By Michael D. Minichiello
This month’s West Village Original is writer and author Catherine Revland, born in 1940 in Fort Ransom, North Dakota and raised in Fargo. Formally educated and trained as a writer, with over 40 years experience writing for a variety of print and online media, she is also a regular contributor to WestView News. Her current project is titled “What the Old Ones Knew: Communicating with the Ancestors,” an oral history of the Yankton Sioux as told to Revland. Visit her website at www.catherinerevland.com.
As a girl growing up in Fargo, North Dakota with a father who was ill for a time, writer Catherine Revland discovered the world of books. “I kind of escaped into books because my Dad was so sick,” she says. “I got a prize for reading 100 books in the first grade. But that’s not unusual. I think most writers were originally avid readers and kind of in love with what words do, or don’t do for that matter. One day when I was 12, I discovered a book in the public library about a woman writer who lived in a place called Greenwich Vil-lage. I said to myself, ‘That’s it! That’s what I want to be and where I want to live!’”
But first Revland had to finish school, attend the University of North Dakota on a journalism scholarship, get married, and have her first child. “Finally, in 1963, when I was seven months pregnant with our second daughter, my actor husband and I left Fargo for New York in a broken-down car and with no money,” she says. “I worked as an actress and model until I got pregnant for the third time and then I had to make a decision. I gave up modeling and I started to work in book publishing, which eventually led to ghostwriting.”
Revland attributes her success as a ghostwriter to the fact that she could put her ego in her back pocket. “A colleague once told me that I was so good at it because I know how to worm my way into a person’s psyche but also when to pull back,” she says. “It’s a very intimate relationship being a ghostwriter. Someone will tell you things they never tell anyone else. They want the ghostwriter to tell the truth but also varnish it up a little bit. They want it to be their story, but they have to be careful about how they appear to the world when the book comes out.”
Is ghost writing enough of a creative outlet, though? “No. You give up your creativity, actually,” Revland admits. “It’s very dependable work when you’re raising kids and I was a single parent by that time. But after a while I realized I had to write my own books. And when I got into my own writing I wasn’t a novice. I feel very grateful for all the ghost writing I did because of what I learned; particularly how to transmit the verbal into the written word.”
After living in a “nice, quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn,” Revland finally moved into the Village in an apartment at Tenth & Waverly. “It was a crappy apartment that cost $350 a month,” she says. “But I was with my three daughters, a Belgian Shepherd, and two cats and we were just thrilled! I had waited a long time to fulfill my dream of living here. What’s so great about being in one place for 40 years is that there’s continuity. Every time I walk down these streets my life flashes before my eyes. All these things have happened to me in the Village and that’s why it’s so dear to me.”
Does Revland regret how much the neighborhood has changed over her four decades here? “There’s something so unproductive about mourning what’s no longer there,” she responds. “When I walk around the Village I see incredible ironwork, or beautiful doors, or streets that still have their cobblestones. There’s so much here that hasn’t changed thanks to historical preservation. And I try not to dwell on what has changed because I’ve changed too. There are parts of my life that I yearn for, but I also love what I’m doing right now. I wouldn’t be young again for anything! Really. It’s a waste of time, which is my most precious commodity right now. I still have things to do. I mean, I haven’t been to Paris yet!” She laughs. “How can that be?!”