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Many other versions of this story exist. But what makes Ohannessian's account, at once tragic and beautiful, stand out is that it has been carefully but unaffectedly sketched by an author who understands that much of life is beyond understanding.

Publishers Weekly

Griselda Ohannessian

New Directions Publisher and Memoirist
Born in New York City in 1927, GRISELDA OHANNESSIAN studied to be a pianist at Barnard College and has been associated with New Directions Publishing since 1956. She was the President and Managing Director when she retired in 2005, and she is still a member of the New Directions Board of Directors.

Once As It Was

Nonfiction by Griselda Ohannessian


Once: As It Was is narrated through the lens of the author’s twelve-year-old self. Her farm-home—today a golf course—was a world as enchanting as Narnia, but without the illusion of fantasy: the perfume of locust trees in bloom, orioles patching nests, fairy dinners in ferny woodlands, the Elephant House, orange monkeys, ringing rocks. There is her dear father Bousie ("rhymes with Howsie"), who once dressed up like a crackling crone to buy apples from his daughter’s makeshift apple stand, her loving Ma, her two sisters and brother, the Owls (the Cherokee Indian farmhands who were also part of the family), and others. There are the dirt roads that split off from macadam, "muggy river bottom weather," the glow of candles and lamps, her pet lamb Yamie, the bovine troll, and the roosters in action. Ohannessian’s writing-memory meanders intently like a bright creek, through her schoolhouse where Margaret Toomer, the writer Jean Toomer’s daughter, was one of two black students, through the living presence of books and pen pals, many secret places, a run-in with Professor Einstein, and even a little s. e. x. Then one fateful day a band of writers arrives, led by the poets Laura Riding and Robert Graves.... Photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, poems, and a few bars of Morse code provide a lively, natural counterpoint to Ohannessian’s moving tale.