Capiche? You’re on your own

We all have a choice in how we spend each day. Which, let’s face it, might well be our last.

First posted on The Berkshire Edge – APRIL 28, 2021

Alison Larkin & Berkshire Adventure Fitness

Alison Larkin, in blue jacket, with Berkshire Adventure Fitness companions.

In early 2019 I met and fell in love with Bhima Nitta, a brilliant, funny man from India who had left corporate America to devote his life to renewable energy in Bennington, Vermont. You know what your foot feels like when it’s been stuck in a shoe that is too tight and then you finally take it off and you can breathe again? That’s how being in love with Bhima felt. We were both deeply happy. Then, one week after we decided to marry, Bhima died, suddenly and unexpectedly for COVID-related reasons. He was 54.

The millions of us who have lost loved ones during this time have something in common. Without the ceremonies, hugs, and companionship that have provided human beings with solace at the loss of a loved one for centuries, we’ve had to find other ways to grieve. After a swift socially-distanced Zoom funeral, the loved one has gone and – Capiche? – suddenly we’re on our own.


After Bhima died, despite the fact that several kind be-masked friends left delicious food outside my back door, I lost 10 pounds in two weeks. It’s the only diet that has ever worked, though not one I’d recommend. But I digress.

Then I heard Bhima’s voice in my head saying “Get in the best shape of your life.”

“What for?”

“Just Do It!” the voice came back. Bhima could be quite dictatorial when he wanted to be. Mind you, so could I. It was the advice we gave each other whenever we were avoiding something challenging, sounding like an Anglo-Indian Nike commercial.

So I bought some ear pods and started running around Stockbridge missing Bhima terribly, thinking about writing again, and listening to music that I love – musicals mostly. (Sorry. I’m not hip. I’m hop.) But I wasn’t getting fit. Not really. And I was spending way too much time on my own.

Then I learned that Mike Bissaillon from CrossFit was leading outdoor training and hikes through something called Berkshire Adventure Fitness. “Say good bye to boring treadmill work and forge a heartier spirit with every adventure.” And I decided to join because it is exactly what Bhima would have done.

Every day last winter — and I mean EVERY day — in rain, snow, ice — Mike Bissaillon led an intrepid group of us into the Berkshire Hills. Dressed for all kinds of weather, we followed Mike through the Berkshire landscape like a line of ducklings.

We hiked up Lara’s Tower, Monument Mountain and Flag Rock with weights on our back. We lifted sandbags as we walked around The Housatonic flats. We did pushups and lunges at Thomas and Palmer. We still do. And while I continue to grieve, my body and spirit have started to grow stronger and I can fit into clothes I haven’t worn for years.

Not one to let me slack, while I’m scrambling up Flag Rock last week, I hear Bhima’s voice saying “Not bad. Now how about writing a new novel? And a one woman show!”

We can stay home absorbing the horrifying news, eating chocolate and hiding under our beds as we wait for the world to end. Or we can head out into the Berkshire landscape with Mike and Co., getting as fit as we possibly can. So we’re strong enough to handle whatever’s coming our way next.

We all have a choice in how we spend each day. Which, let’s face it, might well be our last.

Why don’t you join us?

Click to learn more about Berkshire Adventure Fitness.

Coffee shop companionship — at a distance

While we wait for the next generation to become strong enough to lead, I think we need to be very careful who we vote into any kind of office.

First posted on The Berkshire Edge – MAY 27, 2020

A socially distanced coffee break outside of Stockbridge Coffee and Tea. Photo: Alison Larkin

I live in the town of Stockbridge, which isn’t exactly a metropolis, and I’m used to isolation. In fact, as a writer and audiobook narrator, it’s essential to the non-performing part of my work, which is one of the reasons I live here: There are fewer distractions and thus I can concentrate.

Sometimes — scrap that — often, the only people I see all day are my coffee shop buddies. Bob, Bob, Bob, John Loiodice, Paul, Kathleen, Linda and Alan “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” Wilken. We’re all early risers and we gather at roughly the same time every morning at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea on Elm Street. I may not know all their last names, but I do know all about their dogs, lives and knee issues and what they think about the latest news headlines: We share our opinions on these matters over coffee every morning.

Then the world crashed around us and our coffee shop closed along with millions of other businesses around the world, including my own.

Having coffee at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea. Photo: Alison Larkin

Having coffee at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea. Photo: Alison Larkin
When my teenagers were out of the house, I used to relish my rare moments of solitude. But since the pandemic showed up, I’ve learned that it’s not really “solitude” if you can take a break from it to meet a friend for lunch at Once Upon A Table, do yoga at Kripalu or swim with the Pace Makers at Simon’s Rock.

We can talk to other people via Zoom and Facebook of course, but there’s a reason why grown-ups say Too Much Screen Time isn’t good for kids: It isn’t good for adults, either. And when I make the mistake of watching the news after hours online these days, I often feel an overwhelming sense of despair, which is saying a lot for me because I’m generally a cheerful sort of fellow. It’s in my DNA.

Early one snowy morning in mid-April, I was missing my morning routine so much I made myself a cup of coffee — a ghastly concoction but just about drinkable — threw a garden chair in the back of my car and decided to head down to the coffee shop anyway like a homing pigeon.

I was sitting in my chair in a warm coat and hat on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop feeling a tad bereft when I saw first one then another masked figure come around the corner: one with now long white hair and a beret — that had to be Bob — and the other on a bicycle — yes, that was John Loiodice.

“Hey Alison, good to see you! We’ve been coming here every morning,” John shouted from behind his mask 6 feet away.

“Great! So what have you been up to?” I shouted back.

“I’ve decided to run for office. There was a gap in Water and Sewer, and I want to make a difference, so I thought I’ll run.”

“Fantastic!” I yelled.

Do I know anything about water and sewer? Absolutely not. But having drunk coffee with John just about every morning for the past few years, I know that he is a good, balanced, sane, kind, man who listens and can be trusted to do the right thing. And if we want good, sane people running things, we need to vote them into office, which is something I can do. I felt hope rising.

John Loiodice outside of Stockbridge Coffee and Tea. Photo: Alison Larkin
“The only issue is it’s an open ballot so people have to write my name in,” John shouted.

John Loiodice outside of Stockbridge Coffee and Tea. Photo: Alison Larkin

“No one can pronounce your name, let alone spell it,” I shouted back.

“It’s John L-O-I-O-D-I-C-E,” he said.

“Pronounced ‘Lee-oh-dee-chee’, right?”

“Right,” he said.

I am deeply tired of the divisive, vitriolic, unkind rhetoric that seems to abound these days and has become as toxic as the coronavirus. And while I feel confident that today’s teenagers will change the world for the better, they’re not quite old enough to take over quite yet.

While we wait for the next generation to become strong enough to lead, I think we need to be very careful who we vote into any kind of office, which is why I’d strongly recommend that the residents of Stockbridge write the name JOHN LOIODICE at the end of their ballot and thank him profusely for running when they next see him.

As I write this, I am delighted to report that Stockbridge Coffee and Tea is now open for takeout. The weather is warmer and Bob, Bob, Kathleen and Paul have started to show up again. The comedy moment happens when one of us forgets we’ve got our mask on and takes a swig of coffee, or another gets out of the car saying “I can’t find my mask” before realizing it’s hanging off his left ear.

So if you’re a Stockbridge resident, all you have to do to vote for John Loiodice is write his name on the ballot next to the words “Water and Sewer.” You can either vote early (see link below for how you can vote right now) or maybe write his name on your hand or something until June 9. Whoops: You have to wash your hands all day long these days. Sorry. Hmm. Maybe text his name to all your friends or something?

The election date is Tuesday, June 9. To request an absentee or early voting ballot, you can visit the town website.

John Loiodice is running for the seat on the water sewer committee in Stockbridge. He has been a resident of Stockbridge with his wife, Sheri, and their son, Michael, since 1984. He has practiced medicine and surgery both at Berkshire Medical Center and at Fairview Hospital. He continues to be an associate professor in surgery with the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine in Worcester and is on the consulting staff at Austen Riggs. Until very recently he managed his medical office on a full-time basis. However, with the hiring of an associate, he is finally able to devote some of his time to give back to the Stockbridge community that has nourished his family for 36 years.

Love has its ways this weekend at Shakespeare & Company…


What: “Lovers’ Spat: Round Two.” Staged readings of scenes involving Shakespeare couples. Hosted by Allison Larkin

When: Saturday evening at 7; Sunday afternoon at 2

Where: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox

Tickets: $25; students $10 Reservations/Information: 413-637-3353;

By Jeffrey Borak, The Berkshire Eagle

LENOX — Love, in all its wit, joy, fury, madness and glory, holds sway this weekend at Shakespeare & Company where last year’s inaugural “Lovers’ Spat” is making a comeback.

“Round Two” — which performs Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre — comprises staged readings of 15 scenes from “Henry VI: Parts I, II and III” and “Othello,” “Twelfth Night,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “Richard III” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows, who assembled and is overseeing the program, thinks of “Lovers’ Spat: Round Two” as “a sort of Shakespeare tapis; small bits but delectable.”

Burrows says there will be lots of sword-play in addition to Shakespeare’s clever word-play

“We do like fighting,” Burrows said, laughing. “[Of this program] I like to say to people ‘we do the fighting, you do the making up.'”

The material was selected in large measure by the actors — Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Martin Jason Asprey, Ariel Bock, Gregory Boover, Sarah Bowles, Burrows, MaConnia Chesser, Johnny Lee Davenport, Jonathan Epstein, Luke Haskell, Tamara Hickey, Kaileela Hobby, Alison Howard, David Joseph, Caitlin Kraft, Madeleine Maggio, Kirsten Peacock, Patrick Toole, Kai Tshikosi and Claire Warden.

“You ask people what they want to play. Everyone wants to do Beatrice and Benedict [from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’], so we’re going to do all their scenes, with different actors, interspersed through the program, ” said Burrows, who will be in one of those “Much Ado .. ” scenes with his wife, Tamara Hickey. Epstein and Bock, another real-life married couple, are another Beatrice-Benedict pair.

Emceeing is comedienne, actress, audiobooks narrator/producer, and author Alison Larkin.

“I have no idea what I’ll be doing,” Larkin said with a bright, sustained laugh during a telephone interview earlier in the week. She won’t be meeting with the actors until Friday. Much of what she’ll be doing Saturday and Sunday, she says, will be improvised.

“She’s a great fit,” Burrows said in a separate phone interview. “She’s got a keen eye, relates to the material and to [Shakespeare & Company’s] connection to the community.”

Burrows and Larkin, who lives in Monterey and whose audiobooks production company is based in Stockbridge, met over lunch (she says), coffee (Burrows says) and hit it off at once (both say).

“We exchanged lots of good ideas,” Larkin said. “I think he’s really good for Shakespeare & Company.”

“Lovers’ Spat” brings Larkin back to her roots, she says. She began her career as an actress with Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company and then gave that up for a career in stand-up comedy. She’s combining both here.

For Burrows, theater activity on Shakespeare & Company’s campus this time of year is a way of reminding people that Shakespeare & Company operates the year round and, he says, “it encourages people to come out and shed their winter funk.

“There will be revelry; there will be madness; it will be bits of fun,” Larkin said.

Signs of life in Berkshires mid-winter

People ask me why I love living in The Berkshires, even in mid-winter. The answer is in my newest column in The Berkshire Edge!

It’s icy cold in the Berkshires. The Stockbridge bowl has frozen over and the roads are perilous. I have to scrape the snow off my car every day now, the kids are pale and antsy from lack of fresh air, the heating bill is higher than the cost of a flight to England and my driveway is turned into an ice rink.

As any year-round resident will tell you, if you don’t tread VERY carefully on the Berkshire ground at this time of year you’ll fall on the ice and break your arm or get a concussion or die or – worse – fall in a way that your doctor tells you was the root cause of the frozen shoulder that has you yelping in pain months later. Which leads to the second frozen shoulder that makes it too painful to lift your arm high enough to brush your hair. Which explains why so many year-round Berkshire residents wear hats.

Then there are the Snow Birds who, convinced they are beating the system, quietly fly from the Berkshires to Florida in December, returning only when the magic of a Berkshire spring has arrived. Feeling guilty, these people try to resist posting TOO many photos of themselves on a Sarasota beach in January in order not to alienate the friends they’ve left behind in the frozen north.

But I wouldn’t leave the Berkshires for the winter if you paid me. And not just because the idea of spending weeks on a beach in Florida or indeed anywhere would bore me deeply.

As my friend Alan Wilken says, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” He should know. At almost 70, Alan bikes an average of 30 miles a day in all weather. He explains that his tires get fatter as the weather gets colder.

(Alan Wilken on Elm Street in Stockbridge)

For me, February in the Berkshires is a magical month. The short, dark days are over and as February rolls on I feel more and more like Tony in West Side Story as he sang “There’s somethin’ due any day I will know right away soon as it shows….The air is humming. And something great is coming.”

I am, of course talking about Spring.

When you’re facing something really tough and you’re so worried you can’t sleep, living through a Berkshire winter can be helpful. Sure, the winters can be perilous and hard here. But it’s the people who for weeks on end have been battling the freezing wind in the Price Chopper parking lot that most appreciate the first hint of spring.

There’s this deep sense of relief and appreciation when you realize the worst is over. It’s the same way we feel on the day we realize that whatever horror was troubling us isn’t anymore.


(Alison in mid-winter)

We’re in mid-winter and the President of the United States is still accusing people of treason with as much passion as King Henry the VIIIth. But, if you look carefully, you can already see a yellowish hue at the very edges of the Weeping Willow on the Stockbridge golf course. Warmth and new growth is on its way from under the frozen ground.



Larkin about in America: Revisiting Hogwarts

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

Alison Larkin

Alison Larkin reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

While I have dipped in and out of the Harry Potter books and movies over the years, my interest has been mild in comparison with that of my soon-to-be fifteen-year-old daughter who has read every one at least twice and knows everything there is to know about Harry Potter.

For my fifteenth birthday my parents took me to see Nicholas Nickleby in London which I still remember vividly over three decades later. So when I found out we were going to be spending the summer in London I tried and tried to get seats for the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for my own daughter’s birthday. But there weren’t any — unless you wanted to pay 500 pounds a ticket, which I did not.

Then, we found out about the lottery on the Harry Potter website, beat the odds, and won fantastic seats at $20 each for Parts 1 and 2 of what The Stage accurately described as “one of the most influential and important theatrical works of the century.”

As we embarked on our perilous drive through the far-too-narrow Sussex country lanes in our bright blue rent-a-car, my daughter filled me in on the plot of every Harry Potter book to date, so I would be fully in the loop for the start of the play, which takes place 20 years after the final book ends, as Harry Potter’s son is about to head off to Hogwarts.

After a time, I’m deep in my own thoughts. We’ve been catching up with people I haven’t seen for far too long, Oxford and the Sussex countryside are looking lovely and I’m close to tears, feeling the loss of the very English life I might have lived had I not moved to the United States and become a stand-up comic 26 years ago.

“If you could change anything in your life, Mom, anything at all, what would it be?” my daughter asks me as we crawl through traffic on the M 40.

“I’d change the past,” I say.

“No, Mom!” says the little American wizard sitting next to me. “That would be a mistake!”

“What makes you so sure?”

“You’ll see when you see the play,” she says, looking very pleased with herself. “Now I’m even MORE excited! You need to see it Mom. Really. You do. ”

Then, we found out about the lottery on the Harry Potter website, beat the odds, and won fantastic seats at $20 each for Parts 1 and 2 of what The Stage accurately described as “one of the most influential and important theatrical works of the century.”

As we embarked on our perilous drive through the far-too-narrow Sussex country lanes in our bright blue rent-a-car, my daughter filled me in on the plot of every Harry Potter book to date, so I would be fully in the loop for the start of the play, which takes place 20 years after the final book ends, as Harry Potter’s son is about to head off to Hogwarts.

The author at the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The author at the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

After a time, I’m deep in my own thoughts. We’ve been catching up with people I haven’t seen for far too long, Oxford and the Sussex countryside are looking lovely and I’m close to tears, feeling the loss of the very English life I might have lived had I not moved to the United States and become a stand-up comic 26 years ago.

“If you could change anything in your life, Mom, anything at all, what would it be?” my daughter asks me as we crawl through traffic on the M 40.

“I’d change the past,” I say.

“No, Mom!” says the little American wizard sitting next to me. “That would be a mistake!”

“What makes you so sure?”

“You’ll see when you see the play,” she says, looking very pleased with herself. “Now I’m even MORE excited! You need to see it Mom. Really. You do.”

J K Rowling’s masterful script has been conjured into one of most exciting pieces of theater I have ever seen. In addition to the magical affects and deeply drawn characters who swirl across the stage in dark flowing cloaks, the story at the heart of it makes us feel and think.

We all have something in our past that caused us pain. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But if it hadn’t happened – the thing that changed everything – while we can’t know what might have happened, we can be sure we wouldn’t be exactly where we are today.

If I hadn’t left England for the United States, apart from everything else, the girl with sparkling eyes eating all my Maltesers would never have been born.

And so, later that night, when she asks me again if I’d change my own past if I could, I say “No way, kiddo” — crystal clear on the answer.

Larkin about in America: Across the Pond

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

Alison Larkin’s Tardis (from ‘Doctor Who’) recording studio.

Alison Larkin’s Tardis (from ‘Doctor Who’) recording studio.

The last time I spent the whole summer in England was a quarter of a century ago. I was in my mid-twenties and working as an actress and a playwright in London. I was just about to go on stage to play Flora Poste in the original stage version of Cold Comfort Farm, when the phone rang in the dressing room. It was a woman from the adoption agency in America who told me that the birth mother I’d been searching for was alive and well and keen for me to come and visit her at her home – in Bald Mountain, Tennessee.

Two months later, after meeting both my birth parents, I went to New York to try my hand at stand-up comedy. Before I knew it I’d fallen in love with the creative freedom I’d found in America, my work took off in interesting new directions, I married, had kids, wrote a novel, way led on to way and although I missed England and went back as often as I could it was never for more than a week or two.

Flip forward twenty-six years and here I am living in the Berkshires with my two all-American teenagers and it’s summer time again and I’m conscious of time passing.

My English parents are in their mid-eighties now and despite evidence to the contrary — they still think nothing of driving up to Pitlochry, Scotland for a weekend of vigorous Scottish dancing for example — they won’t be around forever.

Friends who were single when I left have married, raised children and some have already become empty-nesters.

“I wish I could figure out a way to spend more time in England,” I say to myself, feeling increasingly homesick for the country that I can no longer call home.

“You have teenagers, Alison. They need to be with other teenagers.” I say back.

“There must be some teenagers in England,” I say. “What if I could find some sort of camp for them in the UK?”.

“Sounds expensive,” I say back.

Then someone tells me that the Berkshire Theatre Group is looking for accommodation for their actors and before I know it we’ve rented out our house to the cast of Arsenic and Old Lace, and we’re heading to England for six weeks.

For most of the time we’ll be visiting family and friends, but for two precious weeks, while I re-connect with friends I went to college with, my kids will be at “camp” with British teenagers as interested in film and creative writing as they are.

When I narrate British classic audiobooks by the likes of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie from my recording studio in Stockbridge — a.k.a. The Tardis — I get to travel through time to an England that doesn’t exist anymore.

This summer I’m packing up the studio and heading back. And forward perhaps. Making time to get to know England as she is now. To see what’s changed and what hasn’t.

I’ll keep you posted on what I find.

Larkin about in America: Airborne

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

Stockbridge Bowl

Stockbridge Bowl. (Photo Copyright David Scribner)

Stockbridge — If we were to experience the world solely through today’s social and other media, we’d be watching out for terrorists and venal politicians behind the ice-cream counter at the SoCo Creamery or lurking under water at the Stockbridge Bowl, waiting to pull us down.

Every day we get to choose whether to spend our time obsessing darkly over the news, or spend our time trying to make good things happen.

I was reminded of this last week on my way to Kansas City. Here’s what happened.

A few months ago I decided to record the first two-actor audio production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Why? Because James Warwick, who starred in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband on Broadway agreed to play all the parts I wasn’t going to play, i.e., the men. Plus, it hadn’t been done before. Much to our astonishment, thanks in no small part to the technical wizardry of co-producer Steven Jay Cohen, it worked and our audio production was selected to be played in front of a live audience as part of the Hear Now Festival in Kansas City – the largest audio fiction festival in the world.

Which meant I was going to have to get on an airplane.

I am not alone in my dislike of modern-day air travel. I used to love it. Now I loathe it. Every time I enter an airport these days I find myself muttering Dorothy Parker’s famous line “What fresh hell is this?”

But I’m as capable of shutting out the world around me as the teenagers I live with, so as I’m crammed into a tiny seat in a tin can full of stale air, I’m staring at my iPhone manically flicking through Facebook posts about Comey and Trump and the re-election in the UK and a column about persistent glass ceilings and how opportunities for girls and women are dwindling worldwide.

Depressed, I put down my iPhone and, noticing the young woman sitting next to me, I decide to offer her a pretzel. Perhaps if I do that she’ll take her earphones off and we can strike up a conversation. It works.

It turns out I’m sitting next to Ellen Noble, a 22-year-old student at UMass who is also a successful professional cyclist and already a smart business woman. She negotiates her own sponsorship deals and, this summer, decided to start a cycling camp for girls.

“Why?” I ask, hope rising.

“I want to inspire teenage girls to follow their dreams,” she says. “We need to hold young women to the same standard that we hold young men, don’t you think?”

“I do,” I say, tossing the last pretzel into my mouth and smiling.

That was a very good beginning to my week, and I was privileged to spend the rest in the company of some of the brightest lights in the audio industry, who use their time telling stories of all kinds about what it means to be human.

The broadcast news over that same period got worse and worse.

The news we are fed daily is divisive and alarming, but if we get out of the bubble we find there are also good things happening. Right next to us and all over the world.

As I flew home to my life in the achingly beautiful Berkshire hills I looked out the airplane window and thought of a line of Oscar Wilde’s: the night can be very black, “but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Larkin About In America: Teen readers, hope for the future

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

audiobook cottage Alison Larkin

The Teen Book Fest at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, where the author found 1,500 teenagers enthralled with books and their authors. (Courtesy of Teen Book Fest)

Does your heart beat extra fast these days when, despite your intention not to open the New York Times on-line until after breakfast, you do, because, like everyone around you, you can’t help yourself?

And when you find out that yesterday’s drama was nothing in comparison with today’s, does the anxiety that begins early in the a.m. escalate throughout the day? Leaving you on the verge of despair by the end of the week?

If so, here’s something that might help. Turn off your computer and shift your attention to what the teenagers are doing.

Easy for me to say, of course, because I live with two of them.

Generally speaking, my kids would prefer me not to hang out with their friends – or speak to anyone at all, actually. Whenever my 16-year-old son brings his friends over for pizza, he whispers: “Can you go to your studio now, Mom?” And some of the time I do, resisting the urge to bow and exit backwards like a middle-aged British Geisha.

But sometimes my kids have to hang out with me because they can’t drive yet.

So when my 14-year-old daughter asked me to drive her and her friend to the Teen Book Fest in Rochester to see Sarah J. Maas last weekend, I said “Yes.”

In case you don’t know, Sarah J. Maas is the No. 1 NY Times bestselling author of The Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses fantasy series. She has the same effect on today’s teens that rock stars had on you and me in the olden days. She’s so popular she injured her hand from signing so many books.

My two passengers are talking about her books in the back of the car.

“I love how Sarah creates her own world. Like J. K. Rowling.”

“And George MacDonald.” I say, piping in from the front as we whizz past the sign for Schenectady.


“He wrote The Princess and the Goblin. It was the first ever fantasy novel, written in 1872,” I say. I know, because I narrated the audiobook. “He had a huge influence on C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.”

“OMG! Sarah J. Maas says she’s totally influenced by Tolkien! So I guess she owes a lot to George MacDonald, too.”


The girls glance at the back of their chauffeur for a nanosecond, then return to their reading.

When we walk into the Nazareth College gym at Teen Book Fest the next morning, there are over 1,500 teenagers cheering and screaming as the authors are introduced.

“Who’s the guy?” I say pointing to a cool dude at the end of the stage.

“That’s David Levithan. He writes about LBGTQ issues and stuff.”

They’re writing about things that teenagers are struggling with. I’m reminded of The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s powerful novel about teenagers dealing with cancer.

There’s another wave of cheering now.

“OMG! It’s Tamara Ireland Stone!”

“What did she write?”

Every Last Word. About someone with mental illness who finds her voice through poetry.”

“That sounds…”

But they’ve gone. Hurrying into the crowd to hear the first author talk, then take a writing workshop, then stand in line for an hour so the authors can sign their books.

In a couple of years these kids will be voting. Then they’ll be running the country. And I find my worry over the future easing a little.

My first town meeting: Stockbridge chooses the greater good

This article first appeared in The Berkshire Edge

audiobook cottage Alison Larkin

Stockbridge Town Meeting voting on a new school funding formula that would benefit Great Barrington. (Photo Copyright David Scribner)

Stockbridge — Although I was born in the U.S., I was adopted by Brits and raised in England. As surprising as this may sound, the British don’t study American history or American politics from an American point of view. What you call the Revolutionary War, for example, was referred to by my History teacher as “that unfortunate incident involving tea.”

Before Monday I had never been to a Town Meeting. But I’m a writer and the mother of a voracious reader who loves the Stockbridge Library, so when a friend asked me if I could come to the Town Meeting in Stockbridge to help oppose a possible motion to reduce funding to the library, I said “you bet,” I had no idea what to expect.

I was truly astonished to see over 250 people there. My doctor and dentist, the guy who hands me my packages at the post office, the owner of the Stockbridge General Store where my kids get bubble gum, the principal of the elementary school, the Art teacher, the superintendent of schools, the guy who fixed my frozen shoulder in five minutes, dozens of people whose faces I recognized but did not know by name and of course the noble librarians and board members from the beloved Stockbridge Library.

First a man with a white beard stood up and asked everyone to vote on the first four issues on the piece of paper by saying “Aye” or “Nay.” There were no “Nays” at all.

“Is the library safe?” I whispered to the woman next to me.

“Yes,” she said.

“Oh good. What’s next?”

“The school.”

“What’s the issue?”

“The Finance Committee thinks we shouldn’t raise our taxes to help capitalize improvements at Monument because we have far fewer kids living in Stockbridge. We’re going to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’.”

“You mean it will be decided here? Tonight? By the people in this room?” I said.



This would never happen in England.

I knew that Monument Mountain Regional High School badly needs fixing — no school should have to use trash cans to collect rain water because the roof is leaking. I also knew that there had been understandable upset amongst Great Barrington voters who felt the financial burden on them was unfairly high.

Times are tough all over Massachusetts. There are many people in Stockbridge for whom even a slight rise in taxes will be a significant burden. ‘Who votes to raise their own taxes when they don’t have to?’ I wondered.

Then, over the next hour and a half, I witnessed people I knew, sort of knew and didn’t know at all come up to the microphone and express their feelings about the pros and cons of taking on more of the financial burden to help ease the strain on Great Barrington.

“Why should we reward Great Barrington?” someone said.

“Because they’re our neighbors and they need our help. And because we believe in education for all children, not just in our town but in the district.”

And then, despite the fact that no one thought it would happen, against the recommendation of the Finance Committee, the people of Stockbridge voted against their own self-interest. We voted to raise our own taxes, to help our neighbors in the next town.

Instead of the exception, what if this sort of thing became the norm?

Editor’s Note: The Berkshire Edge and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center have joined forces to encourage discussion about the value of community. The above article represents that effort.

Coming Home to Jane Austen

jane austen literacy foundation


I was adopted into a loving English family and spent a lot of my childhood in Sussex, not far from Chawton where Jane Austen lived and wrote. I went to country dances in the same church halls that were used for dances in Jane Austen’s time. I was pursued by my share of Mr Wickhams, I was as amused by life as Elizabeth Bennet, I endured the company of many a Mrs Elton and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I fell in love with my own Mr Darcy.

Then, in my mid-twenties, while working as a classical actress and playwright in London, I found my birth mother in Tennessee, moved to New York and became a stand-up comic. Because what else do you do?

I wrote a one-woman show that led to Hollywood sit-com deals, an exciting voice career, keynote speeches, a London run and The English American, my autobiographical novel about an adopted Englishwoman who finds her birth parents – and herself – in the United States. I was a long way away from Jane Austen’s England.

These days, over twenty years later when I’m not writing, performing or trying to think of something edible to feed my all-American kids, I narrate and produce audiobooks from a small town in rural Massachusetts, near where Norman Rockwell painted and Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick.

I love my life in America. But there’s so much about England that I miss. In addition to my family, I miss Marmite, cream teas, Sunday lunch, people who don’t flinch when I offer them steak and kidney pie, Waterloo station, friends from way-back-when, gum boots, long country walks, blackberry picking and being around other people who apologize constantly for things they didn’t do.

However, even though I can’t get back to England as often as I would like, as an audiobook narrator I do get to travel to England in my imagination. All without having to leave my recording studio – aka The Tardis. And nothing has given me a greater sense of homecoming than narrating the novels of Jane Austen.

audiobook cottage Alison Larkin

Alison Larkin's recording studio

Jane Austen audiobook

Emma, illustrated by New Yorker Cartoonist, William Hamilton

While it was the romance that first drew me to Jane Austen, as an audiobook narrator preparing to narrate them for a modern audience, I was struck by how deeply funny Jane Austen’s novels are.

As every modern day comic writer/performer will tell you, the best humor comes from truth. Jane Austen knew this too.

As Austen’s famous characters came to life in the recording studio, my greatest challenge was to get through each scene without laughing. I’m sorry to say it took me over two hours to record the scene when the obsequious Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. Mr Woodhouse’s views on the evils of eating cake in Emma was another trouble spot. And every time Anne’s sister complained in Persuasion I howled in recognition.

In keeping with the Alison Larkin Presents’ mission to bring the novels of Jane Austen to a modern audience in a wholly, accessible way, the cover illustration of Emma was drawn specially by New Yorker cartoonist William Hamilton. In order to give listeners an authentic sense of what after dinner entertainment might have sounded like in Jane Austen’s England, we released Pride & Prejudice with Songs from Regency England, and added some less well known Jane Austen poems to our recording of Persuasion.

Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park are coming soon! On a recent trip to England my parents and I visited the Jane Austen Museum in Chawton and two wonderful things happened. While strolling in the garden, I was approached by a Jane Austen enthusiast who had heard my audiobook narration of Emma and said “At last! A narrator who understands that Jane Austen is FUNNY!”

Then, I met the Knight family, the last of the Austen descendants to live at ‘Chawton Great House’, as Jane called it, when it was still their family home. In Chawton I met Jeremy, Edward Austen’s third great-grandson who was full of amusing tales and family anecdotes and a week after I returned to America, I spoke to his daughter – the brilliant, effervescent Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s great-great-great-great-great niece – who really is great – literally and metaphorically. Caroline told me about the work she is doing and asked me if I would like to help literacy in honour of Jane Austen.

There are a lot of good things happening in the world. The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation is one of them.

And so when Caroline asked me if I would like to be an Ambassador for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation in the United States, I said, “Yes. I would.”

Because what else do you do?

For every Jane Austen audio book bought before the end of December 2016 from Alison Larkin Presents, five dollars will be donated to the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. The money raised will be used to provide literacy resources to immigrants and refugees in Southern Berkshire County, Massachusetts

© Alison Larkin – Author, comedienne and award-winning audio book narrator and Jane Austen Literacy Foundation Ambassador