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December 18, 2011

Nancy Jensen on BLACK BEAUTY

Posted by Katherine

Nancy Jensen’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, and her first book, WINDOW, a collection of short stories and essays, was published by Fleur-de-Lis Press in 2009. She has been awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. Nancy shares her home with eight rescued cats and her dog Gordy, who is her partner on a pet therapy team with Pawsibilities Unleashed of Kentucky, visiting hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and daycare centers. When she isn’t writing or enjoying the company of her furred family, she teaches as a member of the core faculty in the MFA in Writing Program at Eastern Kentucky University. Her first novel, THE SISTERS, has been selected by the Independent Booksellers Association as the #1 Indie Next Pick for December and Kirkus Reviews has included it in its list for Best Fiction of 2011. It is also one of Carol Fitzgerald’s Bet’s On Picks for 2011. Here she remembers receiving Black BEAUTY as a Christmas present.

I was seven, my hands and stomach trembling together as they always did on Christmas morning ---especially when the package laid in my lap was a crisply wrapped rectangle, heavy for its size and thickness, obviously a book.  Other packages I tore into like a savage, but books I unwrapped slowly, sliding my fingers under the seam of the wrapping paper, caressing the surface of the still-hidden book as if I could read Braille.

At last I pulled away the paper and saw a magnificent black horse rearing up into the golden light that bathed his vast, unfenced pasture.  His coat, so sleek it looked wet, the prominent white star at the center of his forehead, his mane and tail whipped by an unseen breeze --- all these details combined to express who this Black Beauty was: a proud, triumphant creature taking joy in his freedom.

It was the perfect gift for little me, for I loved books and I loved horses, but I didn’t have any way of knowing how my love for BLACK BEAUTY would shape my life.  All books before this, I realize now, had been storybooks --- simply plotted happenings, sometimes in clever rhymes, but nothing that made me feel anything stronger than amusement.  Reading Black Beauty, I cried real tears, many times, and when I finished, I read it again and again, finding I craved the feeling of being pulled by words through delight, heartbreak, and all the emotions in between, ultimately to a deep contentment I could carry with me, reflecting on what Black Beauty had learned: that terrible things happen sometimes, beyond our control --- like a stumble in a rut --- and change the course of our lives; that no matter how hard we try to hold our heads up, to be good and noble and kind, we don’t always get the treatment we deserve or deserve the treatment we get; that genuine triumph comes only after trial, and that nothing matters so much as knowing and holding onto our true selves. 

Though I’m sure at seven I had never heard the word literature, I know now that reading BLACK BEAUTYburst open the seed of who I am --- the lover of literature and the writer --- all of it the gift of a horse who never lived, but who lives always.