Nicole Mary Kelby


Nicole Mary Kelby is an American short-story and novel writer. She was brought up in Florida, where she studied literature and creative writing. Kelby often gives lectures and sessions creative writing at various universities.

Nicole Mary Kelby made her debut in 2001 with the novel In the Company of Angels (Hyperion), which tells the story of a little group of sisters who take care of a Jewish girl at the beginning of World War II. The book was nominated for several international literary prizes, and has been translated to several languages, such as Dutch and Italian.

Since her first novel, Kelby has published several other novels and collections of short stories, such as Theatre of the Stars (Hyperion, 2003), A Travel Guide for the Reckless Heart (Borealis Books, 2009) and White Truffles in Winter (W.W. Norton, 2011). Her work has been translated to languages as Polish, Russian and Norwegian.

The Pink Suit (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) is Kelby's most recent novel. The Dutch translation will appear at the end of May (Uitgeverij Karmijn). In this on historical facts based fictional story, the reader gains insight in the life of president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy from the point of view of an Irish immigrant. This young woman is charged with the task to create the famous pink suit the First Lady was wearing on the day her husband was shot. The novel reflects the American Dream and the fascination of the American people for Jackie Kennedy.

In May 2015, Nicole Mary Kelby will be staying in the writer's flat at the Place du Vieux Marché aux Grains. During her residence, she will be doing research on the life and work of the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, who will play a prominent role in her new novel. 

Read more about the author on her website.

Photo © Ann Marsden



Authors' text

Nicole Mary Kelby

Months later, I am sitting at my desk and all I can think about is the soft shy sunlight and persistent shimmer of the moon. The light of Brussels is difficult to forget. It's not just how it feels, cool as rain against the skin, but it's the gentleness of it. The painter René Magritte captured it so very well. The light in his paintings made everything, every joy and every sorrow, seem vibrant and profound.

This was my mother's light. She was born in Brussels and fled when the Germans invaded. The war caught up to her eventually. There was a bomb. All she remembers of the moment was that the sky suddenly went very dark.

The first day I arrived in Brussels, I walked through the streets looking for a sign of her, just a glimpse of her eyes in the eyes of another. She was in the soaring voice of the woman singing Verdi outside of St. Nicholas Church. She was in the laughter of the fishmonger at the outdoor bar at De Noordzee serving seafood soup and white wine to a young Japanese tourist who thought she'd ordered shrimp croquettes and Coca-Cola. She was in the homeless woman sleeping in the crook of building on a stained mattress with her small apricot dog watchful at her feet.

My mother could be seen in the elegant chocolatier who placed a single red heart in a jewel box at Pierre Ledent and nodding knowingly when I told her that this was for a man who confuses me. She was in the artist who sold me a raw silk scarf that was the same sparkling green of the sea but shot through with burnished gold--"It matches your spirit," she said. And she was in the woman at Bruxells-Central who sold me my ticket, and told me where to catch the train to the airport, and said, "You look as if you've lost your heart here in Brussels." And when she said that, it felt true.

I spent weeks searching for a version of my mother who was not half-mad, not damaged by war, and not slipping in and out of life like a high thin cloud. While I found her everywhere, it was difficult to imagine her actually living here. I could not see her walking the alleyways filled with tourist cafes, one elbowing another, with their fireplaces burning even on hot days and their fresh fish on display, slowing flapping their tails against the ice, wondering why the waves no longer move beneath them, why the water has frozen into so many dull diamonds.

She must have walked the Grand-Place often, but to me it was like a dream of Cocteau: golden and filled with people speaking in tongues that I do not understand. In 1695, a French army of 70,000 men burned it to the ground. Its beauty now is Baroque in style. Although, in some corners, it is so very Belle Époque that even the gargoyles are not without vanity.

In the center of it all, there are painters en plein air and crying children who have had one too many chocolates or frites or waffles. There are the watchers drinking beer at cafes, the giggling groups of schoolgirls in their matching jumpers, the pink Hare Krishna dancing like dervishes, the honeymooners who hold hands and idly trace each other's lifelines, and the pensioners who part the crowds following their tour guide's umbrella like goslings.

One Sunday, in the corner of this massive square, a group of draft horses snort at a vintage Bugatti circa 1938, and I stop to watch the theater of the moment. It was the type of car my mother would have seen. Built for speed, it idles roughly outside of the elegant Hotel Amigo. Gawkers lift their cellphones for a photograph. It is low and sleek with wire spoke wheels and waves of red metal set against the soft blue sky. It seems cartoon-like. That's not unexpected, comics are not just honored here; they are part of the landscape. Famous cartoons serve as official graffiti, painted along the side of buildings. Tintin, of course, is everywhere.

The car doors open and out of the hotel come a handful of women all dressed as if it is, indeed, 1940. Wearing white gloves and smart hats; the petticoats under their swing skits bounce as they walk. They are smiling and waving, tossing cards to the crowd. It is a stunt, an advertisement for the vintage clothing market."Follow me!" they shout in three languages and so I do.

The Brussels Vintage Market happens once a month at Halles Saint-Géry. It's mostly clothing, mostly 1960-80s. I rummage through the racks but see nothing like what the models were wearing. No pillbox hats. No opera gloves.

The building itself was a marketplace until WWII, and as I leave I notice that there's a photographic exhibit hung along the walls behind the racks and tables. All the pictures depict one thing--the moment the Nazis invaded Brussels. There are crowds standing on the street corner as the tanks roll in; they are throwing rocks at the soldiers. There is a woman wearing a comic mask of Hitler with her hands on her hips. There are riots and parades. There are festivals where the revelers ignore the invaders completely.

Brave. Beautiful. The photos are amazing.

I have no pictures of my mother; she burned them all. I take my camera and photograph each one of these images. That night, I search the grainy shots for her face. It is an impossible task, but it comforts me. I feel like a pilgrim who has journeyed very far to find the spirit of a beautiful terrible god who lived through a darkness that she could not explain. Even though I cannot find her in any of the photos, I know that she is there, somewhere. She is wounded and mine. And so my heart remains in Brussels--although it is not lost, but finally found. And it will remain in this city until the light fades, until the world grows dark.

Passa Porta
27.04.15 > 25.05.15

Bookmark and Share Back