Don McLean fans his mother’s literary ‘Sparks’ into flame


GUILFORD -- Don McLean’s new book, "Sparks" contains writing in many different genres and forms -- poems, short stories, plays, essays, monologues.

But it owes its existence to another kind of writing altogether -- the love letter.

"Sparks" features the collected writing of his mother, Jean Stewart McLean, who died 50 years ago in November 1963 without having seen her writing published. It has been on son Don’s bucket list to help her writing see the light of day.

"I had in the back of my mind this project of taking what she wrote and putting it in book form," said McLean. "It’s certainly well-written stuff. It’s something I’m very pleased to tell people about."

And now that can buy the book, too.

The life and works of Jean Stewart McLean will be celebrated on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Guilford Community Church. The date marks the official release of "Sparks," which Don McLean edited and self-published on-demand. The 7:30 p.m. program combines a publication party with performances of her work, presented by Friends of Music at Guilford.

Examples of Jean McLean’s poetry, short stories and plays will be read at the program.

"Sparks" is the title of the new book, the evening’s program, and a musical setting of 11 of the author’s poems, set to music by Don McLean, to be premiered by mezzo-soprano Evelyn McLean.

The author worked in three principal genres -- poems, short stories and plays -- each of which will be represented on the program.

The featured event of the evening is the song set "Sparks," with musical settings by Don McLean of 11 of his his mother’s poems, performed mezzo-soprano Evelyn McLean (Don’s wife, Jean’s daughter-in-law). The songs have been drawn together in a work for voice and five instrumentalists -- Kimi Hasegawa, flute, Karen Bressett, clarinet, Kathy Andrew, violin, Pedro Pereira, cello, and Becky Graber, piano.

The evening opens with a very short play, "Den 5 Skit," apparently written for a cub scout den in 1949. This comic piece will feature young players, many from Guilford. Detective Sam Club, played by Elijah Taylor, and his Assistant, Al, portrayed by Payton Lawrence, attempt to solve the theft of diamonds from Mrs. Amplebuilt, acted by Kate Maisner. Other cast members are Garret Barry-Stoughton as the Shmoo, Jeremy West as the Cop, Marisa Prohaska as Hot-Rod Harry and Jenna Barry-Stoughton as the Reporter. Joan Peters of Guilford is assisting Don McLean in production details.

McLean will follow with a short talk about his mother and her work, and read a few representative passages from her fiction. The evening closes with a reception, during which copies of the book will be on sale at a special price for those attending this program.

Admittedly personal and a bit prosaic, "Sparks" has a broader appeal, McLean said, particularly for people who just plain love to read good writing

"She was serious about how you use the English language," said McLean, who noted that people who knew Jean appreciated her wit. "Her college friends called her ‘Dorothy Parker.’"

Jean Stewart Sadtler was born in Rahway, N.J., in 1917. Her father was rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and his children -- Jean, and her older sister Margaret -- grew up down the street in the rectory. She attended the New Jersey College for Women, since merged into the state university at Rutgers -- majoring in English literature. In her senior year (1938-39) she was president of the Philalethean Society, a literary club which produced "The Horn," a magazine in which her work was always prominent.

After college, and by then planning to marry Wallace McLean, the young author became assistant to the editor of Book of the Month Club. She was married in 1942 and settled in Princeton, N.J., where her husband was an assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering Department.

After giving some attention to poetry in her youth, Jean turned to two other genres: playwriting and fiction. From that time until she largely gave up writing in the late 1950s, and combined with her work as a mother, she devoted what time she could to writing. She joined a local writer’s group, which adopted as mentor Dorothy Thomas, who had been a prominent author of the American Prairie during the Depression. Thomas co-authored a story with Jean McLean, from which Don McLean will read a few passages on this program.

"Sparks" will also be available at Everyone’s Books.

Guilford Community Church is at 38 Church Drive, off Route 5, just south of the Guilford Country Store. Admission is by suggested donation of $10. For information, contact Friends of Music at 802-254-3600 or e-mail


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