The questions that drive Priscilla Long’s Fire and Stone are the questions asked by the painter Paul Gauguin in the title of his 1897 painting: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? These questions look beyond everyday trivialities to ponder the essence of our origins.
Using her own story as a touchstone, Long explores our human roots and how they shape who we are today. Her personal history encompasses childhood as an identical twin on a dairy farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; the turmoil, social change, and music of the 1960s; the suicide of a sister; and a life in art in the Pacific Northwest. Here, memoir extends the threads of the writer’s individual and very personal life to science, to history, and to ancestors, both literary and genetic, back to the Neanderthals.
Long uses profoundly poetic personal essays to draw larger connections and to ask compelling questions about identity. Framed by four distinctive sections, Fire and Stone transcends genre and evolves into a sweeping elegy on what it means to be human.
Priscilla Long’s Fire and Stone
is an archaeological dig into memory—personal, ancestral, historic, and prehistoric. Her questions are ancient ones, each interrogation drilling more deeply into our universal core. Yet it is not answers Long seeks but, rather, more intricate and complex questions that haunt the reader long after these pages are turned. Even as she excavates ‘the remains of a human childhood’ in a family whose children ‘smoke and burn in the flame that made them,’ her sharp gaze catches glints of beauty and hope—in music, art, ‘the cud and breath of cows,’ solitude, quietude, poetry, the ‘blue stillness of a watercolor dawn,’ and in the writers who have gone before her, allowing her to ‘step . . . in all their footprints.’
—Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Tribal Knot and The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings
Fire and Stone
beautifully melds the arts and sciences. In this rare hybrid memoir, Priscilla Long charts not merely the past but the life of the imagination as well. A chronicle of a rural childhood, of a lively youth and a thoughtful, engaged maturity, Fire and Stone
is an unforgettable reading experience.
—Laura Kalpakian, author of Three Strange Angels
In these compulsively readable essays, Priscilla Long contemplates vanishing acts, both mundane and monumental. She ponders her best friend’s disappearance, her sister’s suicide, and her grandfather’s dementia alongside the losses that haunt humanity: Whatever became of the Neanderthals? Of solitude or silence? Finally, in an age when the planet loses 150 species to extinction each and every day
, what’s to become of us?
—Sharon Oard Warner, author of Sophie’s House of Cards
Lucky for us, Priscilla Long fancied herself a thinker from a young age. In Fire and Stone
, she displays a lifetime's scintillating affair with science and with the arts and letters, on topics as varied as genomes and banjos and Neanderthals. Beyond autobiography, Long suggests ways we might discover who we are for ourselves. Her collection is an inspiration, dense with layers of invention and mystery and sparkling with her wise heart.
—Sonya Lea, author of Wondering Who You Are: A Memoir
I have always thought of Priscilla Long as a science writer, one who explains the most fundamental and difficult processes of science in lucid and elegant prose. But Fire and Stone
shows me that science is just one aspect of her exploration of the deepest questions related to her self and to our selves. She is finally a philosophical writer, one who employs science, history, autobiography, and her fine literary sensibility in an engaging search for meaning.
—Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar