PROFILE: Lucinda Dixon Sullivan

October 15, 2021
By T Michele Walker

Lucinda Dixon Sullivan has one heck of a bookshelf. If one did not know that she was a writer, they would immediately guess by the stunning, wall-filled shelves of books that line her living room.

Lucinda just happens to be a successful novelist, having written “It was the Goodness of the Place,” along with several essays, short stories, and has had an active life as an editor. She is now working on a collection of stories including a novella and for “Island Booknotes 2020,” Lucinda wrote a review of Colum McCann’s book, “Apeirogon.” At the 2021 Virtual Literary Series produced by the Library Foundation, she was featured as one of the three “Authors Unmasked.”

“I love writers,” said Lucinda. “When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to know writers. I was fascinated with reading, and I wanted to know who wrote that. Living in Western Kentucky and living on a campus where there were students and a mother who wrote poems, I wanted to know the people who wrote the words.”

Lucinda’s mother was a teacher at Western Kentucky University located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “She was there for the rest of her teaching career. We moved to Bowling Green when I was in second grade where I finished my pre-college education. Then I went to the University of Kentucky for two years and gradually made my way to Louisville.”

Growing up in a little Queen Anne cottage on the outskirts of campus, Lucinda has fond memories of life in Bowling Green.  “The students were very involved with my mother, and she was with them. She loved her life of teaching, and she was respected and admired.”

One of the many perks of life as a teacher’s child was a high-quality education. “The school I went to was connected to the university and was called the Training School. It was like a university that went from kindergarten through 12th grade.”

Born in Louisville and raised in Versailles and Bowling Green, Lucinda went to the University of Kentucky and graduated from the University of Louisville. She later attended Vermont College where she received her MFA in writing with a focus on fiction.

After the stunning bookshelf, the second thing one notices about Lucinda is her subtle but lovely accent that sounds like a cross between Olivia DeHavilland and Delta Burke. It is so understated; one wonders if it has faded over her travels.

“My mother was a speech teacher,” Lucinda said with a laugh. “So yes, she did try to get rid of it, not in a harsh way but she certainly hated when we’d say ‘git’ and she’d say ‘get.’ I think Florida has affected it, too. There’s a southernness to Florida. But now if I corrected it, it sounds artificial to me, so I’ll just go with what I’ve got. I do love regional accents. Not mine, but I love to hear them on people because I think it does bespeak, no pun intended, as to their foundation.”

Writing and writers have been a consistent theme throughout Lucinda’s life. It was a writer that brought Lucinda to Boca Grande.

“It was Christmas in 1997 and we were looking at that time for a second home because we wanted a winter place. A writer on the island, he’s a doctor and writer, Dally Walker, was in my writing group. Dally kept saying that we should visit Florida and come to Boca Grande. I was so unaware of what the island was. I think he kept saying, ‘You should come to Gasparilla.’ When I got here, I didn’t know whether we were in Boca Grande or Gasparilla. I found it they’re the same entity.”

Lucinda had preconceived notions as to what Florida life would entail, and it wasn’t pretty. “I had a bad attitude about Florida. I said I will never, never, never own a home in Florida. We drove over the bridge, and I said, ‘Oh, so this Florida.’ So, we found a house in Boca Grande that week.”

Lucinda fell in love with Boca Grande and stayed from November to May. It was in Boca Grande where she wrote much of her book.

“Boca Grande was small-town living. It just felt I had gone back in time. I sometimes call it ‘Bocadoon’ like Brigadoon.

The definition of Brigadoon from Websters: a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, or remote from reality.

“When I was growing up, we could hear the students run their bikes to the campus and walk and talking at night. In my house which is in north village Boca Bay, I could slide back the front wall into a screened-in area and the glass doors, and I could hear people riding bikes on the path and the conversations between walkers. It took me back in time.”

It’s not only the beauty of the island but the people that make Boca Grande special. “I used to say, ‘I think Boca Grande is paradise because angels live.’  The people seem so interested in interacting and being helpful, staying active. In the projects that the Community Center does, there is a real sense of generosity of feeling for the surrounding areas. I loved that.”

But don’t expect to see Lucinda in a golf cart any time soon. “I had a little VW beetle convertible that I just adored. On the nights when I was in town, I’m getting in that little car, and I’d put the top down. It had a wonderful tape player. I’d drive around listening to music, not loudly, not disturbing anybody. It was the freedom, the sense of freedom on the island.”

A mother of two boys who are now grown and living in California with children of their own, Lucinda says that they enjoy visiting her on Boca Grande. “One son lives in Northern California and the other lives in Southern California and my grandchildren grew up there and I assume they will find jobs there. They used to come to Boca Grande for every holiday and they loved it.”

Applying a loose version of the Proust Questionnaire, we ask Lucinda to name the three writers that she would like to have dinner with.

“If I had to pick one, it would be Virginia Wolfe, except that I would be terrified to invite her over because she’s pretty critical. I would have been afraid to be in conversation with her, but in terms of awe-inspiring writers, she wrote fiction, she was a marvelous critic for the London Times, and she wrote a series of books and letters.”

She paused for a moment, then said, “And Thomas Hardy. I love Hardy, even though it’s out of fashion to an extent, I felt like he made country living universal. Those books have a universality to them.” 

Lucinda’s third choice is someone close to Boca Grande. “I think having dinner with Colum McCann and whoever he wanted to bring, would be lovely. I’ve read every book and I will always read his work.”

However, Lucinda hesitates to limit her dinner picks to just three writers. “There are so many writers wandering around and I’d be glad to snag them and bring them home for a sandwich,” Lucinda said with a smile.

As life so often does, things have come full circle and Lucinda is now stepping into the role of teacher. The Johann Fust Library Foundation is presenting a writing class called “Focus on Fiction” with Lucinda as the instructor.

Bobbie Marquis, executive director of the Foundation said, “She is a local literary treasure! And you can quote me on that.”

“I was flattered and gratified by the opportunity to do it. It all begins with the aspiring writer, what their idea is and what they want to say. I like teaching and love that process. I loved the interaction and trying to help people get from their concept a literary work; to have finished a piece that said what they wanted it to say and invoke the emotions they wanted it to invoke.”

Lucinda does admit that writing is hard work. “Some people say they just love writing, well I think writing it’s hard, especially fiction writing. But I want to know what they have in mind, and I would like to help them make that happen for themselves.”

No spoilers intended, but Lucinda did offer a couple of writing tips for those who have a novel inside of them.

The first tip is to present it with immediacy. The second tip is to read critically.

“Presenting with immediacy is using a quick sentence. You want to plunge the reader, catch the reader on that sentence. It doesn’t have to be complex, but just take them right into it at the beginning of the first sentence. In Sena Jeter Naslund’s book, ‘Ahab’s Wife,’ the first sentence is, ‘Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.’ Right there, you know where you are going.”

“And to read critically; I don’t want to ruin the reading experience for somebody, but if you particularly like something, I think reading slowly is part of reading critically. If you can bear to read slowly. And if you don’t have the tools to do that, you can take a writing course or join a writing group.”

Lucinda says that every person has three books inside of them.

“I mean everybody’s got a story in them, and some people have novels in them. There is a saying that every writer had three books in him; a mother book, a father book, and a me book.

“In the case of Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ she managed to incorporate all three in there. Well, the mother’s absent, but I suppose she had to pare her story.”