptures whimsical watercolor picture books for her grandkids and friends. So, creativity was in the air and value was placed in creative people. With that backdrop, I actually was intimidated to go into the arts in any way. With so many award-winning people around me, it was too high a bar. But the seed was planted. I’ve kept journals through my life. I feel the gardens I’ve designed have been a crative outlet and in my late 40s I got more serious and started putting the very first thoughts to my memoir.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

Honestly, it’s been connecting with people who played parts in my life long ago. Some, I’ve reached out to and found like my two best friends from an all-girls boarding school I went to in Switzerland for 10th grade. One of them—Lucy—is featured in my chapter called “Puppy Love and Swiss Chocolates.” She lives outside London and our mutual friend from school, Sarah, lives in London. We’ve vowed we’ll have a reunion once the pandemic/travel challenges have passed. Others have reached out recently and found me. This has been really rewarding since my memoir spans the full reach of sixty years.

In your debut book, POETIC LICENSE; can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about your memoir?
It's a memoir about the complex relationship I had with my father, the poet Richard Eberhart. He was both an incredibly generous, warm-hearted, and kind man as well as a self-centered father who paid little attention unless it was to have me entertain his friends on the piano or by speaking French. I adored him as a little girl but became increasingly uncomfortable around him as I came of age. When he betrayed me at seventeen, I had to come to terms with who he really was to me, something I kept deeply hidden for the next eighteen years through the late 1960s and 1970s. In the mid-1980s when I was in my 40s, raising my teenaged children, and building a successful consulting company, I began to sort out what had happened and why it mattered. The book is a mature woman’s look back at her life, both a literary memoir and my resolution of a significant personal mystery.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from POETIC LICENSE
I loved writing the scene about my two younger cousins and me and the riotous times we had with our grandmother at her house. It brings me back to all the great things I did as a child and how much I loved my sister-cousins.

Naturally, I also love the scenes in which my husband and I are falling in love, a second marriage, as it’s been such a great marriage now through thirty years.

And I love the scenes from our wonderful childhood summers in Maine.

Each of these chapters was a joy to write and to re-experience through adult eyes.


  • You’ll have a first-row seat for vignettes and impressions of Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and other famous writers.
  • You’ll also trace the arc of my growth from a starry-eyed little girl to a betrayed teenager to a deeply conflicted and confused young woman to a clear-headed mature woman.
  • Secondary characters include my father, of course, and my mother, my grandmother and the many women friends I’ve had who’ve helped me get where I am today.
  • You’ll also understand how my professional work with clients helped me gain the confidence and standing to speak my personal truth at this time.
  • Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal make bit appearances.
  • As a thirteen-year-old I got to see the Beatles land on US soil for the first time, in 1963. You’ll read why.
  • Best friend Lucy and I, at boarding school in Switzerland, scaled the walls outside the school to run down to the kiosk to buy Swiss chocolates and never once got caught.
  • I fell in puppy love with a Moroccan tailor when I was sixteen.
  • It took awhile but my first real love came at forty.
  • It was rejected over twenty times before signed by She Writes Press!
Your Journey to Publication
I started this book in the late 1990s. Which is ages ago! First came short scenes or fragments of memories. I tried story-boarding to find an arc, using colored cards and pens. I finished a manuscript and tried to sell it – two agents thought I’d get a big advance! Ha! What I got were over 20 rejections from great publishing houses. Those trials were tough, and it would have been easy to give it up. But I kept trying to find the true story and that took my own growth as a person. Family and friends have been universally supportive, even when, in some cases, they may be portrayed less than positively. By letting me know they saw my true story in the final book they were reading, I knew I had told the story correctly, showing the real and nuanced complexities of relationships across one’s life.

Best date you've ever had?
Far and away the morning my husband asked me to marry him. It wasn’t planned as a date but that’s what I’ll call it!

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
When am I going to write today?

What is your most memorable travel experience?
--a three week hiking trip with my husband two years ago through Patagonia, including a conservation and mountaineering symposium where we got to hike with world-class climbers Conrad Anker and Alex Honnold. Imagine, a 65 year old woman hiking up the foothills of Mount Fitzroy with Conrad Anker behind me and Chris Tompkins ahead of me (Chris has saved millions of acres in Patagonia for land conservation). I couldn’t believe it was real. I loved the Argentine and Chilean people, not to mention the superb geography. We were really fortunate that when a four-day cruise we were on to end the trip got the kind of seas we’d hoped for and we could get off and hike around Cape Horn. That was a thrill.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
Being in Switzerland for my tenth grade year which allowed me to travel broadly across Europe and to northern Africa was a life changing experience. It opened my eyes to so many different people and places and showed me how young the US is in comparison. It gave me a whole new view of my own country, being across the ocean and immersing myself in all I could. I’ll forever be grateful that I had that experience.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I try to practice naming three things I’m grateful for in the day I just spent—and that usually extended beyond three. Perhaps it was a certain way a flower was blooming, or a phone call with my grandkids, or a great time—masked and distanced—with a few friends. I’ve had enough stress in my life to find value in this practice and when I read back through some of my entries, they’re also good reminders and markers of where I’ve come from.

At age forty, with two growing children and a new consulting company she’d recently founded, Gretchen Cherington, daughter of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart, faced a dilemma: Should she protect her parents’ well-crafted family myths while continuing to silence her own voice? Or was it time to challenge those myths and speak her truth—even the unbearable truth that her generous and kind father had sexually violated her?

In this powerful memoir, aided by her father’s extensive archives at Dartmouth College and interviews with some of her father’s best friends, Cherington candidly and courageously retraces her past to make sense of her father and herself. From the women’s movement of the ’60s and the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s to Cherington’s consulting work through three decades with powerful executives to her eventual decision to speak publicly in the formative months of #MeToo, Poetic License is one woman’s story of speaking truth in a world where, too often, men still call the shots.


“Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart was a close friend of many years, a beloved colleague. I loved his genial personality and admired his unique poetic gift. He was a generous man but, as his daughter shows, a difficult and complex person as well. This is a vivid memoir, flaws and all, and Gretchen Eberhart Cherington has crafted a narrative worth reading closely.” —Jay Parini, poet, novelist, critic, and author of The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year

“In writing her memoir, Gretchen Cherington has stepped out of the long shadow cast by her late father, revered poet Richard Eberhart, and into the brilliant light of her personal truth. In riveting and honest prose, she invites us to look beyond her seemingly gilded childhood and adolescence to glimpse the realities that defined her family and the painful secret that shaped her way of living in the world. By sorting through the complex remnants of her father’s life and revisiting her own memories, Cherington loosens the binds of the past and releases her own courageous and powerful voice.” —Melanie Brooks, author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma

“Poetic License is a great achievement that will move powerfully into the world. This is a riveting portrait, in elegant prose, of a once adoring daughter able to reflect as a mature woman, how she searched for her own truth, and freed herself from her father’s dominating presence.” —Elizabeth Garber, poet and memoirist, author of Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter

“Gretchen Cherington has written a courageous and enlightened memoir of the lifelong impact of sexual molestation. Cherington dives deep into the murky legacy of her father’s life to understand what love between a father and daughter should be, how that ideal could be spoiled, and what she had lost. This well-articulated journey gives us the tools we need to take command of our own lives and move into the person we want to become.” —Laura Waterman, author of Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage

“At its core, this powerful memoir covers Cherington’s decades-long search for truth and the shaping of her authentic self. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always clear, empathetic, and entertaining, Cherington writes about coming to terms with trauma brought on by a celebrity father with deep flaws. All of this comes with intimate glimpses into the psyches of celebrated poets, including T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Donald Hall, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton. A great read! I was enraptured.” —Ernest Hebert, author of thirteen books including the seven novels of the Darby Chronicles and the award-winning historical novel, The Old American

“Poetic License is a beautifully written, even-handed account of a woman’s struggle to balance genuine family love, troubling family secrets, and a devastating personal betrayal. Gretchen Cherington’s story is shocking and powerful, yet she has the rare gift of entertaining the reader even as she reveals her troubled childhood and comes to understand the complexity of personal experience as it resonates for a lifetime.” —Reeve Lindbergh, author of Two Lives and Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age-And Other Unexpected Adventures

“I feel personally grateful to Gretchen Cherington for her compelling and courageous account of growing up as the daughter of a charismatic celebrity. She describes in her father the kind of narcissistic self-preoccupation and work-obsession that are hallmarks of genius in every field of endeavor. Her story offers a much needed correction of the popular belief that a public image is an accurate reflection of what a person is like in his or her most intimate relationships. The account of her personal survival will touch all who read it.” —Sue Erikson Bloland, psychotherapist, author of In The Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson

“Poetic License is in a class of its own—both a literary memoir and a call to action for women claiming their truth. Cherington boldly asks what every leader should ask: “how did the world shape me?” and “how will I shape the world?” From her childhood among literary greats to advising top executives on changing themselves and their companies, we see that to empower women, we can’t silence their voices.” —Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times #1 bestselling author of Triggers, Mojo, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There; two-time Thinkers 50 #1 Leadership Thinker in the world

“Written in lush and vivid prose, Poetic License is both a literary history and a compelling memoir of family betrayal and personal healing. Growing up among a who’s who of literary lions, Gretchen Cherington finds her own triumphant voice with her memoir, drawing readers in as she solves a riveting personal mystery.” —Andrea Jarrell, author of I’m the One Who Got Away: A Memoir

“Cherington’s powerfully rendered memoir confronts an overlooked truth, that the transition from a childhood marked by betrayal, to one’s true self can be lengthy and fraught. Ultimately uplifting and remarkably authentic, Poetic License offers an inspiring and engaging story of the author’s passage from the shadows of silence and misguided familial loyalty to healing and resounding female empowerment.” —Joni B. Cole, author of Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better & Be Happier

You can purchase Poetic License at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you GRETCHEN CHERINGTON for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Poetic License by Gretchen Cherington.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure I would do this, but if I did it would be just before my first marriage. That one would have to go!