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Gardens and Fostering Creativity in Others: an Interview with Martha Putnam

We sat down with Martha Putnam, poetry and non-fiction editor as well as one of the founding members of the Penultimate Peanut, to get to know her a little better.

Q: What was the inspiration for Penultimate Peanut?

A: I feel like the idea found us. Abi and I were talking about literary magazines. She had just read the book The Write Crowd which recommends joining your local literary scene and giving something back at the same time. We looked for a literary magazine in the area and couldn’t find one. There was nothing that had the flavor of the area or that was an outlet for local writers, beyond college magazines.

Q: Why “penultimate”? Does the word have a special meaning for the magazine?

A: We were going through possible names, and the first we came up with was the dusty peanut, but that was already taken. This is our second choice. I liked the way it sounded. The alliteration of it. People use penultimate to mean “ultimate,” or “the last,” but it really means “second to last.” For us, it means “the ultimate pen.”

Abi: We’re not the novel, we’re the story before the novel, because we’re short fiction.

Q: You have a beautiful garden outside your house. What do you enjoy about gardening?

A: This is going to sound cliché, but you are nearer to God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth. I marvel at things that grow; it amazes me. Just to view God’s creation, the amazing variety and construction of plants, and that you are part of creating. You get a little glimpse of Eden.

Q: How did you foster creativity in your daughters (who happen to be our fiction and art editors) as they grew up?

A: I always tried to supply them with materials, like paint, and easels, and clay, and we had a big arts and crafts closet where they could take things out and use them. We always had tons of good books; in fact, we used a home-school curriculum founded on award-winning children’s books. I gave them lots of free time to read.

Q: What is your favorite kind of tea?

A: That’s really hard, because I just like to taste new teas all the time. I guess my go-to in the morning is English Breakfast tea, which is a mixture of different kinds of tea including black tea. And at night, I like Sleepytime tea which is an herbal mix.

Q: What is your reading recommendation?

A: If you haven’t read it, and you live in the Suffolk area, I recommend The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother, written by James McBride, which is about his life growing up in Suffolk, Virginia. I’m a big murder mystery fan. If you want a good recommendation for a murder mystery by a Virginian writer, I recommend Sharyn McCrumb. My favorite of hers is She Walks these Hills.

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