Constance Alexander: Cancer no longer a word that must be spoken in a whisper or with shame

When I was in fifth grade, my mother had cancer. The three older children in the family were already out of the house – two in college, and the oldest married with one little girl. Still at home, my sister Jeanne and I were left to tread the tides that churned up daily turmoil and intermittent confusion about what it meant for a family to contend with serious illness. After all these years, it is...

Constance Alexander: Early cancer detection, affordable health care matter to all women

She stood on the porch of her trailer, hugging herself against the autumn chill. The scarf coiled around her head, turban-like, was splashed with purple, fuchsia, and rivers of green. Her hands fluttered to straighten the scarf and check the swell of its silken knot, as I pulled into the gravel drive. “You found me,” she called. Her directions had listed a few landmarks on a winding country road...

Constance Alexander: It takes a tragedy to get the rest of us to learn our history about Puerto Rico

On a porch overlooking a landscape of lush, tropical vegetation, she sits in a graceful wrought iron rocking chair. The Kindle on her lap indicates that she may have been reading before the person with the camera called her name. “Marisel,” the voice might have beckoned. “Look here.” The picture is snapped before her smile fully blossoms. She is relaxed, comfortable and happy to be among family...

Constance Alexander: Accordion book project allows participants to share a few of their favorite things

No one mentioned raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but David confessed a preference for TV westerns, while Benjamin admitted football and bowling were among his favorite things. The other participants – Taylor, Bobby, Brian, Delbert, John, Margaret and Rita Ann – were also eager to talk about what they enjoyed as they prepared for a bookmaking workshop last week at Murray’s WATCH, Inc. A...

Constance Alexander: What Kentucky needs is more college graduates, commitment to lifelong learning

My parents believed girls were best suited to teaching or nursing, and boys to engineering. As a result, my oldest sister became a nurse, and my big brother went off to college as an engineering major. The remaining three Alexander girls majored in education, mostly at my mother’s insistence that women had to have something “to fall back on,” like in the game of Monopoly, a sort of “Get out...

Constance Alexander: In Country uses fiction and fact to make a connection between past, present

The first page of Bobbie Ann Mason’s novel, “In Country,” was my informal orientation to Kentucky. Samantha Hughes, the main character, was en route from the Bluegrass State to Washington DC with her grandmother and her Uncle Emmett to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Five lines down from the beginning, the word “Mamaw” jumped off the page. Then a few paragraphs down, Stuckey’s and...

Constance Alexander: Mosaic garden project helps ensure that adults with disabilities are not overlooked

Debi Henry Danielson places a box of 3 by 6-inch blocks on the table and says, “I can’t wait to start piecing it together.” Neither can her volunteers from Murray’s WATCH Inc., a local organization that assists adults with disabilities in becoming fully integrated into the community. They are working on pieces of a community mosaic — a garden of sorts — that will be on permanent...

Constance Alexander: Film inspired by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry commands us to “Look & See”

“Is there a way to go back?” was the first question posed by a member of the audience after a recent one-time screening at Paducah’s Maiden Alley Cinema of “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.” The provocative documentary featuring the renowned Kentucky writer, poet, teacher, farmer, and outspoken citizen of a lost landscape, begins with Berry’s lyrical narration of lines from...

Constance Alexander: Memorial honors unity, glory of one of the first African American regiments

At first, Robert Gould Shaw was reluctant to accept an appointment to lead the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, one of the first African American regiments in the Civil War. Often described as the pampered son of a wealthy abolitionist Boston family, Gould attended Harvard from 1856 to 1859. Instead of completing his studies, he traveled around Europe and, as young people are sometimes wont to wonder,...

Murray writer, KyForward columnist Alexander selected for Humanities Council roster

Constance Alexander, award-winning writer and civic journalist from Murray, is on the 2017-18 Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. This is the seventh year Alexander has been tapped as a featured presenter, available to community groups in Kentucky. The booking fee for non-profit organizations is $175 with for-profits at $300. Alexander, who writes a weekly column that appears on KyForward,...

Constance Alexander: No joke, words matter when topic is disabilities, culture, race or religion

Years ago in New Jersey, when the brand new president of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School’s PTA made his first speech at back-to-school night, he opened with a joke. “A priest, a rabbi and a mullah walk into a bar,” it began. Some audience members shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Teachers made eye contact and shook their heads in dismay. Undeterred or unaware, the man prattled on, mugging...

Constance Alexander: Book detailing recovery from cancer provides a message of hope to McCain family

Thanks to complicated surgery, aggressive chemotherapy and rigorous rehabilitation, Lisa Reisman survived a deadly glioblastoma multiforme when she was 32. GBM, as it is called, has a median survival rate of one to two years. Nonetheless, 19 years later, she has defied the statistics. Her book — “5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours” – covers the details of her devastating diagnosis and chronicles...

Constance Alexander: Floods examined as natural social phenomena in exhibit by artist Alison Saar

Still a topic of conversation in our region, the 1937 Flood is prominently featured at Paducah’s River Discovery Center. Its ferocious forebear – the Great Flood of 1927 – was unknown to me until 1999, when I interviewed Thuston Duncan, born 1922 in Kuhn Creek, between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in western Kentucky. Since he was only 5 when it happened, Thuston’s memories had more...

Constance Alexander: Finally, some good news in an era of steadily declining local media coverage

The library, my old house, Main Street. Whenever I am in my home town, Metuchen NJ, I make a sentimental journey to each one of these mainstays. On my recent trip, the library, as always, was thriving with summer reading programs, a weekly foreign film series, and preparations for the upcoming Friends of the Library book sale. My old house still stands proudly at the corner of Oak Avenue and Maple...

Constance Alexander: Pull up a chair and join the circle of Kentucky stories, both past and present

The candle is burning, the clock is ticking, the sun is setting. Whatever the metaphor, the door to summer slams shut when school starts in a couple of weeks. Even if the to-do lists remain woefully unchecked, consider spending the last fortnight of the season enjoying a couple of outstanding books with Kentucky connections. If you read “In Country” after its first printing thirty-two years...

Constance Alexander: July 13 readings by Lynn Pruett, Jeff Skinner offer late afternoon respite

In the midst of a busy schedule that includes teaching, publishing stories and essays, and raising sheep in Salvisa, Kentucky, Lynn Pruett is back at Murray State University this week for the summer semester of its low residency Master of Fine Arts program. Another writer with a busy schedule — poet and playwright Jeff Skinner — is also on campus. The two will give readings from their works...

Constance Alexander: Reading of Declaration of Independence inspires quest for knowledge

The Visitors Bureau of Murray, Ky., promised that July 4 would be a day of “Family fun and patriotic spirit” with a “jam-packed” calendar of events. They were not kidding. Starting on June 29 with Lil’ Mr. and Miss Freedom Fest pageant, the lead-up to Independence Day included the Murray Art Guild’s 50th birthday celebration, a 5K race, a Boy Scout Memorial Breakfast, a parade down Main...

Constance Alexander: Commonwealth Honors Academy help students escape their comfort zones

Take any daily task – turning a page, extinguishing a candle, popping a balloon – and students of Taylor Clements in Murray State University’s Commonwealth Honors Academy can raise it to a level of meandering directness stunning in its deliberate complexity. Clements calls the elective he teaches in the three-week program Special Topics in Design, but the fancy title stands for a series of problem-solving...

Constance Alexander: Penguin Project’s production of Willy Wonka delivers slew of sweets to all involved

The day before dress rehearsal and, true to form, things are going – well, not too smoothly. Lines are dropped, cues missed, and someone forgot part of a costume. A murmur ripples through the cast and crew of “Willy Wonka, Jr.” at Murray’s Playhouse in the Park. But before it swells into a wave and sweeps them all into panic, the voice of a cheerful and patient angel soothes the troubled waters. “We’re...

Constance Alexander: Commonwealth Honors Academy features forensics, a faceless chicken … and food

According to the website, the Commonwealth Honors Academy (CHA) at Murray State University offers “a rich range of recreational opportunities, cultural and artistic events, outstanding field experiences, and a distinguished convocation of speakers and classroom guests” that enhance the academic curriculum. With a focus on leadership and service, CHA features a required interdisciplinary Humanities...