Life Stories #104: Minna Zallman Proctor

Life Stories: Minna Zallman Proctor

I met with Minna Zallman Proctor a while back, shortly after the publication of Landslide, a collection of autobiographical essays that orbit around her relationship with her mother. One of the things we discussed was how circumspect she was in the portrayal of her own children, and that prompted me to say something about how we don’t really know the author of a memoir or an autobiographical essay, that the “I” we read is a controlled, calibrated literary invention. Proctor challenged that assumption:

“The book is, at best, a portrait of my brain, of the way I think of things. In that sense, it’s incredibly honest. I don’t think that you can write a book like this without a degree of intimacy, a degree of candor and vulnerability—a great degree of those things—and I think that the vulnerability that I express in my personal essay writing… and sometimes my book reviews, too, for that matter… is in that I am laying it all out. This is the way my brain works.

“When I wrote my first book [Do You Hear What I Hear?], about my father trying to become a priest, I don’t think I fully understood that, hadn’t fully comprehended that. So that book is a very strange patchwork, in a way… part memoir, part philosophy, part research about the Episcopal Church, and lots of portraiture and interview work. All of those things kind of fit together, and they kind of don’t.

“And I think what I realized when that book came out and reviews started coming in was that when people criticized the organization of the book, what I felt was… Criticizing the book was criticizing the way I thought. And it felt much worse than if someone says, ‘You look fat in those pants.’ It was a whole different thing; it was like, ‘Your brain doesn’t organize things correctly,’ or, ‘Your brain organizes things in such a way that I can’t follow you.’

“So I was really aware of that with this book, and knew that what I was putting out there, what I felt vulnerable about, was that i was going to just let people see… I was going to try to explain to people how I think and how I feel… And in that sense, I think you really do know me from the book, because it’s constructed, but what it is is meant to be an expression of that part of my brain.”

Listen to Life Stories #104: Minna Zallman Proctor (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. (If you’re already an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

photo: Sandra Dawn

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26 July 2018 | life stories, uncategorized |

Caitlin Hamilton Summie: Awoken by Erdrich

Caitlin Hamilton Summie
photo courtesy Caitlin Hamilton Summie

I’ve known Caitlin Hamilton Summie for years, first as the marketing director of some fantastic small independent publishers, and then as the proprietor of her own marketing and publicity firm. Now I find out she’s been writing her own short stories this entire time, and they’ve just been collected in To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts. It’s an apt title: Caitlin’s characters deal with the holes left in their lives by, say, fathers lost to combat overseas, or sisters who were their only point of contact with an estranged family—or they’re haunted by the memory of a young girl who played hopscotch outside their apartment building those few months they tried living in Manhattan. Or…well, discover for yourself. In this guest essay, Caitlin reveals how Louise Erdrich’s stories were the key that unlocked a central aspect of her own writing.

I have loved the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri and William Maxwell and Hemingway—and others—but if I were to think of one collection that really affected me as a writer, it would be Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich—the first Love Medicine, not the revised edition she published later.


14 August 2017 | selling shorts, uncategorized |

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