New England

Listening, Especially Now | Inside Yankee

Finding common ground through conversations — and a good piece of pie.

By Mel Allen

Dec 03 2020

Hello, 2021, we’ve been waiting for you. Farewell to a year we will never forget, no matter how much we’d like to. “2020” sounds like a melody, or the start of a rhyme by Dr. Seuss. It’s a playful number, as well as a signifier of clear vision—yet when we look back on the year 2020, we see disruption, misery, and social unrest. And amid all that, what we least expected was to see empathy for one’s fellow citizens eroding seemingly by the day. On the news, we heard mostly shouting. The voices of diplomatic, soft-spoken doctors could barely be heard above the din. We all felt the fatigue of constant conflict.

I’m writing this letter just before Election Day, so I do not know what the world will be like when you read it. Whether we awakened on November 4 to calm or disorder, or even whether we remain “one nation indivisible,” as the fourth-graders I once taught in Maine would recite each morning.

Today I teach in a creative nonfiction program at Bay Path University in Massachusetts. When we talk about the craft of interviewing, I stress that it depends not only on the questions posed, but also on listening. I ask my students, “When was the last time someone really listened to you?” There’s silence, then a few sighs. Few can recall when that happened.

This issue of Yankee marks the launch of “Conversations,” a series of interviews that address important issues facing New England and the nation. The first one features Rebecca Carroll, author of the new memoir Surviving the White Gaze, being interviewed by fellow journalist Joe Keohane, whose book The Power of Strangers is due out later this year.She talksabout growing up in a small New Hampshire town where as a Black child, she was always the other—and he listens. And we can, too, in the quiet of our homes.

Within these pages you will also find Ann Hood’s “Memory House,” about the humble Rhode Island home that gave shelter to her family for nearly 150 years. “The house is not special,” she writes, “except to us.” It’s that same feeling of belonging to roots that we can feel and relate to, no matter where we call home.

Finally, sometimes I wonder if the calm that our country hungers for could start with something as simple as sharing in a home-baked pie [“Baking Power”. Look at the fruit-and-nut-filled pie on our cover, and picture your own favorite pie taken hot from the oven. It’s an image, I believe, that resonates equally in red and blue states.

There are no simple solutions for this troubled country. But if any progress is to be made, it needs to begin with one person talking, another listening, and maybe a slice of pie to break the ice.

Mel Allen

To catch up on Mel Allen’s biweekly “Letter from Dublin,” go to