Nancy Penrose, Writer   More Essays



Curious Blue: Captured by Woad

"Woad is an old color. A conversation with history. A natural dye. An ugly plant. Locked in green leaves, compounds that break into pigments of blue. Blues that can be as bold as a Blue Jay feather or as tender as an azure sky at dawn, as dark as ink or as milky as glacial ice." 

HandEye Magazine>



Dumpling Impulse: Discovering Mandut Guk in Seoul

"Looking into the front window from the alley, I had seen a large tray of dumplings. They were like a fleet of perfectly spaced fat boats sailing across the silver surface of a pond.."




Saffron and Nukes

   "It was the smells and tastes of food that struck the gongs of memory: the fragrant steam off a platter of rice; the chewy smokiness of flatbread fresh from the oven...."

Transitions Abroad>

Runner-up, 2009 Transitions Abroad Narrative Travel Writing Contest

"Time Missing in the Grand Canyon" Blue Lyra Review, 1 April 2017

"On a raft trip through the Grand Canyon of North America, time was absent. Yet time past was recorded in all the rock walls that rose around me."

"The Photos Were Like Paintings" The Ekphrastic Review, 8 February 2017

"But for me the gardens were fragmented and shattered by the crowds. It was as if I were seeing the broken shards of a stained glass window."

"Letter to the Changing Memories of my Mother" DASH Literary Journal 8, Spring 2015

"Hauling memories to daylight does change them. Is that so bad?"

"Mapping Color" HandEye Magazine, 15 October 2014

"Our children are cousins; their fathers are brothers. This is the scaffolding of our thirty-three years of friendship. Here, on the coast, within a delicious saturation of time together, we have met in search of collaboration, at least a beginning. Writer (text); weaver, dyer (textile)."

"Breathing Through Glass," Signs of Life, invited contributor, 2014, Contemporary Jewelery Art and Literature at Facérè Art Gallery, Seattle

"Diatoms may be miniscule in size but they are massive in abundance. They are astonishingly, voraciously, ferociously, knock-your-socks-off efficient at photosynthesis."

• "A Brush with History: The Art of Chinese Calligraphy" Priority, July-September 2014

"The tradition of Chinese writing stretches back some 3,000 years to a time when many of the earliest characters were pictograms carved onto shells and bones. New forms evolved in response to the possibilities of writing with a well-crafted supple-tipped brush dipped into black ink."

• "The Golden Onsen: Bathing in Japan" Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Literary Review (Winter 2013)

"...the golden waters are born from deep within the Earth, from molten rock, magma, that released fluids as it cooled. These are the deep brines of Arima, rich with iron, the source of their reddish brown color. Like cloudy tea. Like red smoke. Like rust."

Video of reading excerpt, March 2012, San Francisco Main Library, as part of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition awards ceremony.

• "Hollowed Ground: A Hole in Borneo" Shark Reef Journal (Winter 2013)

"The boatman switched off the motor and we floated in the silence of the swamp. In the light of near sunset, I lifted my binoculars and traveled the leaves of trees until I latched onto gold-red fur that resolved into the body of a proboscis monkey."

• "Shine Boy" Drash Northwest Mosaic (2012)

"The black horse whinnied in the evening. Did he remember who gave him his name when he was born on the ranch in the high desert of Oregon?"

• "Paris Chiasma" Flashquake Spring 2012 issue (Flashquake has ceased publication)

"My body craves art. Sitting on a bench in the middle of a gallery on the second floor of the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris in November, I am a tourist alone with the artist. "

•  "An Hour in Hama" El Jadid (2011)

"Hama is a city in Syria. Hama is the city where I stopped on a journey from Palmyra to Aleppo, where I photographed the ancient wooden water wheels that jigsaw the curving riverbed of the Orontes..."

• "Tales From Chinese Calligraphy" Marco Polo Arts Magazine (September 2011)

"I was illiterate. To my eyes the lines and dots of Chinese writing were little more than mystic squiggles. Yet I was living in Singapore where the characters flock upon signs, windows, shops, and scrolls, even grocery receipts. Then I met an artist, a Chinese calligrapher, whose lessons led me through the mysteries of this ancient art."

• "The Smell of Silk" Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture (2011)

"I am a writer, not a weaver, but I am drawn to the language of color, culture, and texture of handwoven textiles conveyed through the alchemy of technique."

• "The Color of Cloth" Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years;  Passager (Winter 2009)

"Orange is yellow with a touch of red. When we lived in Laos my mother sewed me a dress the color of monks' robes. What is it about this dress, a Hawaiian-style mu'uu'mu in vogue at the time, that moves me to transfer image to page just as my mother transferred pattern to cloth?"

• "Of Body, Of Land" Drash Northwest Mosaic (2011) (Drash has ceased publication.)

"Today, we racers own the express lanes, closed to cars, open only to us. Cycles of pedals, pedals of circles, spin of spokes across the water."

• "My Father's Résumé" Carpe Articulum Literary Review (Summer 2010) (Carpe Articulum has ceased publication.)

"STOL: Short Take Off and Landing, small, light planes vital to reach the landing strips on the tops of mountains and plateaus and edges of hillsides that called to the Americans in Laos in their quest to defeat the Communists."

• "Saffron and Nukes" Transitions Abroad (2009 Narrative Travel Writing Contest Runner-Up Winner)

"It was the smells and tastes of food that struck the gongs of memory: the fragrant steam off a platter of rice; the chewy smokiness of flatbread fresh from the oven...."

• "Lines and Angles" The Best Women's Travel Writing 2009: True Stories from Around the World (2009)

"Dubey hit horn, gas, brake, and we made a right turn from three lanes in, shot up the entrance ramp to a highway. He twisted the rearview mirror to find my eyes. 'Madame, I must tell you something.'"

• "A Familiar Sensation in a Grown-up Iran" Seattle Times Travel Essay 2008

"From a hand-drawn map and faded photographs, I tried to find the two-story house in Tehran where we had lived. But our street is now built over, and the neighborhood is filled with high-rises. The city has grown up."

• "The Warp of Memory" Memoir (and), Summer 2008 (Memoir (and) has ceased publication.)

"Smells are Proustian pockets of memory: frangipani, mango, dried fish, dried frog legs. There is the smell of rain (the first after the dry season), the smell of my pony's neck, the smell of burnt coffee beans in the streets of Paksé, the town where we lived."

• "Flamenco Form" Solas Award Winner, 2007, and published in The Best Travel Writing 2008

  "With a stomp of heels she announces her beginning and flies into a swirl of skirt and snapping fingers. She lights a staccato of zapateado that sounds like a woodpecker gone mad in the forest."

• "Winding River Holds City's Fate" AAPG Explorer, March 1985, photos by David Muerdter

"The fate of New Orleans may rest in a structure of concrete and steel that sits along the Mississippi River, 120 miles northwest of the city."

• "Aboard the Endeavor" Sunday Journal Magazine, July 8, 1979, photos by David Muerdter

"...the ship took a roll to starboard and I lurched to grab a handhold."