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  • Nest. Flight. Sky.

  • On love and loss, one wing at a time
  • Beth Kephart
  • In Nest. Flight. Sky. award-winning memoirist Beth Kephart returns to the form for the first time in years to reckon with the loss of her mother and a slow-growing but soon inescapable obsession with birds and flight. Kephart finds herself drawn to the startle of the winter finch, the quick pulse of hummingbirds, and the hungry circling of hawks. She discovers birds in the stories she tells and the novels she writes. She hunts for nests, she waits for song, she seeks the stories of bird artists, she waits. Nest. Flight. Sky. is about the love that endures and the hope that saves us. It’s about the gift of feathers.


            In the final months of my mother’s life I was present. I had always been the child who had not moved far from home, who had gone to a college just down the road, who had called most every day. I was the child who, when my mother had an accident my freshman year, came home many weekends to help take care, to try to distract her from the pain she’d never shed. On Sundays my father would drive me back to the urban campus, to my studies, to small complications of my own, and so I came and went, and I was never sure if I ever actually helped her. In the years afterward, when the consequences of my mother’s accident multiplied and deepened, I tried to help but nothing finally helped. I did what I was capable of.

            I was marrying, I was working, I was mothering, I was writing. Time was always short.

            But now was different. Now we were older, both of us were. Now there was the sense of something ending. The medical news was confusing. No patterns held. No underlying theory explained the symptoms, which were very real and pressing. My mother was in and out of the hospital, back and forth with doctors; suggestions were made, but little that was said or done was helpful. Every medical measure seemed stopgap. All the clinical words were vague. The tests were too many and they were intrusive. They were black-hole procedures.

            I bought my mother orchids, pumpkins, Popsicles. I bought her socks and sweaters, brought her pictures inside frames. I left a bag of groceries melting on her stoop because she could not, on that day, come to the door, because, I thought, she wouldn’t. I roasted a chicken in the middle of one afternoon and hurried it to her house—not lunchtime, not dinner, just something.

            I said to her, I’m sure it’s nothing.

            I said to my husband, This is a terrible something.

            I got in the way and out of the way. My timing was imperfect.

            The doctors were imperfect, too. The doctors failed to conclude in time, to establish a proper protocol, to set her on the path toward a cure. It all could have been different but for a day or two. She would have been saved save for this: in the hospital, this time, they gave her blood thinners for a condition she didn’t have. Upon a too-long at last, when they had established a reliable diagnosis, when they had a reliable treatment plan, they couldn’t do anything until her blood was right again.

            We’ll operate Monday, they promised.

            You’ll feel so much better, they promised.

            This will all be over then.

            Please, we said, can’t you operate now? Save her now? Fix her now? We said it. All of us did, my mother, too.

            But the thinners were in the blood, and the operation had to wait, and the stroke the surgery would have prevented struck my mother later that same day.

            Calamitous. Devastating.

            My father was there when it happened. I was out, it was late, I felt something harden in my heart, caught myself, caught my breath.

            What’s wrong? my husband said, there in the dark, as I knelt to the floor, among a crowd of dancers.

It’s my mother, I said.

My phone rang early the next morning, and I knew.

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Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of 16 books, an adjunct faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania, a frequent memoir workshop leader, and the strategic writing partner in a boutique communications firm. Small Damages, a young adult novel that takes place in southern Spain, was named to many best of 2012 lists and is a Carolyn W. Field Honor Book. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir has received starred reviews and was featured in O magazine. Kephart is a National Book Award finalist, a National Endowment for the Arts grant winner, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts winner, a Speakeasy Poetry Prize winner, and a featured author in the Philadelphia Literary Legacy exhibition. She has written reviews and essays for the New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, Millions, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, and many others. She writes a monthly column on place for the Philadelphia Inquirer and has an award-winning blog. Going Over, Kephart’s novel about Berlin in 1983, will be released by Chronicle in April 2014.

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Memoirist Beth Kephart opens up about her obsession with birds and her definition of “truth.”

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“Beth Kephart writes about mother-loss in a way that is wholly unique—there is grief here, yes, but there is also growth, surprise, comfort, and faith. The birds that appear after the death of Kephart’s mother serve to indicate, almost viscerally, a reality blessedly larger than we can imagine. Nest. Flight. Sky. is a book you will want to share with a friend, to discuss, to return to for solace.”

–Laura Fraser, Shebooks editorial director


"Stunning. Kephart's lyrical prose lingers with you long after the final page."

Ruta Sepetys, author of New York Times bestseller, Between Shades of Gray

"There is poetry in Beth Kephart’s pain. There is wisdom. And there is the powerful recognition that nature speaks to us and comforts us during our deepest moments of sorrow if we are awake to all that surrounds us."

–Beth Hoffman, New York Times Bestselling Author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me

"The latest work from this award-winning local author is a brief and bittersweet e-book memoir that focuses on Kephart’s intense emotional ties to her mom and the grief that comes with losing a parent. Artfully woven throughout are references to her lifelong fascination with birds. The perfect Mother’s Day gift."

Main Line Today

"Kephart is a linguistic Midas—everything she puts to paper is golden."

—Darcy Jacobs, Family Circle

"...handled deftly. I read this book twice--once for the pleasure of reading it, and then a second time to study and savor it."

–Susan C. Tekulve

"Beth Kephart strives to give all those who grieve the hope that there is peace, a peace that we can live with and thrive with, as long as we remember to breathe and be alive."

–S. Agusto-Cox

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