My mother was a great reader. Our small-town library was only a block away, and she was a frequent visitor, as was I, after I began to read. She read mainly fiction – whatever was new and well reviewed in the newspapers and magazines she read regularly – and she was a movie fan. She often walked down the street of our small midwestern hometown to our one movie house to see the one movie that was showing that week. It was her break – her escape – from being a full-time housewife and mother.
My father also read a great deal, although his reading was mostly nonfiction and poetry. He read National Geographic, among other magazines. We had great stacks of the magazine because – who threw away National Geographic? Anything in the natural world attracted my father, who was a nature lover, a gardener, a hunter, a fisherman – an all-around outdoorsman.
He also read poetry, often aloud. I can remember evenings when he pulled out a book of poetry and read to the family. It was such a treat hearing the rhythm and beat of the language and to have it infused with his humor, his zest for living. Since then I have always loved reading poetry aloud. It brings it alive for me.
My earliest memory of a soul-shifting reading experience was reading Gone with the Wind when I was about twelve. I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara, and I also wanted to be Margaret Mitchell, who typed away for over ten years at her story of a high-spirited Southern belle who is brought to her knees by the Civil War, and then makes a brilliant post-War comeback. Mitchell used to say that she had read everything in the local library and was forced to write her own book of the Old South – from memory, family history, and the stories she had been brought up on. Visitors who came to the small apartment where Mitchell and her husband lived would find chapters of her novel piled carelessly around her living room. One chapter was even used to prop up her writing table.
I suppose I could have gone through life being a wildly enthusiastic reader, without attempting to write. But, like Margaret Mitchell, I wanted to write my own story – not because I ran out of books to read at the library, but because I have thoughts and memories and a personal history I want to share. This urge to write grows out of my family history, my small-town memories, my life experience, my frustrations, longings, failures, and triumphs. The stories are no different than those that preceded me and those that will follow me. They are not unique, nor is the style in which I write. Being ‘different,’ being ‘unique,’ have not been writing goals for me. The thing about storytelling is that it never gets old. It is never used up. It is always new. The writers of each generation are given the gift of newness in telling their own stories, in whatever form they choose.