The area known as Dogtown—an isolated colonial ruin and surrounding 3,000-acre woodland in seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts—has long exerted a powerful influence over artists, writers, eccentrics, and nature lovers. But its history is also woven through with tales of witches, supernatural sightings, pirates, former slaves, drifters, and the many dogs Revolutionary War widows kept for protection and for which the area was named. In 1984, a brutal murder took place there: a mentally disturbed local outcast crushed the skull of a beloved schoolteacher as she walked in the woods. In this award-winning debut, Elyssa East evocatively interlaces the story of the grisly murder with the strange, dark history of this wilderness ghost town and explores the possibility that certain landscapes wield their own unique power. Winner of the 2010 L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award in nonfiction and named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards, Dogtown takes readers into an unforgettable place brimming with tragedy, eccentricity, and fascinating lore, and examines the idea that some places can inspire both good and evil, poetry and murder.
Elyssa East received her B.A. in art history from Reed College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She has received awards and fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo; the Ragdale, Jerome, and Ludwig Vogelstein Foundations; Columbia University; the University of Connecticut; and the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Elyssa’s book, Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town, interlaces murder, legend, and history in a Massachusetts ghost town. It was recently awarded the 2010 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for the best work of non-fiction about New England. Dogtown was also named a “Must-Read Book” by the Massachusetts Book Awards and an Editors’ Choice selection from the New York Times Book Review.
Elyssa’s writing has also been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News, The Kansas City Star, and other publications nationwide. A scene from her opera libretto, Mr. Hawthorne’s Engagement, was performed with American Opera Project’s Composers and the Voice series. Elyssa currently teaches in the undergraduate Creative Writing program at Purchase College, State University of New York.