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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Joe Manning's "Mornings On Maple Street"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, April 15, 2006

Author and photographer Joe Manning at a favorite city eatery brew-ha-ha [Photo by Sue Bush]
North Adams - He is known regionally as a writer and photographer, but Joe Manning may be best described as a collector.

A collection of essays, stories, photographs and quote snippets bound as an Internet "quilt" called "Mornings On Maple Street" www.morningsonmaplestreet.com is allowing Manning to share his talents and his vision with an untapped and unlimited audience.

Speaking on April 14 from a table at the Marshall Street eatery brew-ha-ha, Manning said that he is drawn to exploring communities and speaking to the people who give breath to community life.

Photography and writing allow him to immortalize his perceptions and the new web site affords an opportunity to put communities "on the map," he said.

"And somebody may come upon the site by accident and say 'hey, someone wrote an article about my town,' or see the photographs and say 'I never saw this town the way Joe Manning does,'" Manning said.

Travel In His Soul, Ink In His Pen

At 64, the author of the regionally popular books "Steeples: Sketches of North Adams," "Disappearing Into North Adams" and "Gig At The Amtrak" has a lot of travel left in his soul, a lot of ink left in his pen, and lot of enthusiasm about using the Internet to introduce small towns to large populations.

"People are always busy doing all the things that they have to do to live their lives," Manning said. "They are taking the kids to day care, going off to their jobs, paying their bills; I am lucky enough that I can come and observe, bring another perspective, take whatever talent I have and put it to practice."

Once he has absorbed the unique personality of a given town, once the photos are taken and the prose is penned, the community may become part of "Mornings On Maple Street." And that is when a town may come to the attention of thousands of folks.

"The power of the Internet is wonderful in that way, I think, " Manning said.

Beneath The Surface

During the Great Depression of the last century, a federal Works Progress Administration [WPA] initiative paid professional writers to visit the nation's states and write about the locales and the people. Facts, lore, and human interest stories were compiled into books, Manning said.

"These books were basically 'make-work' projects," Manning said. "By using experienced writers, they were able to get some very unique stories. Those books are quite valuable now.'

Manning compared his "mornings" writings to the WPA prose.

"When I go to a place, I look for what is beneath the surface," Manning said. "It's very satisfying. I'll go and walk around, walk behind the buildings, walk down to the river, walk around with a camera. I draw out the personality of a town, make the people think about their town. I think that I've done something good."

His ventures and visits may not always make money for Manning but the junkets always result in new friends, he said.

Inspiration Exchange

While in Springfield, Vt., Manning met a young woman who had purchased a large building in town and who also had a North Adams connection.

"It turned out that she went to MCLA [Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts] and had lived in North Adams, " Manning said. "She was kind of using me for a sounding board for her ideas, and I would get a different story from her about the town than what you would get from the town fathers. I haven't been up to Springfield for about seven months, and she e-mailed me because she wants to talk with me. She says I give her a lot of encouragement, and she gives me a lot of stories that I don't get from anyone else."

The Tulips Of Claremont

While on a spring excursion to Claremont, N.H. several years ago,, Manning met a woman who lived on a residential street in a home graced with beautiful, blooming tulips. Manning struck up a conversation and the woman ultimately delivered a tour of the community and then invited Manning into her home for coffee.

She professed to feeling rather depressed as winter approached, Manning said, in part because the town "seemed to be going nowhere."

"She said that the thing that helped get her through the winters was planting tulip bulbs in the fall," Manning said. "That's what gave her something to look forward to. And that was four years ago. Now, every year, I go to see her and her tulips."

"I would never have met her if not for just talking to her on the street. I only see her once a year, but it's become a ritual."

"I'll keep going every year as long as she is there. I'll be one of those tulips that she looks forward to."

The woman offered "inspiration" to Manning, and similar experiences occur at each town he wanders, he said.

New "Mornings On Maple Street"

"It's wonderful to see the value in a place," Manning said. "There are so many more towns to write about, so many photographs...and I'm not a casual observer. Everything I write about is like a discovery to me."

"There's always another 'morning on Maple Street' around the corner from me."

Additional information about Joe Manning may be acquired a a www.sevensteeples.com Internet website.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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