AWP 2014: The Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family

March 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Linda Joy Myers  on the AWP 14 panel “Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family”:

I’m a family therapist and a memoirist, so I was looking forward to hearing writers talk about the intersection of family and memoir in the workshop “Family Trouble” moderated by Joy Castro. She is the editor of Family Trouble—The Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family. The panelists included Joy Castro, Ralph Savarese, Sue William Silverman, Faith Adiele, and Stephanie Griest. The crowd filled the room and spilled out the doorway.

Joy Castro, author of the memoir The Truth Book, introduced a topic fraught with “trouble” for memoirists. “We are on a voyage of discovery to personal truth and family as we write memoir, and may be dealing with ‘self-erasure’ due to trauma.” Memoirists struggle with what to write and whether they should give themselves permission. We break the “family rules” when we write memoir—”don’t you dare tell anyone about THAT.” We have to decide what to leave in and what to leave out to serve the story.

Ralph Savarese continued the theme about choice as he discussed how he negotiated with his autistic son what details to include and the important threads in their memoir Reasonable People.  Writing a memoir means we have to ask ourselves what right we have to material that includes intimate details in other people’s lives. How much do we weigh their privacy with our need to express ourselves? He shared his writing process with his son, whose voice became more prominent over the course of writing the book. Together, they crafted a story that belonged to both of them.

Sue William Silverman writes to understand herself, and is unwilling to hold back her hard-won truths. In her book Love Sick, she revealed details that upset her ex-husband. “I wrote the story the way she needed to.  My honesty is more important to me than my ex-husband’s anger. We write to no longer hide behind our secrets.” The issue of silence looms large in the narratives of people who are abused and traumatized. An abused child lives in a world of silence, as adults do too, until they are able to break out and speak the truth. This can become our life’s work. “Writing my life gives me power.” Her advice? No matter what family thinks or wants, “break through your barriers and write anyway.” Figure out how to handle your family later.

Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith, has a Nordic-American mother and a Nigerian father. She’s spent her life learning about her global family, and exploring identity and belonging. She says one of the goals of writing memoir is to “free the family of shame.” She discussed the topics of betrayal, loyalty and silence in the work of Patricia Hampl and the poetry of Sharon Olds. “Writing family members on the page requires great compassion. Each memoirist’s voice is part of a larger song and we each have to decide where our songs begin, over and over again.”

Stephanie Elizondo Griest writes to discover the bonds of family in Mexican Enough—My Life Between the Borderlines she explores belonging, identity, and how we call ourselves family. She visited Mexico to try to find her roots, and saw how quickly we disappear—“the etchings on the grave stones were worn smooth by the rain.” She spoke with passion how we must explore the questions that drive us, and write our discoveries so we articulate the voices of our ancestors and leave a legacy. “Memoir is the best way I know of perpetuating us.”

The feeling in the room was one of hunger—to understand the “rules” of memoir, and to find answers about the conflicts that haunt memoir writers about family, truth, and finding voice. The panelists fed that hunger by speaking about their struggles, demonstrating that you can write a book about family and live to tell about it.

Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, joins speakers for monthly teleseminars at www.namw.org to discuss tools, topics, and questions that drive memoirists crazy. She is the author of Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir, and the Journey of Memoir. She co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months.

AWP Flash Nonfiction Panel and Booksigning

March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

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Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore and Brevity contributors Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang will be at the Boston AWP  Conference this week to discuss the flash nonfiction form in the panel “Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction.”

Please join us if you are in town:

Friday, March 8
3:00 pm: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction contributors Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang discuss the flash nonfiction form in the panel “Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction.” Room 108, Plaza Level

And immediately following, there will be a signing at the Rose Metal Press Table at the Book Fair:

Friday, March 8
4:30 pm: RMP Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction editor Dinty W. Moore and a number of contributors, including Sue William Silverman, Peggy Shumaker, Judith Kitchen, and Ira Sukrungruang will be signing copies of the Field Guide at the Rose Metal Press bookfair table, B5

In Defense of Memoir: Once More Into the Fray

September 8, 2011 § 30 Comments

We asked Sue William Silverman, one of our favorite memoirists and author of the craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, to expand upon the excellent response she wrote as a letter-to-the-editor in the most recent Writer’s Chronicle, and, happily, she agreed:

I was disappointed (okay, angry) to read an interview with Aleksandar Hemon in the March/April 2011 Writer’s Chronicle.  Here was yet another fiction writer (or critic) berating the memoir as if it’s unseemly to explore the human condition.

Here is how I responded, in part, in a “Letter to the Editor” (WC, Sept., 2011):  “When Mr. Hemon questions ‘…how many books of addiction can you write in a lifetime,’ he attempts to reduce human experience to the absurd notion that a person is defined by just one thing.  I admit it – I have written about addiction.  But I’ve also written about growing up in the West Indies, Pat Boone, Route 17, working in a building riddled with asbestos, Lake Michigan…and so on.   Putting subject matter aside, what Mr. Hemon fails to grasp is that memoir requires that the author craft a personal story into one that’s metaphoric and universal – just like fiction and poetry.”

In the same interview, Hemon goes so far as to claim that memoir writers are cowardly because of their “refusal to enter literature, to create fictional work, to ply the imagination…that to me is cowardly…. There is something safe when someone tells you, ‘Your story’s interesting. Just tell it….’ Then you put it together and there’s your memoir.”

Cowardly?  Really?

What I didn’t say to Mr. Hemon, in my Letter to the Editor, is that to write a memoir is not a simple act of regurgitation or spitting out facts to an “interesting story” along the lines of “first this happened to me, then this happened, then this next thing happened.”  Of much greater interest, and at the heart of memoir, is the story behind the story, the memoirist’s courageous ability to reflect upon the past, thus artistically recasting his or her experience into one that’s transformative.

It took me five long years to write my memoir Love Sick.  Why?  Because it took that long to discover the metaphors and the irony – to go beyond the mere facts – of that experience.  If memoir were what Hemon claims, I could have knocked that sucker out in a few weeks.  Anyone could.  (Ironically, the only memoir that Hemon seems to admire is James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, because he did make “stuff up.  He had the right instincts, just not the right label.”)

Here is what I did say to Mr. Hemon: “I don’t hear nonfiction writers disparage novelists, so it’s all the more frustrating that any number of fiction writers have an axe to grind with memoirists.  Literature is not a zero-sum game.  What expands readership is great writing, whatever form it takes.  What shrinks readership is the failure of writers to take emotional and stylistic risks.  Right now, I believe that an expanding range of creative nonfiction presents writers with the best opportunities to take those risks. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many serious writers – to say nothing of readers – find this genre so compelling.”

And that, for now, is all she wrote.

 —

Sue William Silverman’s memoirLove Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton) is also a Lifetime Television original movie.  Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs award series in creative nonfiction, and her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.  She teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (www.suewilliamsilverman.com).

Mama Cocks the Shotgun: Bristol’s Finest Lyric Essays

February 17, 2011 § 4 Comments

To review: Bristol Palin is reportedly writing her memoir.

Memoirist Sue William Silverman found this idea somewhat absurd, given that Palin’s life so far has included 1) being a rather flawed spokesperson for abstinence, and 2) Dancing with the Stars. Memoirist Robin Hemley made a joke about Bristol’s possible future as a lyric essayist.  We here at Brevity, deep into our third bottle of Malbec, decided that a Bristol Palin Lyric Essay Competition was just the thing to brighten a dull February.

Yesterday we posted some of our favorite lines from the numerous, wonderful, rich-with-grizzly-bear entries.

Today, we post our winner, and two runners-up.

And then we promise never to mention Bristol Palin again.

Here goes:

THE $25 whopping American dollars WINNER:

Nine Months to Now

A Lyric Essay by Bristol ‘She-Ra’ Palin

As told to Laurie Ann Cedilnik

I.

Mama cocks the shotgun, and we’re off. She has her target, I mine. Her words are bullets, and they fall without mercy. I am hit. Utterly without protection. His seed is a hail of bullets, and I do not duck.

II.

Really craving pickles this month.

*** CONTINUE READING HERE  ***

The Nifty Runners Up:

Aurora Borealis

A Lyric Essay by Bristol Palin

As told to John Warner

It’s lonely in Alaska. That’s why families are big, so there’s always someone else around, but your family isn’t around, and maybe that’s why you fall into the arms of the handsomest hockey player in town, let him take your clothes off, let him place his hands on your hips and look at you and bring his lips to your belly and call you beautiful, which is something you’ve been taught to value.

*** CONTINUE READING HERE  ***

Ursidae

A Lyric Essay by Bristol Palin

As told to Amy Butcher

Call me Ursidae. Call me whole.

As a child, I sifted river rock from the sandy collarbone of Wasilla Lake, stood ankle-deep in the cool, crisp water.  We were twinned then, the water and I both: each of us free, each of us moving at an inexhaustible speed.  The current carried the weight of the world: dandelion seed and pollen.

It was in an inlet in October that I saw him: the bear, that hulking bulge of brown.  He stood by the water and then was in it, found a fish and took it whole.  He swallowed its flailing, flippy body down.

*** CONTINUE READING HERE  ***

Thanks to all of our awesome entrants, and congratulations to our winners, and Bristol.

The Bristol Stomp: A Lyric Essay Competition

February 9, 2011 § 5 Comments

Yes, our favorite Dancing with the Stars contestant is writing her memoir, and yes, there are far too many awful  jokes made possible by yesterday’s announcement.  But we won’t make those jokes.  Instead, we quote an exchange found on Facebook today between the master memoirists Sue William Silverman and Robin Hemley (and read even further down for your chance to win big bucks).

SUE :  Bristol Palin is “writing” a memoir! Really? Can’t we find another term, other than “memoir,” to describe what it is nonwriters write when they produce “something” that more or less resembles a book from the outside?  Here is a description of her nonbook: “Twenty-year-old Bristol Palin has wisdom she wants to share with us all, and she…’ll do it in book form.” Am anxiously awaiting “wisdom.”

ROBIN: I’m thinking of getting her as the keynote speaker at the next NonfictioNow Conference. I loved her series of lyric essays in Seneca Review, didn’t you, Sue?

Robin is kidding, of course.  Bristol’s lyric essays were rejected by the Seneca Review, poor kid.

So, does anyone want to enter our NIFTY BRISTOL STOMP CONTEST?

Here are the Rules:

— In 250 words or less, write a lyric essay that might’ve come from the pen of Bristol Palin.

— send it to brevitymag@gmail.com, DEADLINE Monday, Feb. 14th, 4 pm EST.

— the best ones will be reprinted here.

— Winner gets $25!!!

 

AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Friday Afternoon

January 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you’ve been following along, you  know that by now we’ve all fainted in the lobby:

Friday Noon to 1:15 pm

Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

F148. Literary Science Writing: Don’t Be Scared. (David Everett, Nancy Shute, James Shreeve, Christopher Joyce) Many nonfiction writers either don’t understand or are afraid of the challenges of writing about science, medicine, technology, or other complicated subjects. But this panel of experienced writers argues that the best science writing can be as ambitious as the best literary writing on any subject. Good science writing, in fact, may be more challenging, because it requires a journalist’s regard for accuracy plus the ability to explain complex subjects with grace, passion, and literary skill.

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

F160. Memoir, Spirituality and the Self in the Narcissistic Culture of Our Time. (Elizabeth Kadetsky, Rodger Kamenetz, Farideh Goldin, Julia Spicher Kasdorf) If one believes the detractors, memoir bears responsibility second only to reality TV for fomenting this “narcissistic” age, in Christopher Lasch’s term—an era of therapeutic jargon that celebrates not so much individualism as solipsism, justifying self-absorption as “authenticity” and “awareness.” Here, we consider quests for self-knowledge as linked, rather, to a spiritual project. How can memoir point to places beyond the self—to transcendence, insight or affiliation with human community?

Friday, 1:30 to 2:45 pm

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

F179. Stranger Than Fiction: The Choice Between Fiction and Nonfiction. (Robin Romm, Kerry Cohen, Pam Houston, Cheryl Strayed, Richard McCann) Most every writer has a personal story to tell. But with memoir comes potential harm—for friends, family, and themselves. Writers often wonder if they could simply change their stories to fiction. How do authors choose between fiction and nonfiction when telling their stories? Can the same story be both fiction and memoir? Five authors who have made such choices will discuss the reasons behind their decisions, and the ramifications of having done so.

Friday, 3 to 4:15 pm

Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

F195. Flinging the Ink Pot: Resisting Messages About Off-Limits Subjects in Memoir. (Jill Christman, Kate Hopper, Paul Lisicky, Joe Mackall, Sue William Silverman) This panel of memoirists will consider what happens when we write about subjects that are commonly lumped together and dismissed by the publishing industry. It seems we shouldn’t talk about abuse, addiction, or parenting of any stripe. Why are certain subjects seen as played out, clichéd, and sensational? We will consider whether we can avoid categorizing giant facets of human experience as literary no-nos, and find our way back to the serious writing of the stories we need to tell.

Friday, 4:30 to 5:45 pm

Harding Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

F210. What the Narrator Doesn’t Know: The Importance of Speculation in Narrative. (Jill McCabe Johnson, David Huddle, Dinah Lenney, Lee Martin, Lia Purpura) Should narrators admit what they don’t know? Does ignorance discredit the nonfiction author? Listen to four writers discuss how they use speculation to openly investigate questions, uncover the narrator’s vulnerabilities, delve more deeply into narrative, and intensify plot. Learn how not knowing can build credibility and open possibilities for the author, while inviting the reader to embark with you on a journey of exploration.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

F223. Interviewing In My Underwear: Adventures as a Female Memoirist. (Wendy Sumner-Winter, Barrie Jean Borich, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, Kerry Cohen, Brenda Miller) We’ve all heard that confession is good for the soul, but how about for a woman living in the real world? Six memoirists discuss the familial, professional, social costs and benefits—and everything in between—of being a woman who writes candidly about her body, her physical life, her sex life, her carnal appetites. We will talk about what it is like to navigate our various social and political worlds having told, literally, the naked truth.

AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Thursday Afternoon

January 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Thursday afternoon at the AWP is just as busy as the morning for us nonfictionistas, and that’s not even counting the cross-genre readings and panels, talks by agents and publishers, and other events that make writers smart and happy.  Below, though, some specific nonfiction events, many with recent and past Brevity contributors …. and then, at the every end of the day, FREE BEER!

NOON to 1:15 pm

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R156. Imagining Ourselves: The Narrative Stance in Memoir. (Judith Barrington, Dustin Beall Smith, Nancy Lord, Allison Hedge Coke, Valerie Miner, Sherry Simpson) A diverse group of memoirists, who also write and teach in other genres, will discuss how they create personas for themselves and how these identities are freshly created and shaped to the work in hand. Exploring what Vivian Gornick calls “the glory of an achieved persona,” they will share examples of versions of themselves they have used in memoir, consider how persona functions in other genres, and assess how each identity is central to the authenticity and depth of the writing.

 

1:30 to 2:45 pm

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R187. Recovery as Discovery: Rethinking Nature Writing. (Tom Montgomery-Fate, David Gessner, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Gretchen Legler, John Price, Kathleen Dean Moore) Since Thoreau’s invention of the nature memoir 160 years ago, much of the natural environment itself has been damaged or destroyed. Thus, today’s nature writer must attend to both the natural world and her/his own role in its slow destruction. Their task now is less to discover and record the rare, than to recover and nurture the ravaged. This panel of nature writers will explore how they’ve addressed this paradox in their work.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R178. Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay. (Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root, Rebecca McClanahan) The lyric essay gives writers the license to experiment—to play with language in fresh and surprising ways—but if this playfulness lacks intensity the lyric essay can become a game, or worse, an idle exercise. What do writers do to animate the form so that it not only enjoys the freedom to explore but achieves the level of passion and intelligence we expect from all great writing? A panel of writers will consider the question and offer concrete suggestions.

3 to 4:15 pm

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R193. What’s Normal in Nonfiction? (Steven Church, Debra Marquart, Ander Monson, Bonnie J. Rough, Bob Shacochis) Moderated by editors of the Normal School, the panel will feature a discussion of the polarizing questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction writing today. Is the nonfiction writer’s obligation to the art or to the subject? The audience? Can you conflate time, use composite or fictionalized characters, or borrow material from other sources without citing it? Panelists will consider what the role of the nonfiction writer is today and how that role is defined by ethical concerns for subject and audience, and/or aesthetic concerns for art, genre, form, and technique.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R208. What Women DON’T Write About When We Write About Sex. (Xu Xi, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Honor Moore, Victoria Redel, Ellen Bass, Sue William Silverman) In a post-feminist age, the memoir has blown the lid off sexual secrets, and in all genres, women have written increasingly frankly about sexuality over the last fifty years. It almost seems that nothing is off limits. But what’s the art and craft of this sexual “anything goes”? Six women discuss the treatment of sex in their writing and ask: do we write Passion? Do we write Lust? Do we write Love? And what don’t we write about when we write about sex?

4:30 to 5:45 pm

Thurgood Marshall East Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

R217. Status Update: The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook. (Jen McClanaghan, Phillip Lopate, Bob Shacochis, Debra Monroe, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Susan McCallum-Smith) Between the ever-popular tell-all memoir and ubiquitous status updates on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the confession has never been so popular or so utterly mundane. We know more about each other than ever before and yet little that’s truly intimate or insightful. This panel will discuss the tradition of the personal essay and what it might offer the contemporary reader and writer, namely the opportunity for real insight and reflection.

10:00 p.m.-Midnight

Thurgood Marshall
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level
R233. AWP Public Reception & Dance Party. A Dance Party with music by DJ Neza. Free beer and wine from 10:00 to midnight.

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