‘In Other Words, Leadership’ launches with exclusive signing event

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FARMINGTON – On the evening of Tuesday, June 6, Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers hosted a book launch for In Other Words, Leadership: How a Young Mother’s Weekly Letters to Her Governor Helped Both Women Brave the First Pandemic Year. An audience gathered in The Homestead to hear author Shannon A. Mullen explain how the book came to be.

Mullen, a journalist whose work has been published in The New Yorker and The Boston Globe, wrote the book about the correspondence between Ashirah Knapp of Temple and Maine’s first female governor and Farmington local Janet Mills. Mullen combines Knapp’s letters of support to her governor and Mills’ own personal journals to tell a story of the two women’s experiences in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

It wasn’t until the end of the presentation that Paul Mills, the governor’s brother and the moderator of the event, pointed out that the evening marked the first time the two women had met, even throughout their correspondence and the writing of the book.

Knapp lives and runs the Maine Local Living School (MLLS), an off-grid homestead and outdoor education center in Temple, with her husband Chris and their two children. When the pandemic hit, Knapp found herself among many others whose incomes came to a standstill, as her family relied heavily on their business.


From left, Ashirah Knapp, Governor Janet Mills and Shannon A. Mullen. (Sylvie Halsam photo)


“I was a scared mom in addition to being a scared person,” Knapp said. Looking back, she explained her gratitude for Mills’ leadership during that uncertain time that led her to sending her weekly letters of support. She wrote so often because “it’s not enough to say it once.” She felt it was vital to share her words with the governor, in what Mullen described as an act of agency—a belief that her letter would make a difference.

“Ashirah’s letters were particularly moving,” Mills recalled, so much so that they stood out among piles of mail that came to the mail room during the first few months of the pandemic, first because they were handwritten and later for their sincerity. Putting pen to paper makes people more honest, the governor commented. As described by an audience member, “[Knapp’s] letters were gifts.”

The book delves into both the history of MLLS and the Knapp family lifestyle. Mills found that “it was really extraordinary” to learn about Knapp’s life in Temple, so close to Mills’ own hometown.

Mills particularly remembered one letter from Knapp, who shared a moment while watching the Lord of the Rings film with her children. In response to a moment of doubt and a wish that circumstances could be different, the wizard Gandalf said, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Mills was struck by the wisdom of those words and their profound application to her own situation. She realized that despite the feeling of separation that plagued the year, “We had an extraordinary amount of collaboration, much more than I thought,” Mills said.

The book gives a fascinating glimpse into Mills’ personal life and perspective as governor during the pandemic. Both Knapp and Mills expressed the difficulty they found in reliving 2020 through their personal words that were never intended for publication, but they acknowledged the importance of remembering, of “learning the lessons of the past, not putting it behind you,” as Mills quoted from Knapp’s final letter.

Later, the celebration moved across the street to DDG Booksellers for a book signing. It was perhaps the only opportunity to have all three women sign the book at once. In Other Words, Leadership will be released everywhere on June 20 but is available for purchase now at DDG Booksellers.

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