Author Kitty Burns Florey is no stranger to New Haven. She's a former employee of both the New Haven Advocate and the Foundry Bookstore. On Thursday, Jan. 23, she'll visit the Allis-Bushnell House in Madison to present her novel "The Writing Master," set in 1956 New Haven, as part of National Handwriting Day. Her other books on writing include "Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting" and "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences." We spoke to her in advance of her visit about writing, the Advocate, and of course, New Haven.
Why is it important for kids to learn cursive/handwriting in school?
I'm no expert, but everyone I talk to — educators, psychologists — believes that children learn reading more easily when they can also write words — actually forming the letters with a pencil or pen, on paper, rather than pressing a key. But even more important, the ability to handwrite should be reinforced throughout all 12 grades. Often, kids learn to write in 3rd grade, and then hardly use it — so their skill level is stuck at about age 8. Hence the childish, unconfident handwriting of many adults!
How do you feel about handwriting becoming a thing of the past in school curricula?
I think it should remain important up until graduation, that students should be required to hand in a certain number of neatly written, legible papers and tests on a regular basis.
What have you learned from researching different styles of handwriting?
I'm not an advocate of cursive writing — I have a very strong bias toward Italic script, which some schools teach: a kind of combination of joined-up cursive writing and printing that each person can individualize. There are some wonderful programs out there — the best, I think, is Getty-Dubay. But the important thing is that the script be legible, quick, and reliable.
What is your fondest memory of working at the Advocate?
For a while, I was the theater critic, and not only got comps to all the plays at Long Wharf and Yale Rep, but once got to spend a week backstage with the actors at Long Wharf, doing an in-depth article on the production of George Bernard Shaw's "St. Joan." I also recall an outrageous and wonderful cross-dressing production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" at Yale.
What is your favorite thing about New Haven?
The architecture. When I first moved to New Haven in 1970, I was thrilled by the variety of 19th-century buildings in the city, the way the past seemed so alive. I still love walking in the city, and it was partly those gorgeous old houses that inspired my New Haven historical novel "The Writing Master."
What is next on your project list?
I'm almost finished with a family history/memoir I've been working on for the last year or so. Then I'll begin the sequel to "The Writing Master," set 30 years later, this time in Amherst, Mass., where I live now. It's called "The Italian Soprano," and a character who's a baby in the first book is all grown up in the second — she returns to New England from Italy and wreaks havoc!
Kitty Burns Florey will appear on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Allis-Bushnell House in Madison. Free. Information: 203-245-3959, rjjulia.com