Monday, October 10, 2011

Indy's author scene: Hass and McElmurray

This season's Butler's Visiting Writers series began with a reading from poet and essayist, Robert Hass. It's not that Hass and I have nothing in common --both of us from the Bay Area, from childhoods spotlit by emotionally friable mothers. Still, I had a hard time connecting to his work. I'll be the first to admit it: I know nothing about poetry. Sure, Hass was genial, but I don't think anyone in the auditorium that night left invigorated.

Next on the docket was novelist and memoirist Karen McElmurray. McElmurray's memoir, "Surrendered Child," was haunting. Lyrical. 'Dark Memoir,' with a capital 'D.' McElmurray grew up with a punishing, mentally ill mother. When the mother leaves home McElmurray, finally free, rebels, gets pregnant and married at 16 -- in that order -- and then gives her baby up for adoption.

There were whispers. Some thought McElmurray should have employed a more traditional structure for her memoir. Me? I think stories can be many things, can be told many ways. They don't have to follow the standard 'start at point A, end at point B, add conflict along the way' recipe. (Thanks, Michael Martone.) Can't valid writing include mosaics, portraits, or even slices of life? Words strung together illuminate. The light may have different qualities, but the prose still shines.

You might write "potato" and I might write "potahto," They're both spuds. Maybe there's space in the literary potato bin for every type of writing. As long as it's done well.

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