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Remembering Laurie Colwin Through Stories She Wrote (and Stories About Her)

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You didn’t have to live in Cornwall, Conn., to know Laurie Colwin, one of many famous writers who have lived in this particularly artistic little Northwest Corner town.

Colwin was well-known to anyone who loved to read about food and simple, homey pleasures. Her writing was gentle and warm and inviting, her recipes simple and attainable.

Which is somewhat funny when you speak to people who knew her well. 

Dave Cadwell knew her from his restaurant, Cadwell’s Corner, near the Covered Bridge. In one of her short essays published in “More Home Cooking,” Colwin described his coffee shop as “the premier breakfast and lunch place in West Cornwall,” and then described in detail why the Cadwell meatloaf was particularly tasty. 

If you want to know the details of that famous meatloaf, tune in on Saturday, Nov. 28, to the Cornwall Library’s annual Cornwall Reads Cornwall. Famous figures from town read the writings of famous writers from town. Some of those writers were local heroes (Samuel Scoville Jr.) and others were favorites around the globe (James Thurber). 

Colwin might not be a household name in the way that Thurber was, but those who loved her writing loved her very much. Even today, 28 years after her unexpected death at age 48 of a heart attack in 1992, she is remembered as though she had just left the room.

The actress Blair Brown (Molly Dodd on television and, more recently, Judy King in “Orange Is the New Black”) will read several selections written by her friend for the event, perhaps from “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking” — including the famous meatloaf story. 

For those who knew Colwin only from her writing, it’s funny to hear her described by those who knew her. Her essays are quiet, observant, gentle.  In life, however, she was outspoken and full of sizzle.

“You always knew when Laurie was in the room,” Cadwell said affectionately. “She was a real pisser.”

Brown said she met Colwin after moving to an apartment in New York. 

“She’d sit on the front stoop of her building, which was three doors down from mine, wearing a denim wrap skirt and a French mariner’s shirt, barelegged with loafers on,” Brown recalled. And she would observe people coming and going — and engage them in conversation. 

“She was essentially the concierge of our street,” Brown said. 

One day Colwin saw Brown walking by, struck up a conversation and invited herself over to see the actress’s new pad. A long friendship ensued. 

“Laurie would always talk about The Country,” Brown recalled, in the days before she too began to spend time here in Litchfield County. “Laurie described Cornwall  as a cross between Eden and Oz. 

“I remember once that she entered her chutney at either the Cornwall Ag Fair or the Goshen Fair. And she won a blue ribbon! She was thrilled.”

That’s especially endearing when you know that Colwin’s work was routinely published in Gourmet magazine and The New Yorker and that she was voted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, posthumously, in 2012.

Colwin’s close friend Franny Taliaferro recalled that the writer (and her future husband, the book publisher Juris Jurjevics) came to Cornwall in 1982.

“Laurie loved Cornwall. Period,” Talieferro said. 

When asked how The Concierge of a New York City Street fared in the relative isolation of The Country, Talieferro said, “Laurie’s Cornwall was not a place of isolation. She found everybody interesting and eventually invited everybody she liked to come for some sort of meal. A natural questioner, she got to know more about Cornwall than many people who had lived there for decades. 

“In the terrible event of the 1989 tornado, Laurie pitched right in and made food for workers — just the sort of thing she did in New York City, where she was a volunteer cook in a soup kitchen. 

“Laurie loved community — a Cornwallish trait.”

Those who read her and didn’t know her, and didn’t know to mourn her early death, think of her as frozen in time in the 1990s, young and pretty with curly hair and a bit of a smirk. 

What would she be like today?

“Laurie would be 76 if she were alive now,” Taliaferro said. “She was full of surprises and I wouldn’t dare to imagine what she might be doing. I know for sure, however, that her essential nature would be the same: warm, appreciative, affectionate, funny, irreverent and deeply intelligent.”

 

To learn more about the wonders of Laurie Colwin, and to hear writings by James Thurber, Samuel Scoville Jr. and others, join the Zoom of Cornwall Reads Cornwall on Saturday, Nov. 28, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Readers include Kurt Andersen and Anne Kreamer and Roxana Robinson. Register at www.cornwalllibrary.org.

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