As Toni Sciarra Poynter descends the escalator into the basement of the midtown atrium appointed for our chat, a quote springs to mind: “There will always be more chores to do, and dust will conquer us in the end.” All around, the sounds of hammering and buzz saws permeate the air; like a marriage, the space promises a refuge but today the opposite is true, as the workmen appear hell-bent on razing the sanctuary. We pay it no mind—neither do a pair of 70-somethings nestled in a corner nook, oblivious to all except their newspaper and each other.
The couple, the quote, and the construction seem apt metaphors as we discuss Sciarra Poynter’s book, From This Day Forward. Incredulously, she takes in the wall of sound, wondering if the tape recorder is a lost cause. Dressed in black slacks and a vivid blue top that bridges the colors of sky and sea, her curly dark hair sets off porcelain Italianate features that radiate intelligence and focus. With the paperback release of the 4th edition (Loyola Press) slated for the spring, it’s an occasion to reflect on what spurred the writing of this, her first book, a series of meditations and musings inspired by her first year of marriage. “I wrote the book that I needed to read,” she muses. Initially published in 1995, From This Day Forward is a work whose probity exceeds its genre as Poynter examines the shock of the new that accompanies the institution of marriage. In it, she turns the magnifying glass on herself and her new spouse, a man who juggles willfulness and sensitivity with a cunning sense of humor. Marriage is work, her book purports, as it provides persuasive arguments for the importance of not losing one’s sense of individuality – after all, it takes a “you” and “I” to make a “we.”
Bartlett’s Quotations was enlisted “as a point of departure and inspiration.” Throughout the book, sprinklings of famous truisms provide a pleasurable parallel structure, as quotes from Homer to Saul Bellow wisely enhance the author’s own trenchant observations. Another inspiration came unexpectedly – one evening, as she awaited the arrival of her husband (the artist Don Poynter) at Lincoln Center’s reflecting pool, she took in sculptor Henry Moore’s Imaginary Landscapes. “I started looking at the abstraction itself and began to think of it in relationship to marriage and how we spend so much time trying to fit together, smooth out our rough edges, when in fact it could be our differences that make us strong together.”
That she manages to draw these correlations isn’t surprising once you begin to fathom this Cincinnati native’s background. Vassar-educated, (a Phi Beta Kappa English major) Poynter’s thoughtful responses to questions reflect an incisiveness honed at her day job as a senior editor at HarperCollins. Lest you think of her as some rabid careerist, this daughter of a university professor and a jeweler spent very little time pondering her career destiny. “As an English major, I was good at writing papers—but what was that going to get me?” As college graduation loomed, that talent led her to a summer intensive at the Denver Publishing Institute, and an introduction to the finer points of book publishing (“good hard work and great fun”). Luck struck within weeks of her arrival in New York — she secured her first job as an assistant to one of the pioneers in what would eventually be her area of concentration: the booming genre of self-help books.
Today, she’s the editor of such notables as the science writer Gina Kolata and the psychologist Alexandra Stoddard, helming works covering diverse subjects from cooking to medicine. Despite her full plate, Poynter intends to heed the author’s call again, though her fans shouldn’t look for a redux of From This Day Forward. The potential range of possibilities reflects her diverse interests. One genre she hopes to tackle is the romance novel, not surprising from someone who still has unshakable faith in the institution of marriage. Despite our society’s growing reliance on divorce as a solution to the woes of matrimony, she thinks it’s a touch premature to sound the death knell for marriage in these trying times. “We want to believe those statistics won’t be our statistics. We yearn for the companionship and unity of joining with another, particularly when the world seems daunting and ever more complex. And there is still a tremendous cultural/social support—or pressure, depending on how you look at it—for marriage, which keeps the drive and the dream alive.”