Jean Harper grew up in Concord, Massachusetts. She earned her B.A. from Earlham College and her M.F.A. from Emerson College. Her short fiction, essays, and memoir have been published in The Iowa Review, Living Forge Journal, and Cimarron Review, among others. She is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University East and lives in Richmond, Indiana.
In the early 1970s, Richmond became known as "The Rose City." Harper’s journey to that small Midwestern city, her work in the greenhouse, and the publication of her award-winning memoir, Rose City, seem to have been predestined. “My hobbies as a child were reading, designing nature walks in my parents’ back yard, and making books,” Harper says. “My mother and I illustrated elaborate stories involving princesses and their challenging journeys with cheerful resolutions. My father grew roses—Betty Prior, Silver Moon, Chicago Peace—and one of my chores was to help him kill the Japanese beetles. Dad recently moved from his house. Before he left, he dug up two offshoots from the Silver Moon. One went to my sister, the other came to live with me in Indiana.”
Rose City begins with an epigraph from the Richmond Evening Item, dated September 27, 1913: “It is certain that girls do not work in greenhouses because of the beautiful flowers that are always blooming and because of the cleanliness of the place, for the flowers are only there for a short time and a girl who is afraid to soil her hands does not seek employment in a greenhouse. But then, there are a few alluring features—the hours are comparatively short, the wages are good, and the work is not heavy.”
Harper finds that things have changed in the greenhouse since 1913. The hours are long, the wages are not “livable,” and the work is dauntingly difficult. Still, she has found something alluring in Indiana's Rose City: a life that works for her, a life in full bloom.
Photo: Richard Rodgers