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Measuring the Distance Between Provincetown and Cuttyhunk in Kindness

by Steve Desroches

Ben Shattuck had just walked to Provincetown and needed a rest. He hadn’t walked downtown from the far East End or even Beach Point. He’d followed one of the walks taken by Henry David Thoreau. The writer and philosopher quite famously walked various long routes through Massachusetts, forever intertwining his writings with nature, making his work some of the earliest forms of environmentalism. In October 1849, Thoreau walked 30 miles from Eastham, marching down a muddy road, which over a century later would become Route 6, landing in Provincetown three days later. Thoreau’s adventures out here would be published in 1865, three years after his death, in the book Cape Cod, considered the quintessential book about the region and inspiring readers like Shattuck to follow in his footsteps, quite literally.

Shattuck plopped himself down in a coffee shop in Provincetown after a particularly arduous day, satisfied with his accomplishment and pleased to be at the end of the road. “A man may stand there and put all America behind him,” wrote Thoreau of the Outer Cape, and Shattuck was doing just that over a cup of coffee, when the woman next to him offered him the New York Times she had just finished reading. The kindness in her voice and face invited conversation, which led to Shattuck developing a friendship with local fashion designer Mary DeAngelis.

Jenny Slate. Photo by Katie McCurdy.

Talk led to discussion of craft, her work here in town, and his as a writer and artist, as well as curator of the Dedee Shattuck Gallery (his mother’s), in Westport, Massachusetts. What a coincidence. DeAngelis’ partner Marian Roth is an artist, too, she explained to Shattuck. I’d love to meet her, he said, and see more of the town. He would definitely be coming back. And he did in the late spring, bringing his then girlfriend and now fiancée actress and comedian Jenny Slate. They took in a few of the offerings presented by Twenty Summers at the Hawthorne Barn and went with Roth and DeAngelis out to the dune shacks. Once again, Provincetown’s friendliness and magical charms have enchanted two more people, as Shattuck and Slate are returning this Tuesday to each read from their respective writing at the Provincetown Public Library at the suggestion of their two townie friends.

“That’s really how it happened,” says Shattuck. “Mary was just so nice to me. Everyone in Provincetown has been so nice. Talking to a stranger led to new friends and to us coming to a town that’s just so beautiful. Right away I thought, ‘Man, it would be so great to come and do something here creatively.’ Mary and Marian made that happen.”

Both Shattuck and Slate are Massachusetts natives, he from Dartmouth and she from Milton, so Provincetown was not completely unknown to them, even if only by reputation. And while their respective work has had them traveling around the country, they’ve recently found themselves in the gravitational pull of home, allowing them the time to come to the Outer Cape this week.

Slate is perhaps best known as a former cast member of Saturday Night Live, her character on the sitcom Parks and Recreation, and her starring role in the 2014 movie Obvious Child, chosen as part of the line up for that year’s Provincetown International Film Festival. She’ll be reading from her new book Little Weirds, slated to come out this November.

“It’s a collection of short fiction pieces that tend to be fairly lyrical,” says Slate. “You can immerse yourself in it or just open to any page and start reading. My editors didn’t know how to describe the book as they aren’t really essays or short stories in it. I just called them ‘little weirds’ that were running through my brain. So that’s where the name came from.”

A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Shattuck earlier this year won a prestigious Pushcart Prize for his short story “The History of Sound.” As both a painter and a writer his mind works in seasons as his creative impulses shift. But it was his creation on a far-flung island that allows others to explore their own work when he founded the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency at the tip of the archipelago town of Gosnold formed by the Elizabeth Islands, which drip off the Upper Cape. On Cuttyhunk Island, which as a child Shattuck could see from his home in Dartmouth, students stay at the Avalon Inn, working with established writers and artists, many of whom also teach at the Fine Arts Work Center. Much like Provincetown, Cuttyhunk has its own mystical charms, as its remote location maintains a unique culture and its history a mystique, as some literary historians theorize it’s the island that inspired William Shakespeare to write The Tempest as he was friendly with Bartholomew Gosnold, the English explorer who gave it its current name. To add to the island’s mysticism, Cuttyhunk provided a little kismet for Slate and Shattuck.

Slate made international news when this past June she delivered the commencement address to a class of one when the island’s only eighth grader, Gwen Lynch, graduated from the one-room Cuttyhunk Elementary School built in 1873. The 13-year-old found herself to be a bit of a celebrity on this island with just over 50 year-round residents that swells to several hundred in the summer. The invitation to speak didn’t come from Shattuck, but rather a friend of Slate’s father. The previous year, Lynch’s brother also graduated solo and his commencement speaker was retired astronaut Cady Coleman. The island community wanted to do something special for Gwen, too. So when an islander traveled to Martha’s Vineyard, where Slate’s parents live, he remembered that his friend had a famous daughter.

“It was an early morning text from my Dad that’s more like a telegram, as he writes them like each word costs a nickel or something as he uses so few words,” says Slate. “I’m so glad I did it. I love Cuttyhunk. Now when I go I know most everyone. It’s kind of like with Mary and Marian in Provincetown. They just welcomed me in.”

Ben Shattuck and Jenny Slate will read excerpts of their work at the Provincetown Public Library, 356 Commercial St. on Tuesday, October 22 at 6 p.m. The event is free. For more information call 508.487.7094 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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