what happens when a former student reviews your book about memoir making

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A few moments ago, a link was posted on Facebook. One click, and I was reading a review of Handling the Truth, written by my former student Stephanie Trott. Stephanie had come into my classroom fully formed, best as I could tell. A Bryn Mawr senior who'd already worked in Manhattan publishing and was crafting perfect sentences, Stephanie made the trek each Tuesday, and made us all better people for her presence. We have stayed in touch since, Stephanie and I. Postcards arrive. Emails. Funny and alluring updates from her travels around the world, for Stephanie has a truly interesting job which I suspect she will tell you about in some book, some day. She's destined.

So it made me teary eyed—that's what happened—to read her words about Handling the Truth in Cleaver Magazine, a stellar and well-reviewed literary magazine that was created by my friend, Karen Rile, and her daughter, Lauren. Karen teaches with me at Penn. She's been there far longer than I have, has taught far more classes, is widely known and loved, and deservedly won a new teaching award a year ago. Karen has been my guide to many things at Penn—me the spring-semester adjunct, and she the every-semester teaching goddess. And what a magazine she has built. What content, and what a following.

How beautiful then, to be able to thank them both, in this single post. And to do that on a day when I'm writing about my love for Penn and that riverway, Locust Walk, in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. It all circles back.

Stephanie's review begins like this, below, and can be read in its entirety at Cleaver Magazine, here.

It is a rainy Tuesday in January and I lace up the new cherry-red boots before heading out the door of my warm little warren. Through the stone-laden campus, across the slippery streets of town, and onto the train that will take me into the city. I am in my final semester as an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College and I still have not learned to buy shoes that fit my feet — I dig into the walk through West Philadelphia, burdening myself with blisters that will not heal until the first flowers have shed their petals to spring. Stumbling onto the porch of the old Victorian manor, I step into the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding fourteen weeks I’ve yet experienced: I step into Beth Kephart’s Creative Non-Fiction class.

Flash forward one and a half years later and I am standing on the back steps of my first apartment, wearing shoes that (finally) fit and hooting jubilantly at the tiny brown box in front of me. I hug the cardboard to myself as though I could absorb the details of its journey osmotically and greet it with as much euphoria as though it were a friend returning from a far off journey. But I suppose that’s exactly what Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir is: stories of both the familiar and strange, a chance to learn through another’s experiences, and an invitation to have our own unique adventures while meditating on the specialness of times we have already put to rest.


Serena said...

What wonderful words, and it is great to come full circle.

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