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Achieving Women

State of the Arts


Published January 25, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

Samantha Hunt was naked and dripping wet when she got the news: Her first story was accepted by The New Yorker. "My agent had been leaving messages all day while I was at work; I got home at 6:30 and heard them all," she says. "He'd gone out for the evening but said he'd call when he got in, so I knew something big had happened." Too excited to sit down, Hunt went out walking "a bit wildly" in her Brooklyn neighborhood, and when she came home she took a bath. "I was in the tub when he called. I jumped up and grabbed the phone, and we were screaming and laughing and happy! It was the first piece of fiction he'd sold to The New Yorker, too."

"Three Days" -- a wistful Thanksgiving tale with a tragic equine twist -- appears in the January 16 issue of the esteemed publication. Though an important literary coup for Hunt, a 1993 graduate of the University of Vermont, it is not her first; her short stories have been published in McSweeney's and half a dozen other literary magazines, as well as in two anthologies. Her debut novel, The Seas, was published in 2004 by MacAdam/Cage and is just out in paperback. This week the publisher is making an offer on her second novel, a "historical fiction about the life of the electrical engineer Nikola Tesla," Hunt reveals. "He invented radio despite what Marconi says." Last summer she returned briefly to Vermont, as the Shane Stevens Fellow at Bread Loaf.

A native of Pound Ridge, N.Y., Hunt pursued English and art at UVM -- she names writer David Huddle and printmaker Bill Davison as two of her most influential professors. Graduating with dual talents, Hunt first took the graphic-arts route after college: as art director for Seven Days. Four years later, she decided to give the Big Apple a try, and landed a job as design manager for the Village Voice. Meanwhile, Hunt returned to her writing, and since 2001 has been teaching it, too, at the Pratt Institute.

No matter their accomplishments elsewhere, for fiction writers The New Yorker remains something of a Holy Grail. Hunt is more fortunate than many -- "Three Days" was only her second submission to the magazine. She recalls being "a bit thrilled" even by her anonymous rejection letter for the first, 14 years ago, when she was 19. "My dad thought I might want to try a more 'modest publication,'" she says.

McSweeney's was the first to reward Hunt's unique literary voice. Her stories tend to be a little sad, almost elegiac, with gently flowing sentences and images that nearly glisten with a forlorn loveliness. Publication in The New Yorker brought Hunt some other, unexpected, pleasures, too; she reports hearing from old friends she hadn't seen since elementary school, "and nice strangers also, one man from Bulgaria. That was very thrilling," she says. "Still, my grandma wants to know why I write such dreary stories."

Hey, it has worked out pretty well for Annie Proulx. We say, keep it up.

A new gallery opening is always happy news, especially now, in Burlington, where the arts community is still mourning the late, great Doll-Anstadt Gallery. That purveyor of distinguished contemporary art came to a close along with 2005. Though Burlington is considered one of the nation's best small art towns, it's no secret that actually selling artwork to Vermonters remains a risky business. "Maybe a co-op is the only way to make it work, with everyone sharing expenses," muses Catherine Hall. She's about to find out. The Burlington artist and teacher is a co-founder, along with Charlotte Hastings, Diane Gabriel and Sandra Berbeco, of 215 College Street Artists' Co-op, due to open in early March. Hall credits Hastings for proposing the gallery, and Berbeco for fronting the funds to make it look like one.

The two-room, second-floor space is like a SoHo loft, Hall suggests. Well, minus the height; here, the "dropped" tile ceiling is the only thing that hasn't been renovated. For the previous six years, when this was Hall's private studio, the floor was covered by "a grungy carpet," the walls paneled in fake pine. Now the wood floors are refinished, the walls painted white, and a hollow-core door between the two rooms has been replaced by a wide opening. Track lights are going in this week. The place is bright, clean and ready to host art openings.

The 12 member-artists -- coincidentally all women -- will each get a month-long exhibit per year, though they have the option of inviting other artists to show with them, Hall says. "We've worked it out so that each artist gets a First Friday," she adds, referring to the city's monthly art walk. Otherwise, the gallery will be open to visitors Thursday through Sunday.

Hall doesn't mind sharing her once-solo space. As the 2006 recipient of Burlington City Arts' Barbara Smail Award, she has use of BCA's facilities for a year, including the print and clay studios and darkroom. Hall is known as a painter, but she's nothing if not adventurous. As a result, her work has always evolved dramatically. It will be interesting to see what she can do with a camera or a hunk of clay . . . or an art gallery.

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