The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version: Adelaide Cummings (7/2009)

(Interview consists of 15 pre-set questions. Authors have published at least one novel or short story/poetry collection.)

1) Why did you begin writing, and how long have you been doing so?

It was the only positive aptitude that I ever had. I used to write stories as a child. I started publishing in magazines in 1933 at age 19 including: Harper's Bazaar, Town and Country, Readers Digest and Country Life. I published about 20 articles in a period of a year-and-a-half starting at that age.

2) What does your writing routine consist of?

Working several hours every day, and when I am on a creative spurt, I often will work for 10 hours at a time (sometimes forgetting to eat), and, then, I burn out. That is how I get a lot done and have been able to write a book a year for the last 6 years.

3) Have specific events ever flung you into an extended and productive period of creativity?

Trying to finish my latest book in time for my 95th birthday put me into one of my excessive frenzies to get it done. I worked nonstop for a month to finish it.

4) What are common sources of inspiration?

Nature, more than anything, or dropped remarks or a word that captures my fancy. Even a line or two or a thought engendered from something that I am reading. The best poem that I ever wrote came to me complete in a dream. Before I went to bed one night reading the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I remember thinking how much I would like to write just one poem like hers, but it would never come to pass since she wrote of heartbreak, and I am basically a happy poet. At 2:00 AM, I was jolted awake, and the total poem came to me, in its entirety. I jotted it down as fast as words could be put to paper. I felt as if I had just passed a kidney stone and felt a huge sense of relief and fell into untroubled sleep. I couldn’t remember a word that I wrote the next morning until I read the piece of paper next to the bed. I consider it to be my best poem, which appeared in my book Finale. Now, I wonder whether it was the power of suggestion (at which case I should read Shakespeare at bedtime), or did I receive a visit from Edna? I prefer to think that it is the latter.

5) What does a book need to do to get you to read it from beginning to end?

It needs to be well written.

6) Who are some of the authors you most admire?

I admire the poets Sara Teasdale, Matthew Arnold and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have been influenced the writers by Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen and John Updike.

7) How familiar are you with the literary canon?

I am certainly familiar with all of the better known classics. Also, I like to keep up with books on the best seller list. I am an avid reader. Being bilingual, I like Dumas and Andre Maurois and other French classics.

8) What's your take on politics and literary endeavor?

I am not particularly drawn to political poems, I am more drawn to political fiction, and especially to nonfiction.

9) What are your feelings about formal vs. free verse?

From a poem of mine in Grand Finale entitled “Cause For Wonder,” I can sum up my feelings with: “Who knows why they print this turgid prose. I, who do not hesitate to tread on toes, rate New Yorker ‘poetry’ as I do the Emperor’s clothes.”

10) Do you feel "flash" fiction (300 words or less) is a viable form, or nothing more than a writing exercise?

The latter.

11) When not writing, what do you do for amusement?

I love travel, sailing and tennis. Tennis has played a big part in my life. Although I had to give it up at 92, I won 4 Senior Olympic gold medals in Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles and 1 U.S. T.A. National title. I am also a great lover of nature and gardening.

12) What's one of the most annoying things you can think of?

The bad English and grammar used by television commentators and in the media in general.

13) Briefly describe what you consider to be one of your standout childhood pranks.

I can’t think of one that I did alone; however, I was usually in on pranks played by my twin brother. Since the two of us were so close, I can claim partial responsibility for this one: My twin brother, Joe, my youngest brother, Harry, and I all went to schools in the northeast, even though we grew up in Memphis. We we were home in Memphis for the holidays. Since it was during the Depression, money was tight. Harry worked part time while at school, so he was able to buy a 1st Class train ticket from Memphis to New York to return to school. My twin brother Joe only had a bus ticket. I am not sure exactly how he did it, but Joe either spiked Harry’s drink or put something in it that caused him to pass out. When Harry woke up, he found himself riding on the bus to New York. Joe had swapped his ticket and put Harry on the bus. Joe rode the 1st Class train to New York, having taken his place!

14) What are your upcoming projects/works in progress?

After 6 books in 6 years, I am currently on sabbatical, but don’t want aimlessness to sink in. I would like to try other forms and outlets for my poetry and may make DVD of a compilation of some of my best poems.

15) Care to conclude with a sweeping philosophical statement?

My following poem entitled “Ahead,” inspired by Dylan Thomas expresses my beliefs: “Blessed with zest for living, to most health woes immune, I greet each day, it’s fair to say, rejoicing and in tune. So be sure I won’t ‘go gentle into that good night,’ nor is it accidental, that the prospect holds no fright.”


The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version
© 2006 by Robert Scott Leyse

Adelaide Cummings Responses
© 2009 by Adelaide Cummings



About the Author

Adelaide Cummings, age 95, is a renowned and award winning poet who lives in West Falmouth, Massachusetts. She recently won a national Barnes & Noble prize for her poetry. In her more than 9 decades, she has lived a varied and accomplished life as a magazine writer, author, poet, editor, world traveler, sailor, and winner of 4 Olympic gold medals in tennis.

Adelaide Cummings, a Radcliff graduate, worked for Life Magazine when it started (in the mid 1930’s). Later, she was Editor in Chief of Child Life Magazine (breaking the mold when it was still unusual to be a career women). She is an author of 2 juvenile age-group books and 1 adult biography (with Putnam and Houghton-Mifflin) and was a regular columnist at the National Observer writing a weekly political satire column called “Zoos Who.” Adelaide Cummings has also written many travel articles during her extensive world travels (which she still does today), some of which she did with her husband on their boat. She also won 4 Senior Olympic gold medals in Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles and 1 U.S. T.A. National title.

With her varied, interesting and busy life, Adelaide Cummings did not take up poetry full time until she was in her eighties. She has written and self published 6 books in the last 6 years. She credits her love of and prodigious production of poetry as a key to staying so sharp and active. Her “youthful spirit” is epitomized by the following story: Already fluent in French, she took up Italian at age 89. Her Italian teacher asked her why she was taking up a new language at such a late age. She replied, “because, I want to find an Italian lover!” Her latest poetry book, Curtain Call, will soon be available on


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