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Lidia Yuknavitch at Broadway Books

June 4, 2011

Lidia Yuknavitch Dazzles at Portland’s Broadway Books – June 2, 2011

Sometimes when I meet an author, I wonder if it’s really the same person who wrote the powerful story that I fell in love with.  They’re mild-mannered, quiet, or a little dazed.  That was definitely not the case with Lidia Yuknavitch who is the author of The Chronology of Water or COW as it’s endearingly and not pejoratively referred to by some.
Since COW is the raw, honest, heartbreaking memoir of Yuknavitch’s embattled journey through the first couple of chapters in her life, I expected a grim, somewhat battered and war-torn victim.  Nothing could have been further from that misbegotten image.
When’s the last time you had an author tear off her dress to reveal a Speedo swimsuit accompanied by black fishnet stockings and red garden to-the-knee boots.  Don’t let me forget to mention that she also stuffed her long blond hair into a swim cap and then donned goggles and stated that, “I used to be a swimmer.”
Another first for me is having an author start crying even before she said her first words and continue to tear up through the entire reading.  But not from grief. It was from the love she was feeling from the friends who showed up to support her. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for coming. See you don’t know this, but there are people from my life here that I haven’t seen in a long time and I love you.  It’s a big deal.”
And then there were the photos of she and her sister when they were children at the Oregon Beach that she passed out for everyone in the audience to perusal. “I just want to show you how cute we were – we were good looking,” she said without a hint of sarcasm.
The chapters she read from were Oregon ones featuring mentor Ken Kesey in one, and another about scattering the ashes of her first child into the Pacific Ocean and the last about the joy of swimming with her young son.  Yuknavitch sucked the air out of the room with her powerful and emotional words.  She finished to pounding applause and then asked, “How are you, is everyone one ok? I don’t know what you want to do now, if you want to chat or just, you know, curse V.S. Naipaul?”

When asked about memoir as a genre:

“It’s an evolving ongoing question forever and ever.  There are big debates about what memoir is and isn’t right now. When I first started writing it, I had kind of strong opinions about not being sure about memoir – kind of not liking it. I wasn’t even sure I believed in it.  Having been through the process – what it’s taught me the most is that when you create a fiction like a novel, you make use of a bunch of craft devices and you tell a story that you’re probably in whether you want to admit it or not and when you tell a non-fiction you make use of quite similar craft devices and you tell a true story that must be crafted well enough that it has story telling in it – the sort of drama of story – the rise and fall of characters and action. So even though I know it’s unpopular to say – they’re the same! – fiction and non-fiction are the same. They definitely bleed into each other. There’s nothing we can do about that.”

On how writing this book has affected her:

“It’s really incredible to be in a position where you’re getting close to people as a writer and a reader for me, because the books I’ve written before this were all trying to push the reader away from me in a kind of aggressive art – you know, I’m making avant garde art, reader! This book isn’t like that. Humans who are reading it are coming toward me – it’s both wonderful and beautiful – but also a little overwhelming as you can see. I hope you don’t mind. So a thing that’s changed for me is I’m having to admit there are other people in the world and that I care about that and that I would like to take a step closer to you and that’s changed me as a writer radically.  I feel like an utterly different human.”

What’s she’s reading:

“I’m pretty slutty.  I will not champion one author over another.  I’ll read anything.  I read fast.  I just love reading!”

On what she’s up to now:

“I’m back in novel land and I’m quite, quite happy there.  I find it easiest to share the deepest truths in fiction and you don’t have as many nightmares or you don’t pass through the same crucible.  So I’m writing some novels. Even though I hear the novel’s dead and there are no women writers that  can hold a candle to certain male ones.  I actually threw down a smack-down gauntlet for V.S. Naipaul. I challenged him to a one page write-off and I feel as if he’ll be chicken and he won’t do it. Just alone in a room, me and him – one page.”

Read The Chronology of Water and if you have the chance, go to one of Lidia’s readings.  You will thank her!  (Read my review of COW posted on May 18, 2011.)

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