Thursday, April 28, 2016

Unbound Book Festival: George Hodgman Discusses His Memoir BETTYVILLE

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some notes I took during the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia, Missouri, on April 23.

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.


  1. Thanks for posting all of this. Will look forward to hearing about McCaskill book as I did not know there was one. As for Bettyville, I gave it a shot and just could not get into it. Rare,since I love memoir. I know sometimes it is where the reader is at instead of what the book holds that can be the hang up. Maybe I should try again!

  2. Hi Claudia,
    Thanks for stopping by and posting comments on my blog so faithfully.
    It's true what you write about sometimes it's where a reader is at in her life that influences whether or not a book is appealing. The same thing has happened to me. Someone will rave about a book and I'll pick it up then not be able to finish it. I hope you're doing well. I know you've had a rough winter. I hope spring and summer are much better for you.
    Take care, and if you ever get to my neck of the woods, give me a shout.

  3. Donna--Bettyville sounds like the kind of book I like. I guess I'll have to add it to my pile of must-reads.

    Thanks for sharing bits from the conference, and I hope Harley has some good years ahead of him. Sometimes those labs (especially the black ones) never stop... until the inevitable stop.

    1. Hi Sioux,
      I think you'll enjoy it.

      Glad you enjoyed the information about the conference. Harley still has a lot of spark. Took him to Columbia to visit Cari earlier this week. He loves car rides, walks, running around the farm.

  4. There was something about this image that touched me . . .a scene grew, a picture in his mind of his mother Betty driving a blue Impala taking him to kindergarten. Bettyville sounds like a book I want to read. Thank you for sharing notes from the book festival with your readers. Looking forward to the next post, Donna!

    1. Hi Clara,
      It is a strong image. Amazing how a book can grow into an image from a scene.
      I enjoyed the interview on your blog.

  5. My book group recently read this. I loved that scene with her driving him to school in the convertible. And you're right about the elegant writing.

    1. Hi Madeline,
      I'm glad your book group enjoyed the book and the elegant writing. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    2. I wanted to add that I'm glad to hear that a book group from Florida also found Bettyville a great read.

  6. I read Bettyville just after it came out and absolutely loved it! A cool side benefit for me was the Missouri connection. I'm sorry I missed hearing him speak.

    Critter Alley

    1. During his talk it was obvious how much he loved his parents, his hometown, and the state of Missouri.

  7. I've had that book on top of my To Read stack since around the time it came out. I expect to get to it in about 3 weeks, just as soon as I retire.

  8. Sounds like a wonderful event. Appreciate you sharing this with us. Will have to check out Bettyville.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog this week. I've been thinking of you, thinking that I needed to stop here and see you. Next thing I know, there you are! :) Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

  9. I loved his talk, and I had a great time in general that day with you and Mary. The speakers were phenomenal, and I can't believe the entire event was free. Well worth the drive (oh, and thanks for driving!).


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