Art Beat: Writing For Life
Dawn Newton always wanted to be a writer. She made that clear to her family as a small child, even as her father warned her that, “Writing is a big mistake. Be practical. Get into computer science.” But Newton followed her heart instead.
Newton's first published book, Winded: A Memoir in Four Stages (Apprentice House Press, 2019), was about surviving a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. Her novel, written at the same time but published later, is The Remnants of Summer (Apprentice House Press, 2021).
“Iris, as the novel begins, is 14 years old,” Newton says. “She’s starting out her summer, which is usually spent at a neighborhood beach, a couple streets off where she lives. I wanted to have a working-class environment, so the beach is something you can buy into. While she’s hanging out and falls asleep in the sun, her younger brother disappears. It turns out that he has drowned.”
The novel centers on the girl’s grief and sense of guilt, as well as that of her family, each member dealing with their own grief in their own way. Much of the novel is set during the following summer when the family returns to the same beach.
Newton recalls her first memories of wanting to be a writer, going back to her elementary school years.
“I was first-generation college,” she says. “When you grow up and have these impulses, you don’t know where they come from. Certainly, my mother was wonderful about getting me to the library all the time. I was always scribbling when I was younger, writing little things about the neighbors and submitting them to Reader’s Digest. And I was fascinated as I learned more about my asthma and wanted to write something about that. By the time I got to high school, I realized that I keep coming back to this.”
Newton also had a strong interest in science, and when she enrolled in college, she had applied for scholarships. She was awarded one for English and that became the deciding vote for her major and her career. She went on to earn several degrees.
Newton wrote her novel as she was diagnosed with lung cancer, pouring herself into her fictionalized world. The memoir of that experience came later, although it was sold to publishers before the novel.
Newton lives in East Lansing. The Remnants of Summer is available at all Kalamazoo area bookstores.
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