A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Posts Tagged ‘Laurelyn Dossett’

Laurelyn Dossett in Our State magazine, October 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Listen here, listen again

Monday, May 11th, 2009

If you missed A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday night (or Sunday afternoon), you can listen to the podcast here. If you did hear it, you can listen again! Laurelyn has been fielding emails from delighted listeners from across the country, and Polecat Creek CDs are selling well on Amazon and iTunes. They can also be purchased here directly.

My wife, the singer

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

There have been lots of musical milestones in our house in recent years, but perhaps one of the biggest comes this weekend. On Saturday evening, my wife, Laurelyn Dossett, and her singing partner, Karen Sickenberger, will sing on the iconic public radio program A Prairie Home Companion with famed radio host, storyteller and author Garrison Keillor. We have been listening to this program for nearly 25 years, and this week, at the new Durham Performing Arts Center, Laurelyn and Karen, as Polecat Creek, will share the stage and sing to a radio audience of millions. The show airs at 6 p.m. on a public radio station near you.

This will actually be the third time Polecat Creek has performed with Keillor. The other two times, in Greensboro (shown here, Laurelyn on the left) and Winston-Salem, they opened for one of his non-radio storytelling events. Their harmonies caught his attention at the Wake Forest gig last fall and an invitation to APC followed soon after.

UPDATE: Our alma mater, Penn State University, helps spread the word — here. Thanks Tina.

On the road

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

I’m happy to say I will be in New York City next week for a couple of book talks and a book signing:

March 11: I will be a guest speaker during the evening service at St. Athanasius Church, 6120 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn. The service starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. A book signing will follow the service.

March 12: I will speak as part of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute‘s Writers Read Series. The institute is part of Queen College, CUNY, and is located at 25 W. 43rd St., 17th Floor, in Manhattan. This event begins around 6 p.m., and the institute requests that those coming call to RSVP: 212-642-2094. A book signing will follow the talk.

March 13: I will be at Old Town Bar for a book signing. This will start around 6:30 p.m. The historic literary hangout is owned by friends of my sister’s who have generously arranged this event.

As a special family treat, my wife, singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, will perform on March 13 at Googies Lounge in the Village (154 Ludlow Street) at 7:30 p.m.

My wife, the musician

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

My wife, songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, has a new web site, which is here and worth checking out. Next month when we’re both in New York, I have a couple of book talks and she has a couple of performances. Not together, but still — we’re both looking forward to it.

John Paul’s friend, and a vivid memory

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Vatican news today:”Pope Benedict XVI has agreed to speed up the beatification process of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was murdered by communist secret services in 1984.”

This cause holds particular interest to me. Father Popieluszko, a close friend of Pope John Paul II from Poland, was murdered while Laurelyn and I were on our honeymoon in Western Europe in the fall of Pope John Paul II1984. We followed the grim news in the International Herald Tribune. Weeks later, while in Rome and at the Vatican, we witnessed one of the most extraordinarily powerful scenes of our lives. This scene appears in my book, but I wrote about it first in a column in my newspaper the week JPII died in April 2005. The column follows:

Setting business aside to remember the pope

At some level, the talk of the Triad this week is similar to the talk around the world. The life and legacy of Pope John Paul II was so far-reaching that it had an impact on people everywhere, whether or not they are Catholic.

It’s with that in mind that I momentarily set aside Triad business to share an experience I had during the early part of the pope’s 26-year reign as the church’s 264th pontiff.

It was November 1984, and my wife and I were in Rome on our honeymoon. Bus No. 64 carried us across town, across the Tiber to Vatican City and a Wednesday morning audience with the pope.

We dashed through St. Peter’s Square, through Bernini’s colonnade and into the modern auditorium near the basilica.

After being searched for weapons by Swiss guards — the pope had been shot in the square just three years earlier — we took our seats near the front. Some 8,000 people filled the space. When Pope John Paul II made his entrance, resplendent in his white robes and cape, a kind of electricity swept through the hall.

Like teenagers at a pop concert, the scores of Spanish nuns in front of us went wild. I had never experienced someone able to exude charisma with merely a nod or wave. But you could feel it. And that was just the beginning.

A master communicator, the pope delivered his set address that morning in eight languages. He saved Polish for last. A large group of Poles were seated together several rows behind us, and the pope had spotted them.

His address had been on the sanctity of marriage, and he offered a special blessing for newlyweds like ourselves. But now the pope was departing from his text. He looked directly out at his people, the Poles, as his voice grew more intense, his gestures more animated. We had been following the news; we knew why.

Just a month earlier in Poland, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a parish priest and a dear friend of the pope’s, had been kidnapped and murdered by Polish police and dumped in a river. The priest had been silenced for his support of the outlawed union Solidarity and his opposition to Communist rule.

The pope reflected on that tragedy as he spoke — his low, steady voice charged with emotion. I knew John Paul had suffered as a young man under Nazism; what must he be thinking, I wondered. As a young, naïve American spoiled by our freedoms at home, I knew nothing about actual political oppression.

But now, in the voice and presence of this pope, I could easily imagine its suffocating nature as his uncompromising stand against such inhumanity filled the room.

My wife and I were startled witnesses to this suddenly intense moment, but the Poles in the crowd were grateful recipients. When the pope stopped speaking, dozens of them rose in unison. They unfurled a Solidarity banner, stretched it wide and held it aloft. Others held up crucifixes or simply their hands flashing a V-for-victory sign.

At that time, those simple actions would have landed them in jail, or worse, back home. Now they were defiant, emboldened. All eyes in the auditorium were transfixed on this group as they spontaneously began to sing a gorgeous, hymn-like song in Polish.

Their voices rang out, but not in celebration. Their faces were masks of solemn determination. As they sang, I turned to see John Paul drop his head into his right hand, which was propped up on the arm of his high-backed chair.

With that simple gesture, he was telling them: your pain is my pain, your struggle is my struggle. There was no mistaking that.

I looked at my wife as tears streamed down her face. She was not alone in that regard. We knew we were witnessing something extraordinary, glorious even — the will and spirit of one man giving courage to an entire people. From our place in the auditorium between the pope and the Poles, that power seemed to pass right through us like lightening.

As we were leaving, I met a young Polish man and asked him about the song. He explained that it was the equivalent of “We Shall Overcome,” a plea to God asking him to restore freedom to Poland.

In 1984, years before the end of the Soviet Union or the toppling of the Berlin Wall, such a plea could not be taken for granted. Few people would’ve dared envision Eastern Europe and much of Asia unleashed from the grip of such totalitarianism. Yet one man did.

Since his death on April 2, commentators have emphasized the political role Pope John Paul II played in contributing to the fall of communism. But what we saw that long-ago morning transcended politics and revealed perhaps the pope’s greatest influence.

What we saw was nothing less than John Paul’s spiritual force on those who would actually bring about the collapse.


Singing in Harvey’s Kitchen

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Harvey’s Kitchen presents Laurelyn Dossett singing a song so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. Scott Manring is on guitar.

For more video from Harvey’s Kitchen, click here.

Now starring

Sunday, October 12th, 2008


I tend to keep this blog focused fairly narrowly on my book and themes related to it.  Sometimes, though, you just need to look elsewhere — like to the web site of our good friend and amazing photographer Abigail Seymour, who happened to shoot some stunning photographs of singer, songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, my wife and (not to lose focus) an important character in My Cousin the Saint.

Bookmarks, Winston-Salem’s festival of books

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Bookmarks, Winston-Salem’s highly popular festival of books, will be held Saturday at Historic Bethabara Park, which is north of downtown not far from Wake Forest University. The event is free and open to all. This year’s honorary chairman is D.G. Martin, host of UNC-TV’s Bookwatch program. Authors of fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature will be there through the day talking about their work, talking about writing and signing books. Things get started around 9 a.m. and run through the afternoon. Full details are here.

I will be talking about “My Cousin the Saint” at 10:30 a.m. at the Non-Fiction tent. My wife, singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, will be perform with friends Scott Manring and Molly McGinn at 1 p.m. on the main stage.