Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma
"An inspiring guide to ennobling personal stories that travel to the dark sides of life."
“Writers of all genres will glean golden nuggets of advice about writing and living from this book, while all readers, because they, too, have unique personal stories, will be comforted and inspired by the everyday and creative struggles of some of their favorite authors.”
"[I]t unearths gems of insight, especially about the natures of truth, memory, subjectivity, and fact, and about what memoirs can mean to readers. And it leaves no doubt about the strength required to confront old ghosts."
- Publishers Weekly
PUBLISHED WITH BEACON PRESS (February 2017)
Five years ago, I began writing a painful family story that has now become a memoir, A Hard Silence. Writing into the memories of this part of my life left me with some difficult questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would I survive the process? I decided to approach the writers whose memoirs moved me and ask these questions. Their replies – honest and soul-searing – comprise Writing Hard Stories. This book profiles my conversations with some of our country’s most prolific writers including: Alysia Abbott, Richard Blanco, Kate Bornstein, Edwidge Danticat, Mark Doty, Andre Dubus III, Jessica Handler, Richard Hoffman, Marianne Leone, Michael Patrick McDonald, Kyoko Mori, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Sue William Silverman, Kim Stafford, Abigail Thomas, Jerald Walker, Joan Wickersham, and Monica Wood. These writers invited me into their homes, into their lives, to share the intimacies of finding the courage to put words to their stories. Their candid descriptions of their own treks through the darkest of memories and the details of the breakthrough moments that opened up their stories gave me the mooring I needed to keep writing my own.
A Hard Silence
In the mid 1980s, "Canada's worst public health disaster" was unfolding. Catastrophic mismanagement by the Canadian Red Cross and its regulators and systemic corporate greed by blood-product manufacturers and distributors demonstrated blatant disregard for public safety and allowed infected blood to be knowingly distributed nationwide, infecting close to 2000 Canadians with HIV. Among them was my father, a renowned Canadian surgeon who, in 1985, was given a tainted blood transfusion during open-heart surgery and learned, eight months later, that he was HIV positive.
Afraid of the stigma attached to his disease and fearing that his family might face the same ostracism that so many AIDS victims of that era experienced, my father decided his illness would be a secret from almost everyone. A secret they'd all be expected to keep. There was no way of knowing that he would live past that first year, let alone for the next ten years. And for those ten years, from the time I was thirteen until I was twenty-three, my family lived in the shadow of AIDS. Icarried the weight of the uncertain trajectory of my father’s health and the heartbreaking anticipation of impending loss silently and alone. It became a way of life.
A HARD SILENCE is an intimate glimpse into my memories of coping with my family's secret and enduring the loneliness and isolation of not being able to speak. Living with that secret during the formative years of my life shaped my sense of self, worldview, faith, and family. I bring readers inside my journey, twenty years after my father died, to finally understand the consequences of my family's silence, to interrogate the roots of stigma and discrimination responsible for the ongoing secret-keeping—particularly within the evangelical Christian community to which my family belonged — and how I've learned to be authentic now.