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We all loved Phoebe Stanton.

Phoebe would stand in front of our art history class, waving a pointer, and go into pure rapture about a Picasso, a Manet, or about the glories of The Louvre or the cathedral at Chartres. She radiated passion about art and culture -- and it was infectious. Phoebe was a legend at Johns Hopkins University, and year after year she convinced legions of us that no one could ever truly call themselves educated without first spending time savoring the museums, the cafes and the spirit of Paris.

I had Phoebe telling me that in one ear, and Elliott Coleman, the head of the Hopkins Writing Seminars, telling me the same thing in my other ear. Mr. Coleman, bless him, decided I had a bit of talent for writing and he took me under his wing. Starting sophomore year, we would meet two or three mornings a week and talk about great American writers. By Christmas of our first year I had read all of Hemingway. By spring, all of Scott Fitzgerald. And by June I simply had no choice: I had to spend the summer immersed in the joys of Paris... And about three blinks later, there I was, an AP foreign correspondent based in the City of Light.

All that mentoring worked its magic -- and it instilled in me the desire to one day mentor others in the same warm, supportive way. I started doing that in a women’s program affiliated with the American College of Paris. One of my first students was Jane Sigal, a gifted chef and expert on French, Mexican and other cuisines. Jane soon became one of the most respected food writers in America and far beyond. Check out her "Bistronomy" and other books at 

Later, in 2001 I taught a writing class in the adult education program of Napa College. Two of my students, Elsebeth Schoenberger and Monroe Katz, went on to write very fine novels, and later I had the joy of working with a slew of exceptional writers, including Richard Mendelson, Gordon Mott, Jim Holden, Avi Tuschman, Steven Kent Mirassou and more. Lucky me! They did beautiful work and together we took Val de Grace Books to a whole new level of prestige and influence. And here’s a little taste of our latest:

                                                                *     *     *

Thanks, folks, for spending a little time with us here. I hope you enjoy our musings and the many books we are creating at Val de Grace Books. If you have any comments or requests, please feel free to email me. I would love to hear from you!

                                              [email protected] 

Finally, let me share with you one closing thought, one close to my heart. The author is unknown, but it summarizes my feelings exactly:

             “In the end, what really matters is not what we bought but
              what we built; not what we got but what we shared; not our
              competence but our character, and not our success but our
              significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life of love.”

            Me with my old pal Charlie. 
             Photo by Christophe Genty 
“Fishermen Tending Nets” 
          by Monroe Katz   
Copyright, 2023
   Lineage: Life, Love and Six Generations in California Wine. 

   Steven Kent Mirassou has brought forth a jewel! An ode to 
   the joys of winemaking and bringing people together around 
   the family table. Exquisitely felt and written, Steven has made 
   a unique contribution to the literature of American wine. 
John Steinbeck. Jack London. Alice Waters. The artist Christo. As different as these creators are, author Jim Holden shows us the common passion and spirit that made them giants in their fields. Don’t miss it!

Folks, someplace Robert Mondavi is smiling. 

And so are Milton Glaser, Phobe Stanton, and Elliott Coleman -- my friends, my mentors, and my constant sources of inspiration and wisdom. And somewhere Zelda is surely smiling too. That little beast was at my side throughout the early years of this great adventure, and she was there too for some of my most memorable encounters, including one with Ernest Hemingway’s oldest son, Jack.  Over a dinner together in Paris, Jack shared with us this marvelous story...

One day, Jack, an avid fisherman like his dad, wandered into a fly-fishing shop located just off the Champs Elysees. He wanted to buy a few flies to take with him back to Idaho. Well, the flies were fabulous, many of them the best he had ever seen, so Jack bought more than a few; he bought several dozen! And when he presented his credit card to the owner, the man said, “Hmmm, Hemingway. Any relation to Ernest?”

“Yes,” Jack said. “I’m his oldest son.”

“Happy to meet you,” the man said. “Sasha Tolstoy. Grandson of Leo.”

   From Zelda, The Queen of Paris.
    Now available as an eBook too.