A while back, or perhaps it was more than a few years ago, we all became aware of the epidemic of violence against women in this country, and memoirs began to be written as the survivors felt empowered to describe what they had gone though, battling through shame and the fear of family repercussions. We all have our lists of these titles, some of them bitingly effective, others less so, and perhaps I was not alone in imagining that writing about the problem would make the problem go away, or at least diminish it.
My last reading—this month—in Kentucky was for another of what I call a dear audience, at the second floor library above the police station in the little outlying town of Prospect. Years ago this was a farming community; now, it has sprouted prosperous subdivisions, green with trees and grass, strip malls, gas stations—but also a small wildlife sanctuary, in easements, and residents who still remember the value of the land.
Now and then I have the privilege of reading to an audience I can only describe as dear. That was the case with the group at the Jeffersonville Public Library this evening: twenty or so people who hung on every word of my story, “Selling The Farm,” as though the two sisters in the story were their own friends, or even their own sisters.
I always find that a reading in my hometown is both warmer and more disconcerting than reading in other cities, warmer, because so many old friends and relatives are sitting on the chairs at the back of the bookstore, disconcerting because they are old friends and relatives who do not view me first of all as a writer. Either they know too much about me, or not enough. They have come out of that mixture of kindness and curiosity—what we call support—that leaves me a little breathless, like a hearty slap on the back.
Like all authors, I face an interesting paradox when I travel to teach and read in my hometown—or, in this case, my home state.
I am grateful that the hometown aura will bring in listeners, both to my class and to the reading I will give next Saturday.
We are all curious about people who grew up near us, or are our age, or nearly, with the expectation of a shared point of view (and prejudices)—or at least shared experiences.
I’m always a little nervous before my first reading from a new book, so far untried by readers although with two wonderful reviews, some of my best (Library Journal, Publishers’ Weekly) but without the surge of comments that gathers slowly, in the media and in the form of email from strangers and friends, over a period of months.
Preparing to read from my new collection Mending: New and Selected Stories, at the Alamosa Bookstore in Albuquerque, New Mexico, goes beyond wondering who will be there, which is always impossible to predict.