B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1977
Sarah Rolph is a freelance business writer and also writes narrative non-fiction. Her book, A1 Diner: Real Food, Recipes, and Recollections, published in 2006, is a cultural and culinary history with recipes. Her current narrative non-fiction project is about an oyster farm in Point Reyes, California. Sarah’s writing hero is Mr. John McPhee.
Latest Publication Title
A1 Diner: Real Food, Recipes, and Recollections, Tilbury House Publishers, 2006
The pace picks up when the breakfast crowd thickens. Orders begin to go into the kitchen quickly. Plates emerge from the tiny kitchen window bearing appealing omelets and home fries, beautiful waffles and fruit. Regulars line the stools reading the K-J, as it's known--the Kennebec Journal. Early morning meetings take place in some of the booths. The ambient noise rises.
By this time Mike is fully occupied with organizing the day. He makes a shopping list, a food prep list, and a things-to-do list. "The minute I walk through that door I start gathering information," says Mike. "My life is a life of lists."
Around 10:30 a.m., Bob makes the biscuits.
He begins by scooping floor out of a big square metal bin that sits on the floor, almost waist high. It looks as though it has been there for decades, and it has—that bin has held that staple for the past sixty years. Bob scoops the flour into the bowl of a large scale, then puts the measured amount into the big Hobart mixer along with the salt, the baking powder, and the shortening. And then he walks away. Bob knows by heart exactly how long it will take.
When Bob senses it is time, he pours in the milk, and a short time later he stops the mixer. Dipping flour again from the bin, he spreads it in a thick white blanket onto his work surface. He removes the bowl from the mixer and scrapes the sticky dough into the flour. With quick, sweeping motions, he pats the dough gently with his hands and a soft, pliant pillow emerges. He dips the rim of a plastic water glass into the flour and uses it to cut the pillow into rounds. He sets these rounds close together on a baking sheet, brushes the tops with melted butter, and puts them in the oven. Then he stays close at hand. About twenty minutes later, hot golden biscuits are calling with their scent.
How did Evergreen help you in your career?
Evergreen's interdisciplinary approach gave me a broad education that helped me to think for myself.
I spent my last year at Evergreen studying with the great Sandra Simon. I was part of the group contract called The New Non-fiction Prose; Sandra was among the first to recognize the shift in literature to include what we now routinely call creative, literary, or narrative nonfiction. Her course was a terrific training ground for the craft of writing. She was a great teacher, an inspiring mentor, and an excellent analyst and editor.
I well remember the time Sandra cut up one of my essays with scissors and pasted it back together with tape, in an entirely different sequence. It was better.
I have done a lot of editing in my career, working directly with authors to help them make revisions, and the basis of my process is the rhetorical analysis I learned from Sandra.
Charles McCann was president of the college when I attended, and he was a great inspiration to me as well. I remember being very excited by his speech at the beginning of my first year. From time to time he would sit in on classes and it was always a pleasure to have him there. In one of my courses we read Faust, and McCann gave us a lecture on the book and read an excerpt in the original German. I remember him visiting our writing class, just before I graduated, and we read excerpts from our own work and commented on the things we had learned from Sandra. McCann praised us, not only for our work, but for our understanding of the process—he commented that it was a big benefit to have already learned about some of our own “road blocks” as someone called them. That comment stuck with me. It hadn't occured to me to give myself credit for that. The piece I read that day was about making bread. It struck me after I wrote my book, A1 Diner, that the biscuit sequence is a lot like that snippet—that’s one reason I chose the biscuit sequence as my excerpt. Thank you Sandra, may you rest in peace, and thank you Dr. McCann.