My forthcoming creative nonfiction book about Nancy Luce, titled Poor Little Hearts, uncovers the life and writings of Martha’s Vineyard’s famous chicken lady. Despite her local legend, her image is misrepresented in this day and age, and an astonishing narrative of determination and faith has been buried in the 125 years since her death. The book tells my investigation into Luce’s legend and her special family composed of chickens. It is based on site-specific and archival research to show how a lonely, ailing woman became a recognized celebrity of her time. The tale of Luce’s chicken’s gravestones — as well as her sound poem “Hen’s Names”— was reprinted in newspapers across the country. Thousands of tourists visited her homestead, and a group of donors from across the world helped Luce build one of the greatest and unique avian structures inside her home. Luce believed in practicing equal empathy for all, regardless of gender, or one being human or animal. Reflected in her correspondence and poems, virtues applauded and typically respected today, ignited controversy in her era.
Even in the most dire circumstances,
Nancy remained true to her literary
and artistic voice.
Nancy Luce lived in West Tisbury, then known as the village of New Town, from 1814-1890. At age 26, she became seriously ill, turned away from society, and remained in her home for the rest of her life. Although frail and destitute, she looked past the criticisms of her aberrant lifestyle and instead wrote compassionately about her pet chickens. Luce’s most well-known poem, “Poor Little Hearts,” was written after the deaths of her favorite hens, Ada Queetie and Beauty Linna. She stayed unmarried and self-reliant, as she self-published her poetry and sold her booklets and photographs to the first tourists of Martha’s Vineyard.