Monday, June 30, 2014

Glen Finland on the Power of Storytelling

Meeting other formidable writers is one of the great benefits of attending a writers residency. And so, last January, I had the great fortune of meeting Glen Finland during my residency at the VCCA. She is the author of the memoir Next Stop about what happens when an autistic son grows up.

We first met over breakfast, and afterwards I went up to my room to get ready for the day and I Googled her as I had really bad Internet connection in my studio. Up popped her essay "Doors Opening" about spending a summer teaching her 21-year-old autistic son how to navigate the Washington, D.C., metro system, published in the Washington Post. It was so captivating that I read that essay right then and there, sitting on my bed, the laptop propped up on my thighs. "Doors Opening" formed the nucleus for her subsequent memoir, Next Stop, and it is indicative of how the whole book is written: swiftly, deftly, the reader gets pulled into the story of this family and this boy, a story that is poignant, heartbreaking, and often viciously funny.

In March, Glen was gracious enough to do a Q&A with my memoir students at StoryStudio Chicago, and out of that conversation grew my interview with her, published in the Washington Independent Review of Books. One point that Glen makes that I particularly liked was on why it is so important that we tell our stories:

"From childhood, we understand ourselves and our identities through the stories that we are told. In the book, I say that I am not a doctor, and I’m not a researcher, but I am a mother, and I can tell you stories. I believe that when we hear stories over and over again about the “other,” namely other kinds of people, and those stories are mainly negative, then we start to believe them. So if you have an opportunity to do something important for someone you love, such as tell a story, then you have the responsibility to do it. In my case and that of other parents of children with autism, our stories are about as close as other people will come to ever understanding autism."

Read the rest of my interview with Glen Finland here.