A memoirist-​​in-​​residence

Few people have cleaner bath­rooms than writers on dead­lines, according to mem­oirist Kath­leen Norris.

“There are times when you want to do any­thing but look at the blank page,” said Norris, an acclaimed essayist whose books — including “Dakota” and “The Cloister Walk — explore ideas of reli­gious and spir­i­tual faith.

Norris’ admis­sion was shared with more than a dozen mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity in an inti­mate master class held Monday after­noon as part of North­eastern Human­i­ties Center’s Artists and Prac­ti­tioners in Res­i­dence Program.

The class marked the first event in a two-​​day series of lec­turers and read­ings with Norris, including a lec­ture on Monday night at Trinity Church in Copley Square, a poetry reading in Con­cord Tuesday morning and a lec­ture at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Raytheon Amphitheatre.

Norris said the goal of writing a memoir is to ensure that even the most per­sonal story speaks to the reader and illu­mi­nates some­thing about his or her own life.

“My goal is to be more than merely per­sonal, to have it start and end with me,” Norris said. “If it’s truly per­sonal and reaching out to the world, you as a reader think, ‘Oh, I’ve expe­ri­enced that but I’d never known what to call it. Now I know exactly what that means.’”

She added: “The reader com­pletes the writing process by having it mean some­thing impor­tant and be spe­cific to their own lives.”

Norris spoke of a reading she did for a small but ded­i­cated audi­ence in Boston in 1997 — the day of the 100th run­ning of the Boston Marathon,— in which a Hindu man said her book was the first that allowed him to under­stand the Chris­tian faith without feeling forced to convert.

“I thought ‘Now, my book is com­plete,’” Norris said, “and he had given it back to me.”

The work­shop drew a diverse group of atten­dees, including Earl Stafford, Northeastern’s Bal­four Academy pro­gram coor­di­nator who said he aspires to write a memoir in the vein of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and Tabitha Kenlon, a graduate-​​level Eng­lish stu­dent who has begun writing her dissertation.

The event included an extended con­ver­sa­tion of gen­eral writing and revi­sion prac­tices and a dis­cus­sion of favorite memoirs.

Anna Hig­gins, who teaches cre­ative writing in Boston, said that she pur­pose­fully did not finish  neu­rol­o­gist Oliver Sacks’ “A Leg to Stand On,” a seem­ingly odd prac­tice that hap­pened to be shared by many attendees.

“I didn’t finish the last two pages,” Hig­gins said, describing the power and res­o­nance of the book. “I had so little in common with Oliver Sacks, but I just didn’t want him out of my life.”

And that, said Norris, is the ulti­mate goal of a memoirist.

– by Matt Collette

Published On: June 19, 2012 | Tags: ,
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