Ghost Writer: The Story of Patience Worth, the Posthumous Author

The most remarkable thing about Patience Worth wasn’t that she was dead. It was that all she wanted to do was write books.

Joy Lanzendorfer | Longreads | June 2018 | 18 minutes (4,948 words)

One day in 1913, a housewife named Pearl Curran sat down with her friend Emily Grant Hutchings at a Ouija board. Curran’s father had died the year before, and Hutchings was hoping to contact him. While they’d had some success with earlier sessions, Curran had grown tired of the game and had to be coaxed to play. This time, a message came over the board. It said: “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come — Patience Worth my name.”

This moment was the start of a national phenomenon that would turn Curran into a celebrity. Patience Worth, the ghost who’d contacted them, said she was a Puritan who immigrated to America in the late 1600s. Through Curran, she would dictate an astounding 4 million words between 1913 and 1937, including six novels, two poetry collections, several plays, and volumes of witty repartee.

The work attracted national headlines, serious reviews, and a movie deal. Patience Worth’s poetry was published in the esteemed Braithwaite’s anthologies alongside writers like Edna St. Vincent Millay. In 1918, she was named an outstanding author by the Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York. Her novel, The Sorry Tale, was a bestseller with four printings. The New York Times said her poetry was a “high level of literary quality” with “flashes of genius.” Harper’s Magazine said that the “writings attributed to Patience Worth are exceptional.” The New Republic added: “That she is sensitive, witty, keenly metaphorical in her poetry and finely graphic in her drama, no one can deny.”

Literary Digest summed up the critical interest by writing: “It is difficult not to take Patience Worth seriously.”

Patience Worth came along during the final blooming of spiritualism in the United States. The belief that people could contact the dead was buoyed by the invention of the Ouija board, popularity of séances, and serious interest by prominent figures like Arthur Conan Doyle, William James, and Harry Houdini (who spent much of his last years debunking mediums). Patience Worth’s strange diction, large output, and mix of transcendentalism and Christianity seemed at odds with Curran, a homemaker who dropped out of school at 13. The idea that such uncanny poetry was coming out of an ordinary woman seemed so unlikely to her contemporaries that many believed something supernatural must be involved. Maybe, they thought, it really was a ghost.

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By her own admission, Curran was bored before Patience Worth came along. When she was younger, she wanted to be a singer “mostly to lift myself out of a hopeless future,” she told interviewer Walter Franklin Prince. At 24, she married John Curran, a man 12 years her senior. Living in St. Louis with him and her stepdaughter, Curran’s days consisted of housework, social calls, naps, needlework, and playing music for the family. She wanted children, but wasn’t able to conceive.

Curran wasn’t religious, nor was she interested in spiritualism. “I was raised to think spiritualistic seances taboo,” she said. However she did have a short stint playing piano for her uncle’s Spiritualist church in Chicago. Although she found the congregation “repulsive,” while there, she witnessed her uncle performing impromptu poetry.

She also had no ambitions to write. That was Hutchings’s territory. A freelance writer, Hutchings had an established career before meeting the Currans. She’d published poetry and fiction in The Atlantic and Cosmopolitan, was a regular contributor to Reedy’s Mirror, and covered the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair for newspapers, filing a story a day for 24 weeks. She’d also written a novel, Chriskios — Divine Healer, published in Chicago’s Sunday Associated Magazine.

In 1912, as Curran’s father, George Pollard, lay dying from nephritis, the women began playing with the Ouija board. Curran’s mother was often nearby with pen and paper, waiting to record anything the spirits said. There are conflicting accounts of whether they contacted spirits before Patience Worth appeared. Hutchings, an untrustworthy resource, said they heard from Curran’s grandfather and Pollard after he died in September. In any case, by June 22, 1913, the board was spelling out the letters P-A-T over and over again.

The idea that such uncanny poetry was coming out of an ordinary woman seemed so unlikely to her contemporaries that many believed something supernatural must be involved.

At their next session, Patience Worth made contact. After explaining who she was, the ghost went on to say: “Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread by thy hearth. Good friends. Let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the fire log.”

Thus, this strange spirit had announced herself. But who was she? At first, Patience Worth was cagey about her past, refusing to answer questions, saying, “About me ye would know much. Yesterday is dead. Let thy mind rest as to the past.” Eventually, however, details emerged. She was an unmarried woman from England who came to America by boat in the 1600s. She was killed in an Indian raid, although she didn’t know which tribe had attacked her, saying: “Would ye with a blade at thy throat seek the [affiliation] of thine assassin?” In 1921, Curran had a vision of Patience Worth leaving for America on a “three-masted schooner.” She described a small woman with “dark red, mahogany” hair “in big, glossy, soft waves.” Early on, she referred to Patience Worth as an old woman, but later said she died at 30.

These things came out slowly, as Patience Worth wasn’t interested in history. Nor did she want to do other things expected of ghosts contacted through Ouija boards. A disclaimer in the short-lived Patience Worth’s Magazine said that she “‘does not ‘read the future’ … find lost lovers, lost relatives or lost property. She does not give advice upon business. She does not pretend to be a physical healer.” What this ghost wanted to do was write.

Almost immediately, Patience Worth began writing aphorisms and parables through the Ouija board. (“Thy paltry prayers are but a comforter to heal the wounds of thine own conscience. Mistake not their true worth, but live, and work and work and work. This alone can earn thee rest.”) A month later, she began producing poetry. “Patient God,” much praised by critics, is a typical example:

Ah, God, I have drunk unto the dregs
And flung the cup at Thee.
The dust of crumbling righteousness
Hath dried and soaked unto itself.
E’en the drop I spilled to Bacchus,
While Thou, all patient,
Sendest purple vintage for a later harvest.

Soon entire novels were spilling from the Ouija board. At first, a 90-minute session might produce 500 words, but as time went on, they yielded 2,000 or 3,000 words, sometimes even 5,000 or 6,000. Patience might compose 16 poems in 20 minutes or switch from project to project, working on a novel, play, and poem at the same time, and alternating language for each. Witnesses were amazed at the speed with which the pointer moved around the board. Curran called out words with “never a second’s hesitation over choice of word or phrase and … never an alteration,” said a witness in 1918.

This was all on top of The Patience Worth Record, a transcription of the conversations with the Ouija board, which ran into twenty-nine volumes, and was mostly recorded by John Curran.

Much was made about Patience Worth’s language. It was archaic but not from a specific time and place — certainly not 17th-century England or Colonial America. It was closer to historical romance novels of the 20th century, mixed with the King James Bible. Patience also made up her own words — “put” or “weaving” for writing, “inman” for the soul, “hut” for house, “tung” for tongue, and so forth. Because of this, the writing from the Ouija board could be incomprehensible: “Nay, ‘tis not the put o’ me, the word hereon. ‘Tis the put o’ me at see o’ her. I put athin the see o’ her, aye and ‘tis the see o’ ye that be afulled o’ the put o’ me, and yet a put thou knowest not.”

Still, a sharp-witted, distinct voice emerged, alternating between humorous, flirtatious, argumentative, and instructive. The critic William Reedy described Patience as “arch and coquettish with a mind of no small power and altogether loveable.” Skeptics were quick to point out that Patience Worth was the name of a character in To Have and To Hold, a popular romance published 1900, which Curran said she’d never read. When a reporter questioned Patience if she was real, her reply was: “A phantom? Weel enough, prove thyself to me!”

Twice a week, the Currans opened their home to visitors. At first Hutchings was on the board with Curran, then others began taking a turn at the planchette. One of these was Casper Yost, editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a well-respected, deeply religious man who became convinced that Patience Worth was real. He began attending sessions regularly, and Patience Worth — who knew how to flatter — called him brother, and flirted with him.

In February 1915, Globe-Democrat advertised an upcoming series of articles about Patience Worth, “perhaps the most marvelous psychical phenomenon the world has ever known.” The ad ran for a week, frothing public interest in the subject. The articles included poetry by the ghost and gushing commentary by Yost. Referring to “Patient God,” quoted above, he wrote, “There is nothing in literature that grips the mind with greater force, almost breath-stopping in its awfulness… and there is nothing in literature more beautiful than its conclusion.” This series was the basis for a book, Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, published in 1916 by Henry Holt and Company in New York. It contained an introduction by Yost and stories and poems by Patience Worth.

While Yost brought public attention to Patience Worth, Reedy brought literary clout. As the publisher of the literary journal Reedy’s Mirror, he’d published Emily Dickinson, Yeats, Theodore Dreiser, Robert Frost, and many other famous names. He was one of the first judges in the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1917. The overweight critic — who Patience nicknamed Fat-A-Wide — was initially skeptical, but soon found he had no explanation for what he saw at the Currans’s house. He wrote several long articles about his “flirtation” with Patience Worth. “I do not think this poetry so great as Mr. Casper Yost thinks it … But it is good poetry, better poetry than we find in our magazines as a rule — poetry with a quality utterly its own.”

Curran said she’d never read a Shakespeare play, didn’t know who Andrew Jackson was, and thought Henry VIII was beheaded. Her status as a flighty housewife distracted investigators from deeply questioning her connection to Patience Worth.

Literary fame soon followed. After Yost’s book, which was positively reviewed, Patience Worth poetry appeared in journals around the country. A novel, The Sorry Tale, followed in 1917, and Hope Trueblood, in 1918. The Sorry Tale was the most successful of these publications. The 640-page book was set in the time of Christ and concerned characters named Panda, Theia, and Hatte. Jesus makes an appearance. Reedy called it the “most remarkable piece of literature I ever read — it is the fifth gospel.” Here’s an excerpt:

And Panda sunk down, down unto his knees, even before Theia.

And Theia spake: “Panda! Panda! Panda! Panda! Ah ’tis music! Panda, this is Jerusalem, and Rome hath slaves. But here Rome hath forgot her dealing. Arise!”

And Panda said: “Rome dealeth not slavedom, nay, nay. He thou seeketh dealeth, and Panda giveth what is but thine.”

And Theia spake fast and soft: “Panda, Panda, Hatte, Hatte—he is there!”

And Panda looked unto Theia and spake: “And thou, and thou art here!”

Increasingly, Hutchings found herself squeezed out of the attention and fame, and she wasn’t happy about it. After all, she was also at the Ouija board when Patience Worth appeared. She probably created some of her persona. “Hutchings may have been the likelier source for the first version of [Patience Worth’s] Old and New England past, alleged age, and physical appearance,” wrote Daniel Shea in the biography The Patience of Pearl. Hutchings’s Patience Worth had a backstory straight from a romance novel — she was an older woman from Maine who had lost her “betrothed” and was kidnapped by Native Americans, living among them for “many moons.”

When Patience Worth showed favoritism for Curran, her “harp” and “vessel,” a feud developed between the women. Hutchings began altering the Ouija board transcript to suit her vision. According to The Patience Worth Record, “Mrs. Hutchings [would take the record] home and rewrite [it]. Also she would make interpolations of her own in the record and … add to and take from and change ad libitum.” After that, Hutchings was no longer allowed to transcribe the sessions. And while it was her idea to write a book about Patience Worth, the Currans gave that task to Yost, cutting Hutchings out.

In retaliation, Hutchings wrote letters to James Hyslop, head of The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), founded by William James. Hyslop, a former Columbia University professor, attempted to weed out charlatans from legitimate psychics through his “cross references” system. He wanted Curran to submit to his test, but she refused. Hutchings’s letters, according to Shea, said Curran was “vain, untrustworthy, and profit-minded.” She also said she’d been communicating with Patience Worth on the Ouija board at home, showing that Curran wasn’t the only one who could contact the ghost. (Bizarrely, Hutchings also claimed to have contacted Curran’s dad, who said she was “more a daughter to him than she of his flesh ever was.”)

This gossip may have colored the harsh review Hyslop wrote for the Journal of ASPR in April 1916. It condemned Patience Worth as “a fraud and a delusion” that “will not stand a moment’s scientific scrutiny.” The review caused scandal with many people rushing to Curran’s support. One of these was Hutchings, who grandly stated in the Reedy’s Mirror, “We who have worked with Patience Worth … cannot lie supine while the skeptic annihilates her.”

Meanwhile, Hutchings was busy writing a book with a new partner — Mark Twain.

Twain had died in 1910. Hutchings, like Twain, was born in Hannibal, Missouri and had briefly corresponded with him when he was alive. Perhaps that’s why she thought he would choose her to channel his first posthumous book. (The living Twain may not have agreed with this decision. He wrote on one of Hutchings’s letters: “Idiot! Must preserve.”) In a St Louis Dispatch article, Hutchings describes having to add punctuation to her Ouija board after the grammatically minded spirit was confused, writing, “Jap Herron awoke (where’s that comma?) early the next morning.” She also plugged her next book, describing a French soldier who was waiting to have his story told after Twain was done.

Jap Herron, Hutchings’s Mark Twain novel, was published in 1916. The New York Times observed that it was the “third novel in the last few months” by a dead person. They then panned the book: “If this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary.”


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Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens, soon filed a case with the Supreme Court. Since she had sole rights to her father’s stories, Hutchings either had to admit that the book wasn’t by Twain — and thus a fraud — or say that it was by Twain, and therefore property of his daughter. Jap Herron halted production and existing copies were destroyed.

From there, Hutchings seems to have stopped writing with Ouija boards altogether. She went on to write at least two more novels and later became a respected art critic in St. Louis. When she died in 1960, her obituary made no mention of Patience Worth.

At a time when women couldn’t vote, male gatekeepers took Patience Worth’s work much more seriously than if Curran had consciously sent writing out for publication. Under the umbrella of femininity, Patience Worth could say things respectable women weren’t allowed to say.

But Patience Worth was going strong. Experts were still trying to figure out how someone like Curran could be inhabited by a ghost like Patience Worth. Reedy didn’t believe Patience Worth was a spirit, but it was baffling to him, and to many of her investigators, that a woman like Curran was writing good poetry, consciously or not. “She’s a simple woman of agreeable intelligence, not at all, as we would say, a ‘highbrow,’” he wrote. Prince, a parapsychologist, came to a similar conclusion in his book The Case of Patience Worth: Curran was an ordinary woman, without much education or access to the knowledge Patience Worth displayed, so the ghost must be “some cause operating through but not originating in the subconscious of Mrs. Curran.”

Curran did demonstrate a lack of education when Prince interviewed her. She said she’d never read a Shakespeare play, didn’t know who Andrew Jackson was, and thought Henry VIII was beheaded. Whether she was playing up her ignorance or not, her status as a flighty housewife distracted investigators from deeply questioning her connection to Patience Worth. Reedy noted that she was sometimes confused by the Ouija board, asking, “What is this stuff? What does it mean?” He added, condescendingly, that she knew the “words all right but the ideas conveyed by them utterly escape her.” Patience Worth also hid behind her gender. When she was accused of being fickle or contradicting herself, she would say, “I be dame.” By this, she meant that she was a woman, and therefore inclined to be illogical, according to Irving Litvag, author of Singer in the Shadows. As Shea wrote, “Curran could … seem regressively Feminine if not for the public career she sought with her revisionist performance of a frequently combative Puritan goodwife.”

At a time when women couldn’t vote, male gatekeepers took Patience Worth’s work much more seriously than if Curran had consciously sent writing out for publication. Under the umbrella of femininity, Patience Worth could say things respectable women weren’t allowed to say. In 1915, a psychiatrist named Morton Prince — no relation to Walter Prince — interviewed Patience Worth over the Ouija board. He quickly lost his temper when the will-o-the-wisp spirit wouldn’t answer his questions.

Dr. Prince: Do you see me?

Patience: Alor’! An old un!

Dr. Prince: Do you hear me?

Patience: Thinkest thou that thou mayest send for a loud o’ a put and I be amuted o’ the ear?

Dr. Prince: No, darned if I do!

Patience: Thou art o’ a put o’ word that thou knowest, man, be not afitting o’ a sirrah o’ the day o’ me!

Dr. Prince: What would they have said in your day?

Patience: A dang.

In a few moments, Patience Worth had called Prince old, asked if he thought she was deaf, scolded him for rough language, and told him a curse word people used when she was alive. Curran was in the room, but appeared innocent of the insults her spirit was delivering to the prestigious doctor. The meeting ended abruptly. Soon after, Curran started refusing to submit to questioning. By 1919, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said she’d received “thousands of offers” from psychiatrists and scholars who wanted to study her, which she likened to a “vivisection.” She added, “Scientists cannot understand me. That is why they are trying to call me names.”

Patience Worth said other harsh things that Curran may have wanted to express. For example, there was the way Patience talked to Curran’s mother, Mary Pollard. “This overwise, good-wife knows much thrashing would improve,” she said of Pollard. When Pollard protested, Patience added, “Wilt thou, of too much speech, pray silence the witch? Much clatter from a goose.” After she called her a goose another time, Pollard said, “The idea of her calling me an old goose! … Whew! She is rather hard on me, but I am getting used to it.”

Pollard was overbearing and controlling. A frustrated singer herself, she pushed Curran toward the stage, pressured her to excel, and abused her when she failed. Curran’s daughter, Eileen, said that when Curran forgot her lines while playing Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Pollard “beat the devil out of her, grabbed her by the hair and shook her.” She was scared into giving “a most convincing performance.”

Curran said she had a breakdown at 13 from “too much piano, elocution, Delsarte, school and entertainments.” She never went back to school, though her mother insisted she continue music lessons until her marriage. Pollard also bullied her daughter into marrying John Curran instead of her boyfriend, Bob Wyman, who Pollard said had “no means of support.” As Curran wrote in a letter after her mother’s death: “Her love for me was really an agony — because she wanted to keep me hers.”

Reading the record, it appears that Patience Worth was slowly freeing Curran in ways that she’d been unable to free herself. And soon, she would give her something else: A daughter.

One day in 1916, Patience Worth instructed the Currans to adopt a baby. “Ye shall seek ye a one, a wee bit, one who hath not,” she said. She went on to say that the baby would be a girl, and they would name it Patience Worth. “Yea and unto this one thou shalt speak o’ a fairie damie [Patience Worth] who ministereth; and o’ Him who hath sent her.” She wouldn’t tell them how to find the child, but she did say how to dress her: “Spinster-prim” with a bonnet, gray cape, “a wee, wee kerchief,” and a cross around her neck. They could pay for the child out of the money they earned from the books.

The Currans seemed shocked at Patience’s instructions, but, as they had not been able to have any children, they obeyed. Soon they adopted a little girl who seemed to meet all the criteria. She was a “wee bit,” weighing only five pounds, with red hair like Patience. They named her Patience Worth Curran and called her Patience Wee, and later, Patty. Patience Worth, sometimes Angel Patience or Thy Mither, was presented as a caregiver in the child’s life. She wrote Patty poems and called her “the wee fleshie that be mine, mine, mine.”

When confined to writing from her own experiences and thoughts, Curran found herself bored by the ‘conscious effort of the ordinary manner of writing,’ adding, ‘My own writing fatigues me, while the other (Patience Worth’s) exhilarates me. That’s a queer mess of a statement, but quite true.’

A 1920 article in The Washington Times, “The Baby That Is Being Raised By A Ghost,” gave an update on Patience Wee. The accompanying image showed a small child dressed like a Puritan doll. It describes Patience being heavily involved in the child’s life. She even instructed the doctor, an apparent devotee of the ghost who offered free medical care: “Thou takest care of the innards of the wee one’s, and these here take care of the outwards.” Curran explained that Patience Wee was getting gifts from all over the world.

“What,” the article asks, “Is to be [the child’s] future?”

In 1920, Curran had every reason to feel confident about the future. Through Patience Worth, she’d released three books, gained a big following, and was publishing stories under her own name. The Saturday Evening Post paid her $350 for the story “Rosa Alvaro, Entrante.” In it, a girl named Mayme, who works in a Chicago department store — a job Curran held before marriage — is convinced by a medium that her spirit guide is a beautiful Spanish woman named Rosa Alvaro. The story was optioned by the Goldwyn Film Company and turned into a movie. What Happened To Rosa? came out in 1921 and starred Mabel Normand. Curran wrote triumphantly to a friend, “it was sold for FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS! … Oh my dears, can you imagine!” She went on to say that another movie company, Famous Players, were “tremendously interested” in her stories.

“I can hardly believe my eyes,” Curran went on. “They tell me there is a world of future for me if I won’t get foolish.”

But cultural tides were turning. Ouija boards and séances seemed old-fashioned in the new world of flappers, jazz, and Prohibition. Even as Curran was submitting stories to The Saturday Evening Post, the publication was printing a satirical piece by Dorothy Parker lampooning Ouija boards. A section of the satire seemed to have Curran in mind, describing how a woman named Mrs. Both channels poems from a spirit who “used to live a long time ago, up round Cape Cod way.” The book, Heart Throbs From the Here-after, is being rushed to publication “while the public is still in the right mood.” The only hitch, the ghost is being difficult about royalties.

Soon, the Currans were running low on money. In a 1920 article in the Post-Dispatch, Curran was candid about her financial problems. Writing had brought in $1854 and expenses were $5905. That included entertaining 8,000 people who’d watched the sessions over the years, hiring assistants and secretaries, and raising Patience Wee. Book sales were dropping and no more movie deals had materialized. They’d also lost $4,000 on Patience Worth’s Magazine.

In 1922, John Curran, 51, died from an unknown illness. Pearl was pregnant at the time, much to everyone’s surprise. Their daughter, Eileen, was born six months later. Now with two little children, Curran began touring Patience Worth around the country. In this way, her childhood dream of being on stage came true.

A 1929, St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes Curran’s show, billed as “An Evening With Patience Worth,” with 150 people in attendance. Curran, tall with blue eyes, gray hair, and dressed in white, told stories about Patience Worth, then asked the audience for topics so that “Patience might compose immediately.” Curran had by then abandoned the Ouija board and could directly channel Patience. Choosing “Heaven” from the crowd’s suggestions, she recited a poem while dabbing her head with a green handkerchief. A secretary was on hand to write down every word. When someone suggested a poem on Prohibition, Curran laughed and said, “I must tell you Patience’s joke about Prohibition. … Someone asked her for a poem on spirits, and she said — ‘Distilled or deceased?'” The evening yielded 27 poems, or 3,000 words, but, Curran said, “Patience wasn’t at her best tonight.”

In 1926, Curran married Henry Rogers, the widower of her late music teacher. When she was younger, Curran knew him as Uncle Henry. It was a marriage of convenience, as he was 25 years older than Curran, and ill. In 1930, she moved her daughters to California with Rogers. There, she ran into her first love, Bob Wyman, at a party and they resumed their thwarted romance. According to Shea, “the elderly Dr. Rogers urged his wife to divorce him, giving her the freedom to marry her first love, an offer she had accepted by December 22, 1931, when she and Wyman were married.”

While Patience Worth, by then sounding a lot like Dorothy Parker, rhapsodized about love, the marriage was short lived. Toward the end, Curran and her two daughters were dependent on Herman Behr, a wealthy fan and editor of her last books. She was unhappy, writing a friend that she was depressed after two years of “miserable health.” If not for Patience Worth, she said, “I think I would have just waved bye bye to this old world.” In a letter to Prince, she said “life in general was rather rotten.”

In November 1937, Curran told a friend that “Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can.” A month later, she was dead from pneumonia.

Her children had lost not just one, but two mothers. “We always felt [Patience] was within our call and reach when Mother was here,” Patty said in an interview. “Now she is gone just as certainly as Mother is gone.” While Eileen went on to marry, Patty floundered with substance abuse and bad relationships. In 1943, she died of an accidental drug overdose. She was 27 years old.

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While it’s unclear how Curran interpreted Patience Worth’s insertion into her life, there’s no doubt that the ghost brought her much pleasure. In a 1919 article titled “A Nut For Psychologists,” Curran describes what it felt like when Patience Worth spoke through her.

I am like a child with a magic picture book. Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty. … When the poems come, there also appear before my eyes images of each successive symbol, as the words are given me. If the stars are mentioned, I see them in the sky.

This sounds similar to “creative flow.” As the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman describes it, “When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. There is very little self-awareness or critical self-judgment; just intrinsic joy for the task.”

Perhaps the biggest clue to how Curran viewed Patience Worth was the fact that she started writing under her own name. Tellingly, when confined to writing from her own experiences and thoughts, Curran found herself bored by the “conscious effort of the ordinary manner of writing,” adding, “My own writing fatigues me, while the other (Patience Worth’s) exhilarates me. That’s a queer mess of a statement, but quite true.”

In the short story, “Rosa Alvaro, Entrante,” the character Mayme, like Curran, had a drab life until she discovered a beautiful spirit, who, for a time at least, brings her excitement, money, and a sense of purpose. Or, as Mayme says of Rosa: “Oh Gwen, I love her! She’s everything I want to be. Didn’t I find her? It ain’t me. It’s what used to be me before the world buried it.”

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Joy Lanzendorfer‘s work has been in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tin House, The Guardian, NPR, Poetry Foundation, and many others. Follow her on Twitter here.

Editor: Dana Snitzky