Friday, November 11, 2011

Somerville Writer Janet Mendelsohn: Bringing her passion to the passion of her subjects.

(Picture by Stu Rosner)

Somerville Writer Janet Mendelsohn: Bringing her passion to the passion of her subjects.

By Doug Holder

Janet Mendelsohn is a passionate writer who writes about other people’s passions. This Davis Square resident has the ability to hone in on her subject like some predatory literary bird, and peck out what makes them tick—to strain an analogy. I met Mendelsohn on a warm October morning in one of my favorite haunts in Union Square, the Sherman Cafe.

Mendelsohn told me she and her husband love Somerville. Their children live next door in Arlington; her husband likes the quick commute into Boston, and they both love the stimulation and diversity that the Paris of New England generously provides.

Mendelsohn has had many roles in her impressive career. She has worked for a number of non-profits, and was more often than not a Public Relations person. Now she is a freelance writer and writes for the Boston Globe Travel Section, the Wellesley /Weston Magazine, Maine Boat, and other publications. She writes about people as diverse as a group of needlepointers in Wellesley, Mass. or an artist and his timber- framed home in the wilds of Maine.

Mendelsohn has a degree in Journalism, and an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She describes Creative Non-Fiction as a genre in which the writer becomes part of the story. The writer does not have to be as objective as he or she would in a standard journalistic piece.

I asked Mendelsohn about her work on a book about the history of Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. This was an in-house publication that she worked on during her tenure there some years ago. She told me about the hospital that lies in the shadow of Mass. General and other behemoths:

“Mt. Auburn has a very fascinating past. It was founded by a Civil War nurse, Emily Parson. It has a strong connection to the literary community—Longfellow was an early supporter of the hospital and Robert Lowell contributed his work to a book that was used as part of a fundraiser for the hospital.”

Mendelsohn makes no bones about the valuable work she did as a PR person. I asked her how she would answer people who would say that this line of work was all about hype—sizzle with very little steak. She said:

“This makes me mad. When I was working for non-profits, hospitals, Wellesley College,etc.... I always felt it was my job to tell the stories about the institutions, and get the reporters to report about them. The press is too often fixated on scandals. I wanted them to know about the projects, the faculty, students, doctors, etc… were working on.”

As we ended our interview, Mendelsohn started to informally interview me about my Bagel Bards literary group. It is obvious her passion for people and their stories plays a defining role in her life.

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