The Last Vineyard Stories

Jan Pogue and John Walter sit on boxes of their book Delish

Ten years is almost nothing in the lifetime of this Island.

By Jan Pogue

The geological foundations of Martha’s Vineyard are 200,000 million years old. It was settled by white men 373 years ago. It still has houses on it that are almost that old. It has a native son artist, from one of the Island’s oldest families, who wrote a book at 60 about how the Island has influenced his art. It has the great-grandson of a man who was a whaling captain, and spotted a beauty on another boat in a harbor in Hawaii in 1852 and married her. It has a religious campground established in 1835 that’s now a charming community, a ferry that has plied the waters from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick for 208 years, a hotel that more than 125 years ago helped restore a town to its greatness.

But 10 years is what I’ve had as the founder, editor, and publisher of Vineyard Stories, a tiny book-publishing company, located in a nine- by-nine-foot treehouse, that has been lucky enough to plumb the depths and the beauties that created this wonderful little Island. And in 10 years I have worked with talented people who know everything in the preceding paragraph of this essay — and who have taught me about their own Island.

My husband and I founded Vineyard Stories in 2005 as a temporary measure to keep us on the Vineyard, after he lost the job that had brought us here. In the fall of 2016, I will close it — a voluntary decision I’ve made as I enter my 65th year. (There are two sides to the company — the creative, book building side, and the selling side. Book building is now closed. Selling will continue until October 2016.)

After 10 years of telling Island stories, I plan to begin living a different story of my own, one centered around a bit more leisure and a lot more explorations of other worlds.

The company my husband, John Walter, and I started is a far cry from what it was when he died in 2008. It’s both bigger (John and I thought we’d publish two or three books during what we thought would be a couple of years; the year after he died, I published nine by myself) and more intricate than we could have predicted. I’ve now published close to 50 books; all but a few have featured the history and culture of the Vineyard. They have grown to be beautiful, photo-heavy books illustrated mostly by the most wonderful and gracious photographer Alison Shaw, but also by the great talents of Nina Bramhall, Michael Blanchard, Melinda Fager, and Wayne Smith.

They have uncovered and told fascinating stories that were mostly unknown, stories that have enlarged forever the understanding of the underpinnings of this most curious place. They’ve found the secret, beautiful places that make our breaths catch. They’ve also given voices to people here who spend their days doing one thing and their nights writing their hearts out — people like Edo Potter, Tom Dunlop, Laura Wainwright, Adam Moore, Kay Goldstein, Suzan Bellincampi.

They’ve been art books and cookbooks and children’s books and books on nature. Many are history books in the best of ways — a history that is rich and exciting and true.

I see the Island in a very different way from most, because of the voices in my head that emanate from the writers, artists, and photographers with whom I’ve worked. I have been a lucky woman, publishing books that have, I hope, made a bit of difference on the Vineyard, a place, after an admittedly rough start (seasick on my first ferry; bewildered by the weird rhythms of Island life), that I have grown to love deeply.

People have asked me if this is a bittersweet moment, and I suppose it is. Yet when I look at the shelf of books I’ve created, I think it is more sweet than bitter.

Vineyard Stories was the creation of two people who knew just enough, as the joke goes, to be dangerous and not enough to be afraid. We went against the grain of all publishing mores, starting up just as books were going down. We made beautiful, thoughtful books that had our own hearts and souls in them. I can’t say I’ve loved every minute, probably any more than a rider on a roller coaster would say they loved every scary minute. But, man, what a ride …

My hope is that when I make my exit from this world, someone will stand up at my memorial service and say, simply, “She told a good Vineyard story.”

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