Motherhood & Words

It will be too challenging for me to try to sum up the conference—there were too many thoughts stuttering through my mind during those few days in Iowa. But I’ll list a few highlights:

* Meeting so many interesting and talented writers, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time, among them Dinty Moore, Sue William Silverman, Joe Mackall, and Debra Gwartney. (If you read this blog regularly, you know how much I loved Debra’s Live Through This. You can read my interview with her here.) I was also staying at the same B & B as the wonderful Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir in 2005. (Her work-in-progress also sounds fascinating, so I’ll let you know when it’s out in the world. Or you can check out her website to find excerpts.) At breakfast on Saturday, I also met the novelist Laura Fish, who is participating in the Iowa International Writers Program. I have never read her writing, but her books are now also on my list. (And talking with both Faith and Laura about their work, which is multigenerational, has inspired me to get going on my next book–or to at least start thinking about it.)

* Meeting one of my wonderful and talented Mother Words students in person. Marilyn, you’re awesome. What an honor to connect. I look forward to sitting down with you at AWP.

* Alison Bechdel — Oh my God. Could this woman be more amazing? She gave the keynote address on Friday, and she was fabulous: funny, self-deprecating, brilliant. I went straight over to Prairie Lights and bought her graphic memoir, Fun Home. And I’m going to get everyone I know who hasn’t read it to read it. In her keynote she discussed how a graphic memoir allowed her to simultaneously communicate on more than one level, something she didn’t feel capable of doing in straight prose. This idea of simultaneity was echoed in several of the other sessions that I attended, and I love thinking about how you can hold multiple stories (memories and thoughts and actual lived experiences) in your writing all at once.

* I also loved the panel on manipulating time and distance in nonfiction. Especially interesting to me were the comments of David McGlynn, who talked about how using present tense in memoir necessitates careful attention to time and distance. (Since Ready for Air is in present tense, I found myself nodding my head at every other word.) I also loved what Jocelyn Bartkevicius said in that panel about how our minds and memories are in motion, while words on the pages are static. This creates a challenge for the writer who wants to tell a story the way we think. It’s so fascinating to think about the narrative structures that might make this possible.

* And of course one of the best things about the conference was being able to catch up with friends. Thanks for everything, Bonnie and Jill. So great to see you, Sonya and Shannon! And so fun to meet all the wonderful folks from Ashland’s low-residency MFA program. If you’re looking for a low-residency MFA, you need to check out Ashland.) And thanks to David for the wonderful dinner at his restaurant, the Motley Cow.

Okay, now I need to catch up on all the work I missed while I was thinking about writing.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Elizabeth on November 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    It sounds like it was a fascinating conference — I wish I could have been there!

    In your notes on memoir, time and and memory, I thought of the writer Abigail Thomas and the unique way she structures her memoirs. Have you read any of her books?

  2. Amber on November 9, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I would love, love, love to take in a conference with you sometime!

  3. Michelle Janssens Keller on November 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the quick recap! I missed nonfictioNOW this year and am a bit bummed about it. I could totally use some writer perspective on structure, time…everything really. I remember feeling like I'd found my people at that conference. So thanks for the reminder!