Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina, was visited one morning in 1984 by Adam, a longtime parishioner whom he liked and respected. Adam said that he was gay, and that he was leaving The United Methodist Church, which had just pronounced that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” could not be ordained. He would not be part of a community that excluded him. Creech found himself instinctively supporting Adam, telling him that he was sure that God loved and accepted him as he was. Adam’s Gift is Creech’s inspiring first-person account of how that conversation transformed his life and ministry.
Adam’s visit prompted Creech to re-evaluate his belief that homosexuality was a sin, and to research the scriptural basis for the church’s position. He determined that the church was mistaken, that scriptural translations and interpretations had been botched and dangerously distorted. As a Christian, Creech came to believe that discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people was morally wrong. This understanding compelled him to perform same-gender commitment ceremonies, which conflicted with church directives. Creech was tried twice by The United Methodist Church, and, after the second trial, his ordination credentials were revoked. Adam’s Gift is a moving story and an important chapter in the unfinished struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil and human rights.
Adiós Muchachos is a candid insider’s account of the leftist Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. During the 1970s, Sergio Ramírez led prominent intellectuals, priests, and business leaders to support the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), against Anastasio Somoza’s dictatorship. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979, Ramírez served as vice-president under Daniel Ortega from 1985 until 1990, when the FSLN lost power in a national election. Disillusioned by his former comrades’ increasing intolerance of dissent and resistance to democratization, Ramírez defected from the Sandinistas in 1995 and founded the Sandinista Renovation Movement. In Adiós Muchachos, he describes the utopian aspirations for liberation and reform that motivated the Sandinista revolution against the Somoza regime, as well as the triumphs and shortcomings of the movement’s leadership as it struggled to turn an insurrection into a government, reconstruct a country beset by poverty and internal conflict, and defend the revolution against the Contras, an armed counterinsurgency supported by the United States. Adiós Muchachos was first published in 1999. Based on a later edition, this translation includes Ramírez’s thoughts on more recent developments, including the re-election of Daniel Ortega as president in 2006.
Yearning for an escape from a claustrophobic childhood, Geoffrey Weill became infatuated with travel. At twenty-three, the budding British connoisseur made his way across the Atlantic on an ocean liner. The year was 1973, and he was bound for New York to pursue a promising role as consultant-in-training at the headquarters of the world’s oldest travel agency, Thomas Cook. The idyllic trip was reminiscent of those from the early twentieth century but made distinctly modern by a nightly reminder—at the onboard dance club, one was sure to run into a sequin-clad David Bowie.
All Abroad is the memoir of a man hungry for the logistics of travel: getting there, staying there, and feeling at home on any continent. Woven into his entertaining anecdotes is an informative account of a lost era in travel. As a witness to compelling and monumental changes in the industry, Weill offers a unique view into how our vacations have been shaped deeply by human trends, tragedies, and technologies. While some long for the grandeur of tourism from decades ago, Weill insists that travel—the conveyances and hotels that await journey’s end—remains as glamorous as ever.
Shortly after his mother dies of breast cancer when he is ten years old, Michael Blumenthal discovers that she was not his biological mother, and that his aunt and uncle, immigrant chicken farmers living in Vineland, New Jersey, are really his parents.
As fate would have it, his adoptive father, a German-Jewish refugee raised by a loveless and embittered stepmother after his own mother died in childbirth, has inflicted on his stepson a fate uncannily—and terrifyingly—similar to his own: Having first adopted Michael, in part, to help his dying wife, he then imposes on him the same sort of penurious and loveless stepmother whom he himself had had to survive. With these revelations, the "mysteries" that seem to have permeated Michael's childhood are laid bare, triggering a quest for belonging that will infiltrate the author's entire adult life.
An Anthropologist's Arrival: A Memoir
Ruth M. Underhill, Edited by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Stephen E. Nash University of Arizona Press, 2014 Library of Congress GN21.U48A3 2014 | Dewey Decimal 301.092
Ruth M. Underhill (1883–1984) was one of the twentieth century’s legendary anthropologists, forged in the same crucible as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. After decades of trying to escape her Victorian roots, Underhill took on a new adventure at the age of forty-six, when she entered Columbia University as a doctoral student of anthropology. Celebrated now as one of America’s pioneering anthropologists, Underhill reveals her life’s journey in frank, tender, unvarnished revelations that form the basis of An Anthropologist’s Arrival. This memoir, edited by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Stephen E. Nash, is based on unpublished archives, including an unfinished autobiography and interviews conducted prior to her death, held by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
In brutally honest words, Underhill describes her uneven passage through life, beginning with a searing portrait of the Victorian restraints on women and her struggle to break free from her Quaker family’s privileged but tightly laced control. Tenderly and with humor she describes her transformation from a struggling “sweet girl” to wife and then divorcée. Professionally she became a welfare worker, a novelist, a frustrated bureaucrat at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a professor at the University of Denver, and finally an anthropologist of distinction.
Her witty memoir reveals the creativity and tenacity that pushed the bounds of ethnography, particularly through her focus on the lives of women, for whom she served as a role model, entering a working retirement that lasted until she was nearly 101 years old.
No quotation serves to express Ruth Underhill’s adventurous view better than a line from her own poetry: “Life is not paid for. Life is lived. Now come.”
The Anti-Warrior: A Memoir
Milt Felsen University of Iowa Press, 1989 Library of Congress DP269.9.F36 1989 | Dewey Decimal 940.548173
In 1937 thirty-six nervous young men dressed in ill-fitting blue suits, wearing berets, and carrying identical black valises, were given tickets for an American Export Lines ship. They were told to conduct themselves as ordinary tourists, to be "inconspicuous." They were volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, traveling the French underground to join in the fight against Franco. Among them was Milt Felsen, a young New Yorker and radical antiwar activist on the University of Iowa campus who had decided that fascism had to be opposed. Some of these young men never made it to their destination. But Milt Felsen did, beginning a march across the Pyrenees which was only the first of his many battles and adventures.
Told with uncommon wit and verve, this memoir of war and resistance is a stirring account of Felsen's involvement in two decades of battle. Surprisingly, this is a spirited and even funny book, infused with Felsen's unbeatable personality. After the Spanish Civil War, Felsen helped form the O.S.S. in World War II. Taken prisoner of war, he escaped in his inimitable style during a 1,200-mile prisoner-of-war march and drove out of Nazi Germany in a Mercedes-Benz. He returned to the United States more convinced than ever of war's insanity and its extreme human cost.
Most of us are only spectators of the world's larger events. Milt Felsen knew the excitement and despair of being a participant. While most war books abound in details of what happened, this one also delves into why. Felsen's straightforward account is refreshingly frank and doesn't pretend to be more than it is—his own lived version of war and common truths.
Appalachia North: A Memoir
Matthew Ferrence West Virginia University Press, 2018 Library of Congress F106.F47 2019 | Dewey Decimal 917.404
Appalachia North is the first book-length treatment of the cultural position of northern Appalachia—roughly the portion of the official Appalachian Regional Commission zone that lies above the Mason-Dixon line. For Matthew Ferrence this region fits into a tight space of not-quite: not quite “regular” America and yet not quite Appalachia.
Ferrence’s sense of geographic ambiguity is compounded when he learns that his birthplace in western Pennsylvania is technically not a mountain but, instead, a dissected plateau shaped by the slow, deep cuts of erosion. That discovery is followed by the diagnosis of a brain tumor, setting Ferrence on a journey that is part memoir, part exploration of geology and place. Appalachia North is an investigation of how the labels of Appalachia have been drawn and written, and also a reckoning with how a body always in recovery can, like a region viewed always as a site of extraction, find new territories of growth.
Concerned about aspects of her romantic relationships, Donna McDonald consulted with a psychologist who asked, “Your hearing loss must have had a big impact on you?” At age 45, with a successful career in social work policy, McDonald took umbrage at the question. Then, she realized that she never had addressed the personal barrier she had constructed between her deaf-self and her hearing persona. In The Art of Being Deaf, she describes her long, arduous pursuit of finding out exactly who she was.
Born in 1950s Australia, McDonald was placed in an oral deaf school when she was five. There, she was trained to communicate only in spoken English. Afterwards, she attended mainstream schools where she excelled with speechreading and hard work. Her determination led to achievements that proved her to be “the deaf girl that had made good.” Yet, despite her constant focus on fitting in the hearing world, McDonald soon realized that she missed her deaf schoolmates and desired to explore her closed-off feelings about being deaf.
When she reconnected with her friends, one urged her to write about her experiences to tell all about “the Forgotten Generation, the orally-raised deaf kids that no one wants to talk about.” In writing her memoir, McDonald did learn to reconcile her deaf-self with her “hearing-deaf” persona, and she realized that the art of being deaf is the art of life, the art of love.
Offers a philosophical perspective on the nature and value of writing a memoir.
Artful Truths offers a concise guide to the fundamental philosophical questions that arise when writing a literary work about your own life. Bringing a philosopher’s perspective to a general audience, Helena de Bres addresses what a memoir is, how the genre relates to fiction, memoirists’ responsibilities to their readers and subjects, and the question of why to write a memoir at all. Along the way, she delves into a wide range of philosophical issues, including the nature of the self, the limits of knowledge, the idea of truth, the obligations of friendship, the relationship between morality and art, and the question of what makes a life meaningful.
Written in a clear and conversational style, it offers a resource for those who write, teach, and study memoirs, as well as those who love to read them. With a combination of literary and philosophical knowledge, de Bres takes the many challenges directed at memoirists seriously, while ultimately standing in defense of a genre that, for all its perplexities—and maybe partly because of them—continually proves to be both beloved and valuable.
As the Twig Is Bent: A Memoir
Wallace Byron Grange, Edited by Joseph L. Breitenstein and Richard P. Thiel University of Wisconsin Press, 2020 Library of Congress QH31.G723A3 2020 | Dewey Decimal 333.72092
Wallace Byron Grange (1905–87) was an influential conservationist who worked alongside Aldo Leopold. Grange’s story vividly describes his mostly idyllic childhood watching bird life in the once grand prairies just west of Chicago. He documents his family’s journey and pioneering struggle to operate a farm on the logged cutover country in northern Wisconsin, a land that provided him with abundant opportunities to study the lives of wild creatures he loved most.
Written when Grange was in his sixties, As the Twig Is Bent conveys how a leading conservationist was formed through his early relationship to nature. In beautifully composed vignettes, he details encounters both profound and minute, from the white-footed mice attracted by cookie crumbs in his boyhood clubhouse to the sounds of great horned owls echoing through the wintry woods. As he develops his own understanding of the natural world, he comes to an awareness of the dramatic and devastating role of humankind on ecosystems. Grange’s poignant observations still resonate today amid global conversations about the fate of our natural resources and climate change.
The Attic: A Memoir
Harnack, Curtis University of Iowa Press, 2011 Library of Congress PS3558.A62474Z463 2011 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
In The Attic, his sequel to the classic We Have All Gone Away, Curtis Harnack returns to his rural Iowa homeplace to sift through an attic full of the trash and treasures left behind by the thirteen children in two generations who grew up in the big farmhouse.
The adult Harnack had been making pilgrimages to his past from various parts of the country for thirty-plus years; now the death of an uncle and the disposal of an estate bring him home once more. The resonant diaries, church bulletins, photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia in the attic allow him to rediscover both personal and universal truths as he explores the enduring legacies of home, family, and community.
Finally, discovering a cache of letters written home while he was in the Navy in the mid 1940s, he confronts a stranger—his younger self. Harnack’s “dream-pod journey . . . from who I am now to how it once was for me” tells the life story of a close-knit family and extends this story to our own journeys through our own memory-filled attics.