Malverne resident discusses transition from music to writing in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’


Malvernite Mary C.M. Phillips said that many decades ago, one of the best places to be was the downtown Manhattan club CBGB. Phillips, who grew up in Whitestone, Queens, and learned to play piano in the second grade, recalled getting to know the club during her college years at New York University in the early 1980s, when Blondie, the Ramones and the Clash performed there.

Phillips’s own story of playing at CBGB, with her boyfriend, Mark — now her husband — is detailed in a book in the series “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Yes!”

“I’m very grateful that I got to experience that and be a part of that era,” Phillips said.

Each of the “Chicken Soup” books features more than 100 inspirational true stories. Phillips has written several stories that have appeared in a number of the books. In one titled “Imperfect Steps,” she shares her experience of overcoming her fear of performing. When her band was offered a gig by CBGB owner Hilly Krystal, other members of the group thought that they weren’t ready perform in public. So Phillips quit the band, and a few weeks later, Krystal allowed her to perform at the club with Mark Phillips.

“I remember wrangling my bandmates together from the Broken Arrow band to play a set with Mary at CBGB,” Mark recalled. “We had one long crash-course rehearsal to learn the entire set, and I remember the night of the gig being a lot of fun.”

Shortly after her performance, Phillips was introduced to other musicians, and within a year she was touring the country, playing keyboards and bass. Over the course of roughly five years, she backed up Matthew Sweet, the Wygals and Jack Bruce. She and Mark were married in 1987, and now have a son and a stepson.

“It all happened by taking those imperfect steps, and just taking a chance,” Mary said. “I’m an optimist at heart, and I’ve learned that we’ll never be perfect. Life is about stepping out and being brave in everything that you do.”

Phillips began working part-time for a private investment firm in Manhattan while she toured. She made another career transition, to part-time author, about 15 years ago to share stories about motherhood and the struggles of daily life. Her first story for “Chicken Soup for the Soul” was published in 2013. “I felt really happy that my story was included, because it gave me a sense of validation,” she said.

An avid reader, Phillips enjoys the literature of authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austen, and she is a member of the Jane Austen Society.

She has lived in Malverne for about 25 years, and explained that the quaintness of the village is what attracted her, and has helped her appreciate the simple things in life. Activities like attending the Church of the Intercessor and going to the village’s annual holiday tree lighting have enriched her lifestyle. “A simple life is a blessing,” Phillips said.

She added, however, that people can only grow when they step outside their comfort zone. “That’s something that we should all learn to embrace,” she said.

Phillips performed with her husband’s band in July at SoulFest in New York City, one of the largest Christian music festivals in the country. She said she hopes to continue her career as an author and improve her skills by reading more poetry. “Coming up with words for poems is a challenge for me,” she said, “but in a wonderful way.”

She wrote stories that appear in two upcoming “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, “The Wonder of Christmas” and “The Best Advice I Ever Heard,” which are scheduled to be published in October and November, respectively.