Education grad continues the literary life

By Heidi Wicks | June 19, 2009

Author and teacher Trudy Morgan-Cole has just released her ninth novel, By the Rivers of Brooklyn (Breakwater Book) – an historical saga chronicling three generations of Newfoundland women who build lives between home and Brooklyn, New York.
“The story starts in 1924 and ends in 2004,” explained the M. Ed in Counseling Psychology graduate. “This is my first novel with a Newfoundland setting. A lot of my earlier novels were young adult, historical Biblical fiction.”
The plotline of her new work deals with a family in which three siblings in their 20s go away to Brooklyn, while another sister stays behind to look after their aging parents and their home. They all take very different paths in life – one can’t wait to leave, the other never wants to leave, another goes because her fiancé is in New York and when things don’t work out she has to pick up and start again, explained Ms. Morgan-Cole.
“It was inspired by people in my family who did the same thing,” she said, adding that she’s found that the theme is very universal. “Boston and New York were the places where many Newfoundlanders went to establish lives and make ends meet. Some stayed, some came back, but I’ve found that many people relate to this theme of going away to make something of yourself because of course it’s still happening today with people going to Alberta and whatnot.”
She researched heavily life in both Newfoundland and Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s, and how changes came in the 50s. By the 60s and 70s many of the people who went to Brooklyn had returned home.
“In the 1940s there were an estimated 75,000 first and second generation Newfoundlanders in Brooklyn,” she said. “But 30 years later most of them had moved on because Brooklyn had changed as a city, with one set of immigrants moving on to make room for another. Just researching everyday life and discovering little details is what was really interesting and brought the history to life.”
She mentioned an essay she dug up online about Coney Island in the 1920s, which described how people had to pay 50 cents to use the changing rooms. Because these were expensive for the time, many poorer people found cheap change rooms up the street for ten cents.
“I really don’t know how historical fiction writers did anything before the internet,” she laughed. “You can go to a place to research – and I went to Brooklyn – but you can’t go to the past. So often it’s the quirky little bits of information that people post because they’re obsessed with Coney Island that light up a story.”
Still, she agreed there’s nothing quite like visiting a place to wake the ghosts of the past.
“To walk down the street where my mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, and to see where she worked in Manhattan – there is something very powerful, even though you can’t go back in time, there’s something that really brings it to life,” she said whimsically.
Ms. Morgan-Cole teaches English and socials at the Brother T.I. Murphy Centre to adult learners and loves it. She started that path thanks to her M. Ed., Counseling Psychology from Memorial. She’s still writing, and said her next project will be a change from her normal subject matter.
“It’s a much lighter contemporary novel about a bunch of Newfoundlanders going on a road trip through the U.S., so we’ll see where that one goes,” she chuckled.
The author will be signing at Chapters this Sunday from 1-3 p.m., during the afternoons of June 28 and July 12 at Costco, and July 5 at Coles in the Avalon Mall.



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