Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rebecca McClanahan on Writing about Family

With her memoir The Tribal Knot - A Memoir of Family, Community and a Century of Change, RebeccaMcClanahan did what many of us wish we would do – "do something" with all those family memorabilia and documents that are lurking in closets and trunks. How did she navigate the tricky waters of writing about family, of unearthing family secrets? I asked her exactly that in my interview with her, just published in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Did you have any feeling of debt to anybody? Did you feel any constraints about what you could share and what your family’s reaction would be?

Rebecca McClanahan: "Yes, I always have that. I always tread carefully when I write about family – these are people’s lives. A writer can’t go in with a sledgehammer and can’t go in with ulterior motives. I think what you need to look for is allegiance to the story as well as you can shape it. And if you’re a character in it, you have to shine the same bright light on yourself as you do on every character in the book. If you’re going to indict someone, or question something, you better be able to take that same heat yourself.

I’ve been writing and publishing things about family for thirty years, so my family is a little immune at this point. I am also very grateful and blessed to basically have an intact family without huge schisms in it. My mother and father read the manuscript, and they corrected some factual things. Reading it also let them have their emotional catharsis before the book came out. I don’t take this lightly, but then again, I also have to tell my story in the best way that I can."

Read more here.

Rebecca is a great teacher (anyone at our Kenyon Writers Workshop can attest to that!) and on Saturday, September 7, she will be leading an all-day workshop on "Making Their StoriesYour Own: Shaping the Raw Material of Family History" (for writers of all genres) at the Grailville Retreat and Program Center, Loveland, Ohio.

6 comments:

  1. Great interview. I plan to read the book. I left my other comments on the other site.

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    1. Julie - thank you. Rebecca's book is a great model for writing family history in an engaging way.

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  2. I loved this book, and am envious of Rebecca McClanahan's amazing family!

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    1. Steph - Me, too! I felt it was such a privilege "living" with her family.

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  3. Thanks for posting, Annette.

    Not sure I could write about my family... the schisms already run deep enough as it is.

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