My guest on this episode of Life Stories, the podcast series where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, is Alysia Abbott, and Fairyland is “a memoir of my father,” in which she writes not just about her life as the daughter of a single gay father but—drawing upon her father’s personal papers—comes to a better self-understanding of his life before her birth and then, following the death of his wife, in the San Francisco of the 1970s and ’80s. She’s then able to share that understanding with us, and the dual perspective, capturing both her incomplete youthful perspective and her later awareness, is powerful stuff.
During the interview, we talked about Fairyland as a facet of queer history, and I mentioned how, in the 1980s time frame she’s writing about, gay people were still, as I put it, “semi-mythical creatures” to much of America; we knew they were said to exist in the big cities, but it’s not like we’d actually ever met any. (Of course, it turned out that we probably did know some gay people but, thanks to a combination of our own naïveté and their discretionary silence, wouldn’t know it until years later.) She discusses how, even in San Francisco, she didn’t have other examples of gay fathers that she could look to and see that she wasn’t alone which, compounded with ordinary teenage resentment of our parents, created a potent emotional whirlpool.
As I was editing this podcast, and coming across that section, I was reminded of a passage in a recent Beatrice post, where Christopher Bram wishes he and other gay novelists had more straight readers: “We have terrific stories to tell—and they’re not only about sex. They’re about being different and trying to fit in and being misunderstood—stories that anyone can identify with.” Alysia Abbott’s memoir of life with her father is a wonderful story in that mold.
Listen to Life Stories #36: Alysia Abbott (MP3 file); or download this file directly by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). You can also subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released.