The first event I attended, along with writing friends Dianna Graveman and Mary Horner, was George Hodgman’s candid and inspiring conversation about his memoir, Bettyville.
I read Bettyville a couple months ago and was captivated by Hodgman’s lovely writing, unvarnished honesty, and moments of grace and humor. So, I was excited when I read he was going to be one of the featured speakers at the festival. Bettyville is Hodgman’s award-winning book, which has been described as a “Love letter to small towns that are declining and to his mother who is in decline.”
After sharing some background information and a few personal stories, Hodgman spoke about memoir writing.
Here are some highlights:
Memoir is a mixed state of knowing and admitting.
Memoir is about a relationship, a trusting relationship with the reader.
Give them (the reader) something so they know you trust them.
Storytelling is totally healing.
We connect and we learn.
Admit your reality.
Look for moments of recognition.
There is a relaxation in the “letting go” part of writing, solving problems.
You have to let go!
Place is a central character in memoir.
The richest (memoirs) always have a background of place.
He ended his writing day with a specific thing, e.g. revision of a scene.
That way he would start with a specific task the next day.
His writing process was self-punishing; he wrote at the card table at 4 a.m. until his mother awoke.
He also shared a few personal stories:
When he returned home to Paris, MO, to care for his mother Betty, a scene grew, a picture in his mind of his mother Betty driving a blue Impala taking him to kindergarten.
After returning home, he fell in love with Missouri again.
Most people don’t know Missouri: it’s beautiful, it’s cultural, people here are funny and smart.
He felt rooted in small towns and as a child was comfortable with adults.
He felt accepted here (in Columbia), in this cultural and artistic community.
He grew up around kindness, with community and church.
Moments of surprising kindness move him.
The most memorable moments during his conversation were when he read an excerpt from Bettyville and spoke lovingly about his mother Betty, who died last July 26. He said, he is “only now starting to grieve,” and “Spring flowers make me think of her.”
He also said he loves his dog (a black Lab). Of course, anyone who has ever had a black Lab (like our thirteen-year old Harley) knows how lovable they are.
If you haven’t read Bettyville, I recommend you pick up a copy, especially if you appreciate elegant writing, have an elderly parent, understand what it's like to be from Missouri, or grew up in a small town.
Next week I’ll post some notes I took during Senator Claire McCaskill’s conversation about Pretty Ladylike, the book she co-wrote with Terry Gainey.