“Hopscotch” and hope: Greensboro author Steve Cushman’s new novel.
When Kirkus Reviews called Steve Cushman’s “Hopscotch” uplifting, I sighed. Most stories of cancer patients encountering miracles make me nauseous as my 2014 chemotherapy did. But Cushman earns honest sentiment in his story of a mysteriously reappearing hopscotch pattern outside a Greensboro hospital, its bright chalk lines accompanied by the invitation “Try it.” As staff and patients, including a veteran of Iraq, and yes, a little girl with cancer, are drawn to the magical board, Cushman depicts their despair and hope with empathy.
The setting of “Hopscotch” suggests Moses Cone, where Cushman has worked for 15 years. Born in Taunton, Massachusetts, Cushman lived in Florida before moving to Greensboro when he was 30-years-old to earn his Master’s of Fine Art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This wasn’t his first writing program; he already had a master’s from a one-year program at Hollins. Cushman was at UNCG from 2000 to 2002, studying fiction writing with Michael Parker and Lee Zacharias.
“One of the things Michael preached was the importance of the line, the sentence, and how these must sing the story forward,” Cushman said. “But it wasn’t until I started writing poetry years later that I understood what he meant. Lee was such a kind, insightful teacher. I learned a lot from both of them and my classmates.”
Before graduate school, Steve worked in radiology. I asked him if this is the first time his day job influenced his writing. Cushman said that until 2010, he worked as an X-ray technician and never wrote about his experiences.
“It wasn’t until I moved to IT in 2010 that I was able to do so,” Cushman said. “I started writing poetry, and my medical experiences came back as a ton of images I wanted to capture. I think a big piece of that is distance from the experience.”
After receiving his master’s, he went back to work as an X-ray technician.
Cushman found his inspiration for “Hopscotch” not at work but near his Greensboro home. He said 10 years ago, while he was walking his dog, a hopscotch board drawn on the sidewalk caught his attention.
“I thought, ‘what if this was at a hospital?’ and considered the mystery of who drew it, then imagined the patients and staff and spent five years trying to figure out how it might affect them,” Cushman said.
I ask him if he considers “Hopscotch” magical realism or fantasy and Cushman said he does not consider labels when writing.
“I don’t think about labels when writing, but have no problem with them as long as readers enjoy the books and take a little something away,” Cushman said.
He said his last novel, “Heart With Joy,” was categorized in the young adult genre by many people and he said “Hopscotch” has been called magical realism by a few folks.
His debut novel, “Portisville,” won the 2004 Novello Literary Award and he has published the poetry chapbooks, “Hospital Work” and “Midnight Stroll.”
“I didn’t do poetry until 2011,” Cushman said. “I’d always been a fiction writer, but for the past six years, I’ve done both.”
Cushman said he is a big fan of authors Anne Tyler, Richard Russo and Alice Hoffman. But he reads more poetry than fiction these days from authors such as Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver and Dorriane Laux.
Celeste Fletcher McHale, author of the award-winning “The Secret to Hummingbird Cake” said, “It transported me back to a time when I believed anything was possible and hope was tangible.”
The University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press published “Hopscotch” last month. Copies are available at Scuppernong Books and from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.