Life Stories #80: Ava Chin

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Life Stories: Ava Chin
photo via AvaChin.com

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Ava Chin discusses some of the things she’s learned foraging for edible plants within New York City limits—but that’s only half the story of Eating Wildly. She also writes about growing up as the only daughter of an emotionally distant single mother and grandparents who encouraged her to enjoy many different types of foods, and how that—and what happened when she finally connected with her father—shaped her adult relationships. As our conversation turned to some of Chin’s favorite memoirists, we talked about how her method of combining personal reflections with recipes echoes Molly Wizenberg, and then she cited Patti Smith’s Just Kids:

“It’s not just that it’s written by Patti Smith and she’s an amazing writer; it’s not just that she’s Patti Smith and she’s writing about her relationship with Mapplethorpe, or that it’s New York in the ’70s… It’s all those things plus—what she did was she wrote following the heat of the story, the emotional heart of her story. And I think that’s necessary to have readers turn the page and to be thoroughly engaged in the narrative.”

Chin could have simply written about foraging and the ways that it’s affected how she thinks about food and her place in the food economy; after all, she’d been writing on the subject online at the New York Times for several years. But “I didn’t want this book to be a guidebook,” she explained. “I felt like I needed to tell this story in a way that a 700-word blog post, even a series of them, couldn’t.” In doing so, she was able to confront the identity that others had imposed on her from before she was even born and take the steps towards redefining herself in a more fulfilling way.

Listen to Life Stories #80: Ava Chin (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

9 August 2014 | life stories |

Life Stories #79: Molly Wizenberg

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Life Stories: Molly Wizenberg
photo: Kyle Johnson

When Molly Wizenberg’s husband told her that he wanted to open a New York-style pizzeria in Seattle, she encouraged him—even though, as she explains in this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, she wasn’t convinced his plan would come to fruition. In Delancey, she tells the story of how it all came together, including what happened when her doubts finally came out in the open, and how she wound up becoming a full partner in the project—and so we talked about the point at which she realized that this was going to be the subject of her second memoir (following A Homemade Life:

“As Brandon was building it, and as the process began to switch from ‘my husband is opening a restaurant’ to ‘we are opening a restaurant,’ I started to realize that there was a story there. I didn’t really know what the story was yet, but it was there. And also, as soon as I could begin to get some distance from it, I could see that it was really funny. The things that we did, the mistakes that we made, the things that happened to us were not at all funny at the time, but in retrospect, it was a really funny story.

I wanted to figure out how to tell it both so that I could remember it and also so that I could understand the trajectory that our lives were headed in. Writing helps me understand my own life; it helps me see the throughline in my own life… Writing Delancey, when I started, I didn’t know how the book was going to end, and that was because I had to figure out the story as I went along.”

(By all accounts, Delancey the restaurant has turned out really well, and I’m looking forward to visiting it the next time I’m in Seattle…)

Listen to Life Stories #79: Molly Wizenberg (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

3 August 2014 | life stories |

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