Milne Library and the Geneseo Literary Forum hosted author Sonja Livingston on March 7 for a reading of excerpts from her memoir Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses. Livingston shared her own personal stories and offered thoughtful insight to the attendees about writing nonfiction and other genres. Livingston is a winner of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Book of Nonfiction Prize for her first book Ghostbread. Her writing has appeared in literary journals like Iowa Review and Brevity and she is also an assistant professor of English at the University of Memphis.
Queen of the Fall explores the lives of women from a range of generations and impersonal and personal experiences. Based on Livingston’s own memories, the stories help the reader to better understand women in all walks of life.
Livingston read an essay from Queen of the Fall titled “Mock Orange,” which is based on the story of her 16-year-old niece telling her that she is pregnant. In her essay, Livingston uses beautiful imagery of the mock orange shrub and a soft and caring attitude toward her niece during this turbulent time in her life.
Livingston’s creative nonfiction blended reality with art, specifically when she described her thoughts on meeting her niece after she received the news. “What will I see when I visit?” she wrote. “Will I be funny? My humor making little shelters in which to hide?” She later continued, “I cannot know how it will go, because I have not yet brought myself to see her and so this is the moment suspended—the space between imagination and reality.”
The author’s piece spoke on multiple levels, which is what made it so moving and relatable. It not only dealt with the problem at face value, but it also brought up ideas of the unknown, the path to maturity and familial relationships.
During the talkback after the reading, Livingston claimed that the main point in writing “Mock Orange” was to show that “children are gifts, no matter what.” She added, however, that there are more meanings to be derived from the work.
“By making myself continue and push beyond what I thought I needed to, I realized that maybe [“Mock Orange”] is about the grief of my not having children and just that complicated question of what it means to have a child,” she said.
Livingston is currently working on a novel and although she admitted that non-fiction is what she knows best and has more confidence in writing, she claims fiction is “fun in a different way.”
“[I’m] more comfortable with nonfiction, but I love trying my hand at fiction and poetry, and I think each genre offers opportunities,” she said.
Livingston also offered advice to writers wanting to try nonfiction. “My tip is to trust what you notice. Trust that [your idea] means something and trust in the process of writing to help you uncover what [the meaning] is, and if you approach it with that openness and honesty, you might even create ... an invitation to your readers to go on a similar kind of journey,” she said. “Trust yourself and what you care about, because that’s what matters.”
Hopefully, Livingston will continue to inspire readers and writers with her words of wisdom and emotional stories with her new fiction novel.