Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beth Kephart on The Evolution of Writing

When the ever-generous Amy wrote to ask me for a complete list of my books, I wondered what the dear soul was up to. A reading challenge, she explained, one email later. A reading challenge, I thought. Oh my word.

I asked Amy if there might be room for me to put that too-long list of books into perspective, and Amy being Amy said yes. And so a few words here (and thank you for reading them) about the journey that I have taken since 1998, when my first book was published.

I was a mother utterly in love with her son when I wrote A Slant of Sun: One Child’s Courage. My son had faced a series of challenges when he was young; he had shown me the way to push past them, and indeed he did push through and past every last challenge, every lingering label. I’d published Slant as a testament to the power of love and to the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of others; I published it to give others hope. Slant leaves readers at a summer camp production, with children of every blooming potential on the stage. It takes the focus off my own child and places it back onto the larger world, for don’t we all face challenges, don’t we all look for ways to overcome?

Books tend to freeze people in time, but life moves on, children change and grow, writers, too, and with my next memoirs—Into the Tangle of Friendship (about the power of friends in our lives), Still Love in Strange Places (about El Salvador and marriage), Seeing Past Z (about the importance of the imagination and my work with young writers), and Ghosts in the Garden (about coming to terms with middle age)—I was moving on. My son—funny, exquisitely talented, an emerging writer—appears in those pages as the person he is, no longer three or four or struggling, but as a guy whose greatness of heart and everlasting wisdom kept challenging me to be a better person.

Memoir is not autobiography; it is the act of considering life’s bigger issues through the particular lens of one life. Still, five memoirs is (shall we say) a rather large number for someone my age. And so the next two books I wrote were experimental in nature—Flow, which is the story of the Schuylkill River told in her own words (the story of a middle aged woman, in other words, who had been pristinely seductive, then discovered, then polluted, then without hope; a woman who could never die), and Zenobia, an Alice-in-Wonderland-like fable about corporate America (which is where I spend most of my time as a consultant).

Subsequently I began, at the urging of editor Laura Geringer, to write for the young adults I had taught, and still do teach. Undercover was followed by House of Dance, which was followed by Nothing but Ghosts, which will be followed in March by The Heart is Not a Size and in September by the historical novel, Dangerous Neighbors. While published within the YA category, these books were indeed meant for readers of all ages, and I have been blessed that the right readers have in the end found their way to these titles.

I am currently at work on a novel for adults and on another YA book that hearkens back to the legacy of the Spanish Civil War. My goal, as a writer, is to keep growing, to keep learning, to keep moving forward with books. People like Amy help me reach that goal. I am grateful, as always, to her for this challenge.

5 comments:

Beth Kephart said...

I swallow hard when I think of all you do, Miss Amy (and at the time of day you do it). I'm posting the challenge on my own blog now, with this note, which you gave me the gracious opening to write. That means more than I can say.

bermudaonion said...

Great guest post. I definitely need to check out some of Beth's memoirs, since I am a memoir junkie!

Laughing Stars said...

This is lovely: "Memoir is not autobiography; it is the act of considering life’s bigger issues through the particular lens of one life." I will be on the lookout for Beth's books.

petersteel said...

that was really great to read this that was really great.. nice job... i like that stuff for more information regarding Pittsburgh memoir writing, Pittsburgh storytelling, Pittsburgh corporate communication u can visit http://www.jayspeyerer.com/

Beth F said...

And I'm so thankful that you'll continue to share your writing with us.

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