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Cummins finds herself at home in MoCo

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Published on: Thursday, March 21, 2013

By Donna Broadway

GAITHERSBURG - Jeanine Cummins is at home, literally and figuratively. The Gaithersburg native, fresh off a promotional event for her latest book, The Crooked Branch, is no longer a best selling author but a native daughter. As she laughs and reminisces with old friends, Cummins is reminded of everything she loved about growing up in Gaithersburg.

“I always come and do events in Montgomery County when I have new book come out and it never gets old. It’s just by far my favorite event of the tour.  I’m doing big cities and big book stores and it doesn’t get better then coming back home to Gaithersburg and seeing people that I lived next door to when I was 7 years old,” said Cummins.

Cummins was born in Spain but spent her formative years in Gaithersburg. A 1992 graduate of Gaithersburg High School, Cummins attended Towson University in suburban Baltimore before moving to New York in the late 1990s to work at Penguin Publishing.

When Cummins reflects on her childhood, the diversity of Montgomery County stands out.

“The diversity of Montgomery County absolutely made me who I am. I’ve lived all over the world and I live in New York City and it’s the melting post but people don’t mix that much. When you go in a restaurant in Rockville or Gaithersburg or Germantown and when you look around, you see people from every race and creed.  You see interracial couples, interracial families, interracial groups of teenagers and friends hanging out together. That’s how I grew up it never dawned on me that there might still be racism in the world. Half of my friends were black and Asian and Latino I never considered my own racial identity really until I left Gaithersburg,” said Cummins.  

While working at Penguin, Tom, Cummins’ brother asked her to help him write his memoir about the family tragedy that took the life of her two cousins in 1991 and nearly took his life. Rip In Heaven was an immediate best seller but the emotionally draining experience that Cummins’ initially turned down.

“It was years later that he asked me to write his story and I was really hesitant it was just such a painful thing and there was a lot that I didn’t want to know about that night details that I was happier not examining but ultimately I felt like my brother deserved a chance to tell his story. He’s a firefighter in Montgomery County, he’s not a wordsmith, and he wasn’t able to write the story himself. So eventually I agreed to help him write it. So we wrote rip in heaven together and I’m really proud of it. It’s a love letter to my cousins; it’s a battle cry for victim’s rights.  And it’s a voice for my brother. I’m happy that I wrote that story, but it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and I knew after I finished it that I never wanted to write non-fiction again,” said Cummins.

Her latest book, The Crooked Branch is a dueling narrative about Majella, a new mother adjusting to motherhood in contemporary New York, and her ancestor, Ginny Doyle and her life in famine stricken Ireland in the 1840’s. Cummins, who is of Irish and Puerto Rican ancestry, wanted to give people a different perspective on the famine and motherhood. Cummins, who is a mother of two, draws on her personal experiences with adjusting to motherhood for the book.

 “It’s really challenging becoming a mom, even when your circumstances are ideal, and how much more so when you are living through the catastrophic time like the famine in Ireland, so I think that’s what I want people to talk about when they read this book,” said Cummins.  

The Crooked Branch has been praised by reviewers as Cummins’ best book. Cummins’ is not resting on her laurels though. She is working on her fourth publication, a book about an orphan in Mexico and a young woman who is waiting at the border after accidently driving into Mexico. The yet unnamed book is intended to be a narrative about what Cummins calls the high price of immigration.

“I am trying to be relentless with this book because I am at the point in my career where I’ve had a few wonderful and successful publications I am not yet at the stage of my career where it’s a guarantee, I have to work very hard.  I just shout from the rooftops so everyone will know about this book, read it and love it,” said Cummins.

 Cummins will be the featured author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in May.

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