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Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music , By Dana Jennings '79
Overviews: Rebecca Rule '76, '79G, David A. Berona '02G and Gerald M. Carbone '82
In Their Own Words: Robert G. Pasquill, Jr. '80, Sheila McDonough Fritz '83, Cindy Pierce '88 and Donald Silverman '59
Also of Note: Edward Hujsak '49 and Heidi Hill '94
News from Theatre and Dance alumni: Sarah Cost (Duclos) '05, Shoshana Ritzler '04, David Leong '73 and Megan Godin '08

Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music
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"Though I was born in 1957, I grew up during the Great Depression," writes Dana Jennings '79 in this passionate, evocative memoir about his backwoods childhood, and the classic country music that was at the heart of it. "In my particular chicken-scratched swatch of New Hampshire, postwar posterity was a rumor." The soundtrack to Jennings's "gothic hick" tale was written by artists like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard, people who also came from a place where "anything at all was more than we had." As Jennings shows, the music was more than accompaniment; it was a shared language in a country whose stories about the 20th century American dream didn't include the rural poor. "It was a salve to the soul to soak up music made by people who really understood our world, our United States of Misery," he writes.

Jennings' book is singular in its form. Part music history, part memoir, the structure is creative and complex, although the story is so compelling that the reader doesn't necessarily notice it. "Within my chapters, I crafted a kind of call-and-response where I juxtaposed scenes from my childhood with specific songs and artists that were relevant," Jennings explains. "I thought of each chapter as an album. So my poverty chapter is my poverty album, and each of the 12 sections in it are songs - like 45 rpm records." The stories about Jennings's grandmothers, for example, women hardened and haunted by poverty, are intertwined with, and dignified by, the lyrics of Haggard's "Hungry Eyes."

Jennings is a writer and editor at The New York Times, and has published three novels - he's come a long way from the puckabrush and snake-infested swamps of his Kingston childhood, and from his people, most of whom could barely read. He was a watchful child who loved to read, and was ambitious - he knew in third grade that he wanted to be a writer, and decided in fifth that he was going to college. And he was helped by many teachers along the way-- Sandy Miles '72, '77G, Sheila Maguire Roberge '73G, Tom Prescott ''73 and Leonore Keir Cates '66 were some of his teachers at Sanborn Regional High School.

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At UNH, Don Murray was his advisor. "Don loved finding the hick kids from New Hampshire who had potential, and he was the first person who took me seriously as a writer" he remembers. From Murray, he learned how to craft. "I was also part of a wonderful group of students, all who went on to become professional journalists and writers," he says, "like Paul Keegan '80, Mike Kelly '79 and Gary Langer '80. We pushed each other, and I learned as much from the people I went to school with as I did from the professors."

Ultimately, although Jennings left Kingston, it never left him - it was the rural vernacular, his father's storytelling, and country music that inspired his love of language. His book is an ode to a vanished place - when the "contrary" state of New Hampshire widened Route 125, the Jennings homestead was torn down - and a reckoning with it. "It was a gift and a blessing to escape Kingston," he writes. "But it has been an even greater gift to have come from where I come from and to be able to write about the music and the people who raised my country soul . . . to get sung back home."

Editor's Note: In April 2008, Dana Jennings was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer. In an effort to cope with what he terms the "surprisingly isolating" effects of his diagnosis, he has become a regular contributor to The New York Times Well blog to establish "a personal, honest and down-to-earth conversation about the disease - in all its bewildering sadness and, yes, in all its strange humor."

Anne Downey '95G, a freelance writer who lives in Eliot, Maine, received her Ph.D. in English from UNH.

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