October 26, 1992 12:00 PM

>Maureen Howard

PART P.T. BARNUM, PART IRISH LACE

IN AMERICA WE USE OUR CITIES UP and discard them. We glory in them, we make them grand for a while, and then commerce and technology move us on,” says Maureen Howard, 62, defining, in her usual eloquent rush, her passion for the history of her native city, Bridgeport, Conn., which provides the backdrop for Natural History. “In a sense, the city made me, and now I try to make the city in words, to save it by words.”

Howard, the author of five previous novels (her memoir, Facts of Life, won the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award) lives in Manhattan with her husband, Mark Probst. But Bridgeport is to Howard what Dublin was to Joyce, and she says she returns “from exile” frequently “to that rich and generous place.”

“Bridgeport,” she notes, “was the city of P.T. Barnum. He was the mayor, a father figure. I grew up with a sense of our town as a three-ring circus, with a sense that nothing mattered more than to entertain and delight.” Howard adds that she is a hybrid of both the lace-curtain Irish work ethic of Bridgeport in the ’40s and that circus sensibility, saying, “Writing is a performing art. It’s full of risks. On one side is the trap of Barnum’s fakery and fraud and on the other side the dangers of telling the truth. I’m out there on the high wire every time I write.”

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