A Conversation with Sonja Livingston

A Conversation with Sonja Livingston

 

 

Writers & Books: What did you read as a child? And what do you tend to read now?

Sonja Livingston: As a kid, I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and books about Greek mythology. Our school library stocked bilingual books and I’d check them out because I delighted in the mystery of Spanish. I remember winning a set of the Laura Ingalls books at #33 School. The contest involved reading to kindergarteners and while I’ve never felt quite at home in the spotlight, I wanted the prize of those books!

As I got older, my sister Stephanie would share books from her classes, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Boy and we’d read passages that knocked our socks off. It might seem like the real-life stories of African Americans in the South couldn’t be further from the lives of two little white girls in Rochester, New York, but we recognized ourselves in their words—the poverty, the hunger, the absence of fathers and so on. Suddenly feelings and experiences we’d never spoken of to others were before us in the pages of a book. The power of that never left me.

As an adult, I tend to read poetry or lyrical prose. The Irish writer Edna O’Brien is one of my favorites. Anne Carson and Gerald Stern inspire me. Former Rochesterian (and Pulitizer Prize-winning poet) Philip Schultz is wonderful. I enjoy a good story, but find myself reading for the music and surprise of language these days. A strong honest voice almost always hooks me. Grace Paley, for instance, is a writer I return to.

 

W&B: What kinds of writing or authors inspired you to start writing yourself?

SL: Those early memoirs revealed the power of true stories to make me feel less alone in the world. I’d already discovered that writing could entertain and educate and transport, but suddenly there was this throbbing connection between myself and strangers based on the stringing together of words. It was practically magic, and I was floored by what nonfiction writing could do.

In terms of later influences, the essayist and former Brockport professor, Judith Kitchen, was perhaps the most important. She demonstrated through her teaching and writing that memoir could be as intimate, lyrical and alive as the best stories or poems.

 

W&B: Your closing essay about (the late) Judith Kitchen is a compelling statement about the power of writing, and of mentoring. Writers & Books was pleased you were able to join us for the celebration of her life in November. Speaking of W&B, this is our 35th anniversary year and we are thrilled to invite a Rochester native back home to help us celebrate. As a young woman working toward a counseling degree and later as a counselor in city schools, you took workshops at Writers & Books. What do you recall about those classes? And what do you see as the role of such a literary center in a community?

SL: I was excited and afraid of those early Writers & Books workshops. Looking back now, I’m amazed that they existed, that I found them, and summoned the courage to attend. Many cities the size or Rochester and larger have nothing like Writers & Books, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that I might not have started writing had I lived anywhere else. The classes were affordable, nearby and taught by talented local writers like Sarah Freligh, Len Messineo and Linda Allardt.

The Rochester region is home to so many stories. Even in my work as a counselor, I understood the power of reading and writing and often had kids write what they could not say. Who knows how many other books are being nurtured right now in Rochester? Writers & Books helps to get those stories on the page by offering scholarships, a welcoming community and a home for literature in the region.

 

W&B: Your first memoir, the award-winning Ghostbread, explores poverty and faith and coming of age, especially that of women in this country in the 1970s and ’80s. What first spurred you to write Ghostbread? As you are well aware, Ghostbread is much beloved by readers, especially here in Rochester, and I know people will want to re-read it alongside Queen of the Fall, and discuss it with you when you are here.

SL: People are still finding that book. I’ve received emails from kids in LA and El Paso saying how they read the book in class and related to the stories. That said, the readings and reception in Rochester have been special.

I wrote Ghostbread because when I first started writing, that’s what was in me to write. I wrote stories and poems too, and they were fine, but what really tugged at me were the memories of growing up in Rochester and Albion, the times of living in a motel room, in a tent and on the Tonawanda Reservation. These stories were strong in me because I’d kept them under wraps for so long and what we don’t speak often grows.

Besides that, I was (and remain) concerned by child poverty in our region and in cities across the nation, including Memphis where I now live and work for most of the year. Many people are also concerned about poverty, I think, but don’t know what to do. It seems overwhelming or they struggle to understand what, from the outside, looks like a series of bad choices by the poor.

I’d learned to hide being poor as soon as I understood what poverty was and realized it was shameful. As I grew up, made my way through school and began working with at-risk kids, I’d hear judgments about city schools or single mothers with kids from multiple partners or Native Americans and knew I had a perspective to share. At some point, I decided to push shame aside and not stay quiet any longer.

 

W&B: The openness evident in your work certainly speaks to this. In the preface to Ghostbread, you write, “I wrote this book because the pain and power and beauty of childhood inspire me. I wrote it selfishly, to make sense of chaos. I wrote it unselfishly, to bear witness.” It strikes me that with just a couple of minor adjustments such as substituting “childhood” for “womanhood,” for example, this statement would seem to apply to Queen of the Fall.

SL: Yes, you’re right. Good point. The special power of memoir lies in the writer’s ability to bear witness, to give voice to the voiceless. Of course, poetry and novels do the same, but a memoir claims it outright, saying to the reader: Let me tell you something about how I have experienced the world. The irony is that while a memoirist explores the world through the lens of personal experience, the best memoirs go beyond the individual life and illuminate the lives of many.

 

W&B: Writing about challenges and trauma has been shown to be very therapeutic (especially as demonstrated by researcher James Pennebaker). You said in an earlier interview about Ghostbread that you were not writing for therapeutic reasons. Do you nonetheless find writing memoir and personal essays cathartic? What did you learn about yourself? What else drives you to revisit your past?

SL: This question comes up a great deal and I always sort of skirt it, so for the first time, I’ve stopped to look up the word catharsis. Technically it means: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Writing is certainly a release, but for me, it’s not exactly a relief. Compared to having a good cry, for instance, or talking my troubles over with a caring person, writing doesn’t provide that sort of catharsis. That said, connecting with others on a deep level as a result of having written has been a relief.

I may be splitting hairs here, but the difference seems important. While writing can be a relief in the long run, to me, writing is more like returning to an old house whose floors are strewn with litter and whose rooms are stacked full of cookie jars and photo albums and faded letters. The rubble of a life. When I write memoir, I enter that house and begin to wade through it all, picking things up one at a time, examining them—sometimes with wonder or sadness or even regret—but looking closely, taking my time and making note of things before setting them into their proper places and moving on.

 

W&B: What do you want readers to get out of your personal stories?

SL: I hope they’ll connect with what I’ve shared or explored. In fact, the best experiences I’ve had as a writer involve meeting people who do connect with the material. Maybe they grew up poor or had the same struggles with fertility or as a young person wondered what it means to be successful. Often times, their experiences were quite different, but they still somehow connect. They might remember KC and the Sunshine Band or 1980s Madonna, but usually it’s deeper than that. They might not understand having an outhouse, for instance, but they relate to what it’s like to be ashamed. I suppose that’s why we tell stories. They can be beautifully instructive and entertaining, but more than anything, they remind us of our shared humanity.

 

W&B: In regard to a shared humanity, in the epilogue to Ghostbread, you write, “Girls will lie down with sweet-talkers—not because they are stupid or weak, but because they are human beings with hearts and heads and dreams, and above all, hunger.” You go on to write, “Ideals and opportunities and theorizing are just fine, but if you must understand only one thing, it is this: a warm hand and words whispered in the ear are what we want. Paths that can be seen and followed and walked upon are what we most need. Because in the end, the thing that feeds us, no matter how tenuous, is what we will reach for.” This is such a profound and generous statement about the female experience. And Queen of the Fall seems to be the logical extension of the sensitivity you bring to this discussion of being a woman in contemporary times.

SL: Thank you for your kind words! On one hand, writing about the female experience is natural because it’s what I know, but I’m also interested in women’s lives because when I think about pervasive poverty, such as in sections of Rochester, women and children are often on the frontlines. I don’t mean to suggest that men from poor families have it easy, but where I come from, it’s the women who are most often trapped and/or in the position to break or perpetuate the cycle through their choices, especially as it relates to childbearing and parenting.

In Queen of the Fall, I write a great deal about fertility. One particular essay is about my niece becoming pregnant as a teen and the pain of this gorgeous smart creative child dropping out of Marshall High School and what it will mean for her life (and her child’s). The writing looks at one child, a relative, who is a girl, yes—but I hope it also sheds light on the various complexities of the larger story, which is the staggering number of Rochester children (boys and girls) who won’t graduate from high school this year. Or the next. And so on.

 

W&B: Another important theme in in your writing is faith, and specifically Catholicism. Both Ghostbread and Queen of the Fall detail the influence of Catholicism on your younger self. What role has the Catholic faith had in your adult life, and perhaps in how and what you write about?

SL: I do write about Catholicism, which is strange because even as a child I wasn’t faithful in a traditional way. But I couldn’t resist the stories and lessons at Corpus Christi Church, especially Father Callan’s homilies. The unusually progressive church protested war, boycotted Nestlé products and table grapes, and allowed altar girls where others did not. The example of social justice, generosity and community are values I still work toward and virtues I hope show in my writing.

Beyond that, Catholicism nurtured in me a reverence for mystery. I loved the rituals and rhythms, the thick wooden beams and statues of the saints, the rush of language, the various silences and sounds. I still love it. Corpus Christi has been renamed ‘Our Lady of the Americas’ and when I’m lucky enough to go back, only a handful of faces are familiar. The priests are not the same. Even the statue of the Virgin has been replaced. But the old wooden pews remain. The high-flung ceiling and panel of stained glass with the light coming through just so are still there. I may hold onto my Catholicism by the barest of threads, but the church is the one place that still feels like home.

As I sit here thinking about what draws me to the church, I realize that I use the same descriptions of it as when I talk about writing (language and rhythm, reverence and mystery). Both are sacred spaces—mysterious, challenging and wondrous in my life.

W&B: How does your academic training in anthropology and in counseling affect your writing, or even how you see the world? Or are those the same?

SL: Anthropology and counseling and creative writing—I guess they do seem random. They may be evidence of not understanding how to properly go to college or choose a major, but the reality is that anthropology is all about understanding how and why humans behave as we do as a result of where we come from. Counseling is about human behavior, keen observation, and the art of listening. All three disciplines have human beings at their heart—our behavior and beliefs and stories. All three require openness and paying close attention.

 

W&B: I agree and I see the connections in both concept and practice. In terms of your writing, how have time and distance affected your memory of childhood events? Or even your young(er) adulthood?

SL: I learned to observe and remember as a way of understanding and holding on. I was fascinated (and probably frightened) by the various places we landed and the people in them, so I learned to pay very close attention and to take it all in.

I have a pretty good memory—I don’t remember everything, but what I do remember tends to be correct when checked against others’ perceptions. That said, my memories must have shifted after all these years, at least some. I notice a tendency of my recollections to take on a sort of rosy, diaphanous tone over time. This may be the nature of memory, perhaps, smoothing over the gritty close-up views of daily life. In general though, allowing time to pass and writing about events from a decade or two ago (versus a month or two ago) provides enough remove to write in a way that’s level and descriptive versus skewed by emotion.

 

W&B: Did you do research in any form (for example, visiting childhood locations for a geography refresher or asking siblings for their recollections of events)? How does this process of remembering happen? Are you still remembering?

SL: I have checked with siblings or old friends when the memory doesn’t sit right, or just to verify something that seems too strange to be truebut usually the strange stuff is true! As for landscape and setting details, I do return to old places. For Ghostbread, for instance, I took trips through Albion and Batavia and to Corpus Christi School and Goodman Plaza. While writing Queen of the Fall, I did the same things, and also found myself using 1980s music to take me back in time. For the book I’m working on now, I go to Niagara Falls as much as possible and eat lots of almond paste cookies, which is a wonderful sort of research.

But you asked about the act of remembering, and will it be sad to admit that it’s a hobby of mine? I like remembering and hearing other people’s memories. I’m fascinated by what we remember and why. Human beings have enough material stored away to fill thousands of books, yet we cling to certain images, so that it seems to me that what we remember matters. As a writer, I’ve learned to trust whatever rises up. I don’t usually force myself to try to remember a particular time or place. Instead, I wait to see what arrives and follow where the memory leads.

 

W&B: What is your take on the assumed inherent truths of memoir? This has been complicated especially in the last decade or so with several controversies about truths being stretched or even fabricated in supposedly “true” stories. How has your family responded to your published writing? Or the friends of your youth who you write about?

SL: The question of truth in memoir seems complicated and I know when you start thinking about anything too much, it can get fuzzy, but to me, it’s clear: when you label a book a memoir or essays, you make a pact with readers that what they’re reading is the stuff of your real life.

Of course, human memory is not perfect and you might misremember, but that’s different in intent from fabrication. Most people understand that memory isn’t factual in the same way a court transcript is, but who wants to read a court transcript? We don’t read a memoir for a list of facts, we read it to experience another person’s reality in a way we can care about, relate to, and trust.

The second part of the question is more challenging. A few people haven’t liked that I’ve written about them, though they haven’t complained so much as been pointedly silent. It’s tough because our stories belong to us, but no one lives in isolation. One of the hardest realities of writing memoir is the fact that we necessarily bring other people (families and friends) onto the page with us. Even when it’s done with love and the best of motivations—even when permission is given—it can’t be easy to be a character in another person’s narrative. That said, I believe in the power of telling our stories, and in doing it truthfully and respectfully. What if Maya Angelou had run her story past her family and hid it when someone said it made them uncomfortable?

 

W&B: That is beautifully put. There is the truth of an individual’s experience, but how do you define “memoir”? Both Ghostbread and Queen of the Fall are categorized as such but they are very different in style. Queen of the Fall seems to function as both a memoir and a book of essays that go beyond the personal.

SL: Both books rely on my own memory as a primary source of storytelling and in that way, they’re both memoirs. Queen of the Fall is more clearly an essay collection— though some might say that the vignettes in Ghostbread are micro-essays and the main difference between the essays is their length. That said, though it’s told in fragments, Ghostbread presents a more focused and sustained narrative while Queen of the Fall explores many threads related to femininity, so that the result is more meditative and essayistic.

 

W&B: What were your intentions in writing Queen of the Fall (which is comprised of more formal, lyrical essays that remind me of Deborah Tall’s A Family of Strangers or even Maggie Nelson’s Bluets) in such a different style from Ghostbread (which is a more traditionally structured memoir often presented in smaller chunks, reminiscent of Abigail Thomas’ memoir in mosaic form, Safekeeping), but still referring to it as a memoir?

SL: The simple answer is that it’s a memoir because it relies so much on memory, but, Queen of the Fall would be more accurately described as a memoir-in-essays. Publishers decide on titles and categorizing the work as a matter of marketing and despite the rapid rise and acceptance of personal essay collections in the past few years, most readers are still more comfortable with the word memoir than essay.

You’re right that the books are written in different styles, probably because the material they take on is so different. Ghostbread was comprised of shorter fragments, which is the result of those old memories rising up as fairly imagistic snapshots. Queen of the Fall, on the other hand, mines the more recent past, which may account for its more sustained attention on particular periods of time over the duration of the chapter or essay. Even still, the essays in Queen of the Fall are often composed of shorter segments and reflect my natural tendency to write more associatively and intuitively than to impose a more standard linear narrative.

 

W&B: What are the things other than fact that you rely on to tell your story, your truth?

SL: Perception is a major part of writing, accepting how you see the world and learning to value it even, no matter how quirky it might sometimes seem. Learning to trust my instincts regarding what I notice and care about, even if I don’t necessarily understand why. That’s what the writing is for.

 

W&B: How did you first conceive of Queen of the Fall as a coherent collection?

SL: I didn’t envision a collection until after I’d written most of the essays. I’d been writing personal essays and once I began to publish (and get feedback), I noticed certain themes emerging and kept going.

 

W&B: I should note here that Queen of the Fall was published as part of the American Lives Series from University of Nebraska Press (edited by writer Tobias Wolff). How did this press come to publish the book?

SL: The press is well regarded for its American Lives Series and, as a teacher and a writer, I’ve admired their books and writers for years. They’d been interested in publishing Ghostbread (before it won the AWP Prize and went to the University of Georgia Press) and welcomed the idea of working with me on another manuscript.

 

W&B: This genre of creative nonfiction, particularly memoir, is fast growing. What are your thoughts on why this genre is so appealing to readers (or even to writers)?

SL: Human beings are hungry for connection. The world, with all its changes, hasn’t altered that simple fact. But the ways we connect now are different. The memoir, the personal essay, and to some extent, the status updates and prevalence of reality TV are feeding that need in different ways. Sure, we might complain about our friend Fred who keeps posting photos of his dinner, but we keep scrolling through anyway. Why? A distraction, yes. But more than that. We long to know each other and ourselves through the mirror of the other. A memoir will (hopefully) go deeper than a photograph of Fred’s chicken marsala, but the impulse to connect is the same.

 

W&B: What memoirists do you especially admire? What is it you take from their styles, their approaches to the genres, to telling the truths of their own lives?

SL: I just completed an interview in which I was asked to list three good memoirs! So I’ll list them again here, since they’re fresh on my mind:

Ecology of Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray uses her gorgeous storytelling to describe growing up in a junkyard (literally) in Georgia and uses alternating chapters to describe the history and disappearance of the longleaf pine from the American South. She combines environmentalism with memoir in a way that shows how inextricably linked we are to our places.

The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton describes growing up in 1950s Dublin with an Irish Nationalist father who forbids the family to speak English (though it’s the only real language at Dublin at the time) and whose German mother is haunted by her own cultural ghosts. Hamilton uses a child’s voice throughout, and the writing is lyrical and magnetic.

Mount Allegro by Jerre Mangione is one of my favorite memoirs. Published in 1943, this vibrant work describes growing up as Sicilian American and uses his personal experience to describe an immigrant neighborhood in Rochester’s north side at an important time in our city’s cultural history. I admire this book so much that when I changed people’s names in Queen of the Fall (which I do in most cases) I used Mangione to replace a good friend’s surname.

What each of these writers have in common is their ability to both participate and observe the world around them, using that ability to describe people and places that are often misunderstood in such a way that the reader has no choice but to care and to relate.

 

W&B: You have said that you feel it’s embarrassing to be a memoirist. Why is that?

SL: In an earlier question, you asked about why I thought memoir is more popular for readers and writers. I answered about readers, and now I’ll say that while more writers than ever are turning to memoir, the genre was disparaged for years (and still is) in certain literary circles. The complaint is not so much that it’s terrible to write about yourself, but unseemly to openly admit it. Interestingly, some of the same writers who belittled memoir when it became popular a decade or so ago are now penning their own.

I know plenty of writers and don’t believe for a second that memoirists are more narcissistic than poets or fiction writers, but there’s a certain vulnerability (and yes, even embarrassment) in sitting next to someone on a plane who starts asking about your life, until little by little, the layers are peeled away and you admit you’re a writer and finally, it comes—the moment when the person asks: So what do you write about, Sonja? And you have to say in some form or fashion: I write about myself.

All writing starts in the self, but memoirists are forced to admit it.

I don’t think it should be embarrassing, by the way, and I love that modern memoir is a democratic genre—you don’t have to be rich or famous or born into a certain family to have your story heard—but as a relatively modest person, admitting to writing about my own life can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about, at least on airplanes.

 

W&B: Do you plan to continue to write memoirs and memoiristic essays? Are there other genres you want to explore? I understand your upcoming book, Ladies Night at the Dreamland (which will actually be released the very week in March 2016 of our main Rochester Reads program with you), is, according to the publisher, a book of essays about “the lives of some of America’s most interesting and obscure women.” Is that description meant to indicate that it is focused more outside of your own personal experience?

SL: Ladies Night at the Dreamland is focused much more on other women. A few essays include some personal components, such as in the piece about the Fox Sisters, in which I explore their story against the backbeat of my own memories of being seen and heard as a young girl. Similarly, an essay about the victims of the 1970s Alphabet Murderer in 1970s Rochester is framed by personal elements and memory.

But overall, they are lyrical profiles of women I’ve never met. Several are from the Rochester area, such as Audrey Munson, a model who posed for the greatest artists of the Beaux-Arts era, was washed up by thirty, and sent to a psychiatric facility in Ogdensburg by forty, where she lived to be 105 years old. Other local subjects are the poet Adelaide Crapsey; the daredevil Maria Spelterini who crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 1876; May Fielding, the “White Slave Girl” buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery; her teacher, Celestia Bloss; and an imagined encounter with Susan B. Anthony on the day the 19th Amendment was ratified. In fact, the Dreamland in question is based on an old dance hall up at Seabreeze during prohibition.

 

W&B: It seems perhaps a logical progression from the very personal Ghostbread through the personal and social explorations of Queen of the Fall to Ladies Night at the Dreamland?

SL: I think so. I mean, I hope the social was always combined with (or implied via) the personal, but as I get older, I’m much more interested in other people’s stories. In the case of Ladies Night at the Dreamland, for instance, I was blown away by some of these women’s stories. The book features twenty or so profiles, but what astounds me is how many fascinating lives and stories are all around us every day.

 

W&B: Ghostbread, especially, is a book about place. How do you feel about your childhood-era Rochester now that you live elsewhere and return as an adult? How do you see other places, such as your adopted home of Memphis, both as a writer and an inhabitant?

SL: I don’t think you can write about a person well without writing about his or her place. This city and this landscape are a part of me and there’s nothing like leaving a place to make you appreciate it. I’d always loved Mendon Ponds and the lakeshore, for instance, but sometimes on trips back up here, when I fly up over the lake before landing, the sight of the shoreline chokes me up a bit. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve grown attached to Memphis, but they’ve never even heard of calzones down there!

That said, living in Memphis is likely what made writing Queen of the Fall and Ladies Night possible. Distance sometimes allows you to see home more clearly. Even Ghostbread was largely written during writing workshops in Prague and Spain. I encourage my own students to travel because nothing is better for sharpening our observation skills and lending the writing a broader perspective.

 

W&B: In relation to writing practice, in the chapter “Flight” you write that the essay is “this form that made an art of an attempt—for what is life but a series of efforts?” What are your writing efforts like, in general?

SL: In general, I arrive at the page with an image, idea or question. I don’t know where the writing is headed, but I pay attention to what has resonance and follow it. That’s what the “attempt” is for me, the trying to stick with something long enough to discover what wants saying. The tough part is not allowing doubt or insecurity to stop me. When I’m able to push through and keep writing—even if it seems like an amorphous blob of words—eventually, a shape begins to arise.

This is true in memoir, but I’ve also found it to be true in poetry and fiction. It seems to me that the writer’s job is to pay attention, to notice what you notice, then to come to the page and attempt to make something of what you’ve seen—the result of which can surprise and delight and astound. That’s the wonder of the act.

 

W&B: When did you decide to pursue an MFA and what were the most important things you learned during that education?

SL: I allowed myself to write only after I had a career as a school counselor and was settled and secure. I’d always enjoyed writing but saw it as a hobby. I started by taking classes at Writers & Books, then SUNY Brockport, which really opened my eyes to the power of nonfiction writing. I signed up for a five-week summer writing program in Prague offered by the University of New Orleans, and while there, learned about the MFA Program, which allowed me to travel and write during the summers and take online classes during the school year.

The graduate writing program provided a community of writers for inspiration and support, but the main thing I took away was giving priority to my writing, and setting aside time to read and write no matter what else was going in my life.

 

W&B: You are an assistant professor in the MFA program at the University of Memphis. Tell us about your approach to teaching.

SL: The MFA in creative writing is a fine arts degree, so the focus is on creating and strengthening work. I approach writing workshops as facilitator with the goal of creating an environment that nurtures a community intent on working together. I like to expose students to new writers and exciting work, but ultimately, the workshop is about making a safe and dynamic place where an artist creates and shares his work.

 

W&B: More and more writers are creating video trailers for their books, as we have been familiar with for films for decades. How did you decide to make a trailer for Queen of the Fall, and what was the process like? What kind of responses do you get in regard to the trailer that might be different from those about the actual books?

SL: People have responded favorably to the trailer and it was fun to make. I made it because the essays are loaded with images and characters and adding a visual element seemed to make sense. I’m not very technically inclined, but this semester one of my graduate classes experimented with video essays and I am increasingly interested in pairing visual and audio elements with the written word. They are absolutely different mediums, with very different responses and while writing will likely always be more comfortable for me. I’m excited by work that experiments with form.

 

W&B: You have done many readings in Rochester since Ghostbread came out. But what is it like to return to your hometown for the Rochester Reads program, which will mean thousands more Rochesterians will read your stories, hear you read in person and celebrate your work in general?

SL: No matter where I give readings, I’m aware of what a privilege it is. To share my work in a citywide reading program in my hometown is a real gift. Rochester readers have been enthusiastic about celebrating their connections to the books, not only because it can be delightful to read about places you know—like the Public Market, Charlotte Beach or Savoia’s—but because they have some deeper connection to the material as well. They may have taught in city schools or understood that, as a kid from a working-class family, certain careers didn’t seem open to them.

On another note, there’s a great deal of discussion in the literary world these days about the ways in which writing by and about women has been excluded from publishing, reviews and prizes, despite the fact that the majority of readers are women. So, apart from being thrilled about what the program means for my work, I’m proud that Writers & Books selected a book that focuses on the lives of girls and women.

Women have learned to keep certain aspects of our lives to ourselves, and when our bodies and fears and experiences are written about, they’re not always considered subjects worthy of serious literature. Selecting a text that gets people thinking and talking about gender, class, the local landscape, and what it means to be a successful woman (or human being) is rare and important and I’m delighted that Writers & Books continues to be a leader in the texts you choose.

Thank you!

W&B: Thank you. We are so looking forward to your visit.

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