The Write Space – Bethany Groff Dorau

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Give us your best writerly bio.

My name is Bethany Groff Dorau, and I love dead people. Though this may seem like the opening line to a criminal confession, it is more accurate to say that I love history, and in particular, I love investigating the lives of ordinary people in the past. Recently, I have been turning the light on my own past as well, an uncomfortable exercise but one that has resulted in a most interesting distinction—I am (ahem) the Only Writer Ever to Appear Three Times in the Modern Love Column of the New York Times. If modern artists must also be self-promoters, then who doesn’t love a superlative?

This personal writing aside, one of the great loves of my life is the subject of my most recent book, A Newburyport Marine in World War I: The Life and Legacy of Eben Bradbury (History Press). Eben Bradbury, a distant cousin, was a young Marine killed at Belleau Wood in France on June 12, 1918. The book is not so much about his death, but about his life, the city he loved, and the impact his death had on his family. I think about all of them all the time.

Several years ago I wrote a local history book, “A Brief History of Old Newbury”, also from the History Press, an attempt to tell the early story of the town I love in a concise, readable volume. I fell in love again, with all of the complex, dynamic people who lived here three centuries ago, and so the book reads more like a collection of stories. I visit some of my favorite characters in their houses or at the First Parish Burying Ground on 1A, one of my favorite (pun intended) haunts.   

Tell us about a North Shore Write Space.

In 2017, my husband and I bought the crumbling farmhouse in West Newbury that has been in my family since it was built by my great-great-great grandfather in 1817. I told you I love dead people! My family name is Poore, so the jokes about the Poore House or being sent to the Poore Farm are endless. Since the home is still filled with the collected objects and energy of seven generations of my family, it is an extremely evocative place to write. I find that any corner is an inspiration, and also often a distraction, as I ponder the way my family’s past and present have come together in this space. I am sitting in the corner of the parlor (not to be confused with the living room), looking at my mother’s piano upon which is set a basket of masks and a pair of artillery shells made into vases in a World War I trench, a gift in honor of Eben Bradbury, below a dim framed photograph of Moses Poore, my great-great grandfather, and so on. I love all the stories this house inspires.

I also find myself endlessly inspired by the amazing writers and artists who take part in the annual Newburyport Literary Festival. I am fortunate enough to sit on the steering committee for this event and so often have a chance to chat with these folks in a more personal way.                               

“When I’m in the North Shore, not writing, I’m . . .”

…cleaning up manure. In my work as regional administrator at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, I coordinate the care of twenty-something farm animals brought to us by the MSPCA at Nevins Farm. An amazing, dedicated group of volunteers and my fellow staff members handle day-to-day care, but there is always the hunt for good hay, a health issue to monitor, and the aforementioned unending piles of manure.

I recently joined the rest of the world in taking on massive personal projects during the pandemic, and we fenced in four acres of our property and adopted a group of sheep and goats and a massive draft horse named Chief. We spend a lot of time with them, and our rescue pup, Ruskin

What are you working on now?

The publication of my full-length New York Times essay, “Spending My Tenderness on Animals” sparked some amazing conversations with other writers and has led me to contemplate more writing on the general topic of how animals can help us heal from all sorts of trauma, and on my experience in particular.                                               

And finally

This is from some recent writing on The Move, the religious group into which I was born. We shall see where it leads:

Though Sam Fife had always taught that The Move was a chosen people, and that they should therefore separate themselves from “the system”, all the worldly trappings of government and society, in 1971 he had a revelation that the run-up to the end of the world, the “end-times”, a period of suffering and tribulation, was imminent. It was time for God’s people to move into the wilderness, to a place that was prophesied in the Bible as “prepared for the women”. Here, the faithful would separate themselves completely, work together to achieve sinless perfection, survive the end of days, and emerge to a new order, in which “God is bringing forth a many-membered man-child …through whom Christ will govern the world during the millennium that is to come”. The idea of the “man-child”, the “corporate man”, the death of the self and all of its worldly connections, is at the heart of all of Sam Fife’s teaching from this period. It asked of my parents that they drink from their deepest well of fear and hope simultaneously, be both brave and craven, and follow their brethren into the howling wild. 

“Find out more at” is a work in progress, thanks to my wonderful photographer friend Amanda Ambrose. There are some blog posts there of which I am very proud, covering a journey to the grave of Eben Bradbury with my friend, also a brilliant photographer, Cynthia August.                         

My books can be found there or at my favorite local bookstore, Jabberwocky, in the Tannery in Newburyport.

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