Beyond Vassar

I Am Arachne

By Andrea Wilk ’79

I Am Arachne
By Elizabeth Spires ’74
Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001

Pity Pandora, the trouble-maker who opened a box of woes. In recasting the myth for children, poet and children’s author Elizabeth Spires gives us her take of how the goddess herself saw things. "Was it fair, I ask you, for Zeus to tell me I must never open that mysterious box? . . . Well, I’m no more curious than the next person. . . . Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just had to see what was inside."

Mythology has long fascinated Spires, and she has written many poems for adults with mythological themes. More recently, she wanted an original way to recount the myths in a book for children. The result is I Am Arachne, her retelling of 15 Greek and Roman myths from the points of view of the protagonists themselves.

The first-person stance was a fresh approach to the stories and made the project "fun and lively" for the author. Says Spires, "These are archetypal stories that apply to us in the here and now. The faults, flaws, and virtues of the characters–and what happens as a result–always relate to one’s own life." Telling the stories from the main characters’ point of view allows Spires to give more attention to the psychology of the principal figures; we see what they think as well as what they do. The author also delves more deeply into those who are sometimes considered minor characters in the stories. For example, Eurydice, rather than Orpheus, becomes the central figure in Spires’ version of the well-known myth, "Orpheus and Eurydice."

Although primarily known as a poet, Spires has now written four books for children, including The Mouse of Amherst, a short novel about Emily Dickinson that was a Publishers Weekly "Best Book of the Year." In addition to writing, Spires, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rose Fellowship in the Creative Arts, and the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, teaches poetry at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is married to the novelist Madison Smartt Bell, and they have one daughter.