Issue #183: The Signature of All Things

183-cover (360x504) (2)For the past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History. I go there for inspiration, but also to teach creative writing—my students happily scribbling in front of a diorama of mountain gorillas, or underneath a skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. When fact and fiction (science & literature) mix, our imagination can blossom in surprising ways. And this is exactly what happens in One Story’s current issue, “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Set in Philadelphia in the 1800s, this vividly-drawn, magically-detailed, humorous and moving story follows the early years of a budding young scientist, Alma Wittaker. Growing up on White Acre, her family’s botanical garden/estate, and encouraged by her parents—who are at turns severe and loving—Alma cultivates a curious mind. She wants to know how things work. But also: why. It is this pursuit of why that determines the course of Alma’s life, as she searches for her place in the world. This story is an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming novel of the same title, The Signature of All Things, and so you—lucky readers—can continue on Alma’s journey of science and discovery when the book hits stores in October. Be sure to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Q&A with us about her research, and the influence of Linnaeus and Darwin on her work. And the next time you find yourself in a science museum, stop and consider the many people who have dedicated their lives to expanding our knowledge of the natural world. In their own way, both scientists and writers play the role of detective, trying to unearth the truth of our existence in the universe. For scientists it is a factual truth—and for writers, an emotional one. There is a story behind every diorama, each skeleton and diagram of the moon. Look closely at that early botanical sketch of a Red Mulberry leaf. Notice the veins, the shape of the tip. Take out your notebook and pen. And start writing.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Issue #183: The Signature of All Things

  1. I really loved this story. Until reading the author info in the back of the issue I had no idea that it was part of a novel; it worked so well by itself as a short. I recently bought the book and it’s entirely becasue I was introduced to it by One Story. I’m very excited to begin reading it!

  2. What a beautiful story all by itself. The last scene was truly remarkable and so illustrious that it will remain in my memory forever. I have to read the novel now!

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