Richard will be a panelist on the memoir panel. He has provided the following text of this exchange with a long-ago student of his; the questions and responses pertain to his first memoir, HALF THE HOUSE. Additionally, Richard was interviewed by Amy Grier about both HALF THE HOUSE and his later memoir, LOVE & FURY, for Solstice Literary Magazine.
Where did the impetus come from for you to write your memoir? What motivated you?
For me, it was, or at least it seemed to me to be, a do or die call to understand the roots of my own profound unhappiness. All I had ever wanted was to write, and now I knew what it was for: to help me re-member what had been dismembered by trauma and grief and miseducation and silence. I am not afraid of the word “therapeutic” and do not see it as a slur: telling stories has always been the way human beings make meaning. It took me 17 years to write HALF THE HOUSE, mainly because I wanted to turn painful experience into art, not just ink, but also because any first person account honestly told requires the piecing together of what shards you discover. It is an excavation and must be done delicately.
While you were writing, did you worry about others’ feelings?
Yes, yes, of course. That comes with the territory. But a writer cannot owe silence to anyone. You use your best judgment, try to treat people honestly and with empathy, and the rest is the demand to get at the truth of how things were, how they worked, the interplay of character, culture, and history as it shaped your own life.
How did you maintain your courage as you progressed?
I had two other writers with whom I shared drafts. Mostly they were to assure me I wasn’t being merely narcissistic, or insane to think that this would be of interest to anyone but me.
What did you do to nurture yourself through the pain of writing?
I quit boozing and went into intensive therapy.
When you finished, did you feel different?
I felt very proud of it, frankly. It had been a long hard labor.
How did you feel about publishing your story?
I wrote it to publish it. I think writers, storytellers, poets, etc. are an organic vocation found in every culture, like healers and teachers and hunters and farmers. A teller without an audience is one hand clapping.
How did you feel after your work was published?
Exhilarated. Reviews were good. And the people in my family who I cared about were all proud of the book. Even if they didn’t always come off as saintly in it.
Did you feel it was worth it?
I didn’t have a choice except to give up. As I said all I ever wanted to do was write. I couldn’t write much of anything else until this book was in the world.
And then, of course, there is the book’s history. As you no doubt know, it became a notorious book because it resulted in the arrest of a serial predator in my hometown.
And any other thoughts regarding what you went through and how you kept going?
I’d refer you to the two essays that stand as Afterwords to the New Rivers Press edition.
And also to my essay \”Backtalk\”.