Jeanne Murray Walker’s memoir The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s is out today. It’s a funny, clear-eyed, and at times stunning journey into her mother’s loss of memory and her own recovery of childhood memories.
Eugene Peterson calls it “a sturdy witness to unexpected meanings and beauties and even humor that surface in lives of faith and suffering,” and Paula Huston calls it “one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.”
You can buy it online.
Do you know the poetry of Jeanne Murray Walker? You should. It reminds me of a dog who knows where it wants to go, but isn’t afraid to take a roundabout route, or even a few detours. Confident but not bull-headed. Surprising but wise. Playful. Loyal.
Here’s a stanza I adore. It’s from a poem called “Portrait of the Virgin Who Said No to Gabriel.” In the poem, Walker imagines the angel Gabriel appearing to another woman before appearing to Mary. This first woman says ‘no’ to the angel’s offer, but not for the reasons we might expect.
But after he walked away, she couldn’t forget his look,
the strange way his feet rang like horseshoes on the stones.
What she’d been wanting before he interrupted
was not the Bach Magnificat, I can tell you, not stained
glass. Nothing risky. Just to keep her good name.
I’d kill for that voice in my writing. That three-line enjambed sentence with an aside, followed by two fragments—it’s just perfect. And what follows in the rest of the poem is simply delightful, and profound. You can read the poem in its entirety here. So go read it.
And you can learn more about Jeanne and her work here. Her first nonfiction book—a memoir about her mother’s Alzheimer’s—will be out in this fall.
I’m teaching a creative nonfiction workshop at the 2013 Faith and Culture Writers Conference at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon (April 5 and 6). Here’s the official blurb:
One of the biggest mistakes creative nonfiction writers can make is assuming that readers will be emotionally moved by an event purely because it factually happened. Readers, however, demand a compelling story, even in nonfiction, and nonfiction writers who wish to engage and move their audience will focus on creating novelistic settings and characters rather than simply stating facts. In this breakout session, writers will discover new strategies to make their writing come alive in the hearts and minds of readers.