New English teacher and Wilson Fellow Carrie Brown not only gives creative writing assignments to her senior creative writing students, she completes her own. Mrs. Brown, an acclaimed author who has written seven novels and a short story collection, will release her eighth published book, The Stargazer’s Sister, this coming January.
Mrs. Brown, a Connecticut native, loved English in her early school days and admitted, “I was a hopeless, embarrassingly bad math student.” After graduating from Brown University and beginning her search for a newspaper job, she steered clear of big metropolitan papers, attracted instead by smaller communities where people relied on the newspaper to be informative and helpful.
While in college, Mrs. Brown interned at the Hartford Courant and worked for the Asian Wall Street Journal. When she met her husband, John Gregory Brown, the couple moved to Virginia, where Mr. Brown took a teaching position at Sweet Briar College, directing the Creative Writing program. Mrs. Brown’s early months at Sweet Briar without a job gave her time to write. Her career as a novelist really took off as she spent her days building characters and plots, publishing her first book the same year she graduated from the University of Virginia’s MFA program in Creative Writing. Eventually she joined her husband teaching at Sweet Briar and then moved on to Hollins University, where she served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing.
Now Mrs. Brown has moved her entire life to Deerfield. “Any time you enter a new community,” she said, “you’re asking new things of yourself.” Perhaps the most significant among these new things is learning how to adjust her teaching style. Moving from a higher education environment to the high school level at Deerfield has been an interesting transition for Mrs. Brown. She explained, “It has been a pedagogical, intellectual challenge.”
Mrs. Brown’s newest novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, is based on the lives of the 19th century astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who served as her brother’s assistant and became an accomplished astronomer in her own right. Though many of Mrs. Brown’s books have taken as little as a couple of years to finish, Brown has spent much of her adult life writing The Stargazer’s Sister.
“It became a twenty-year research project,” Mrs. Brown said. “It just wouldn’t let me go.” Mrs. Brown’s inspiration for the novel, she said, came from the radio astronomy program StarDate on National Public Radio. She was dropping her kids off at school one morning when she heard a short segment about William and Caroline Herschel. Mrs. Brown became “totally hooked.” The inspiration for the novel stemmed from the siblings’ relationship “and the work that [the sister] did at a time when women were largely not engaged in astronomy.”
The Stargazer’s Sister is unique not only in the sheer time it took to produce, but also in the amount of research required to write it, in particular the complex astronomy that Mrs. Brown needed to learn. Although Mrs. Brown admitted that while writing the novel, she experienced a constant cycle of a few months of hard work followed by long breaks as a result of frustration, she said, “I really don’t like giving up. I don’t like failing.” The novel will finally hit the shelves in January.
Through The Stargazer’s Sister, Mrs. Brown hopes to convey “what it means to love someone, especially when that love is not always an easy love to give.” Mrs. Brown illustrates Caroline’s unlikely story—her trials and successes in the search for her own identity—as an example of how “to find our own place in the universe, a place from which we can look out at the world and see it with the truth and knowledge of our own gaze.”