Meredith Hall '93 Book Named to Oprah's Summer Reading List
Story posted August 10, 2009
Without a Map (Beacon Press), a memoir by Meredith Hall '93, has been named to Oprah's summer reading list, making it into the compilation, "Oprah's Memoirs We Love: 10 Addictive True Stories."
Read the Oprah's Book Club review.
The memoir, published in 2007, also made the New York Times Best-Sellers List.
"When I wrote Without a Map, I was 55, a new writer," says Hall. "I believed that no one in the world would ever even know that I had written this book. I wrote imagining an audience of one: a kind old crone, leaning in to hear these silenced stories. In that quiet room, I wrote frankly, intimately. But instead of going out into a void, the book has attracted a great deal of attention over these two years. That bold, unguarded story-telling has triggered powerful responses in readers, who are, I think, very hungry for a blueprint — a map — of how we each live a life."
Hall's moving begins in 1965, when she becomes pregnant at 16. Shunned by her insular community of Hampton, N.H., she is then kicked out of the house by her mother. Her father and stepmother, who live in Epping, N.H., reluctantly take her in, hiding her before they finally banish her altogether.
After giving her son up for adoption, Hall wanders recklessly through the Middle East, where she survives by selling her possessions and finally her blood. She returns to New England and stitches together a life that encircles her silenced and invisible grief.
When her son is 21, he finds her. Hall learns that he grew up in poverty with an abusive father — in her own father's hometown. Their reunion is tender, turbulent and ultimately redemptive. Hall's parents never ask for her forgiveness, yet as they age, she offers them her love.
Oprah Likes Bad Girls, Too
Professor Jennifer Scanlon's Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown (Oxford University Press, 2009) turned up among O, The Oprah Magazine's top 10 books about sex.
The feature, "Under the Covers: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Didn't Know to Ask)," has Scanlon's biography of the longtime Cosmopolitan editor at number nine.
The article says, "Scanlon's shrewd biography reveals a woman of contradictions (e.g., Brown is happily monogamous), a strategically racy cultural pioneer."
Hall wrote Without a Map after winning the $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation, which gave her the financial freedom to devote time to her memoir.
In an apartment in San Francisco, she says she discovered the drug-like joy of writing.
"We each carry a reservoir of images. We circle them and circle them and circle them throughout our lives to make sense of them. If we turn our gaze to those moments, they emerge as the story of our lives," she says.
"I never felt like I was constructing or structuring. The words just fell on the page. For me, it was a matter of just showing up. The stories were very ready to be told."
Hall, who teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire, says she asks her students to make lists of their life stories but cautions them that they are not keeping a personal journal.
"We are writing for a reader and there are clear and powerful obligations. We must be in control of the structure. This must be a
process of discovery, and we must have matured into the ability to articulate its meaning," she says.
"There must be a larger truth. We shouldn't write until we can contextualize our small stories into that larger truth."
Hall graduated from Bowdoin at the age of 44 and wrote her first essay, "Killing Chickens," in 2002. She later earned a master's in writing from UNH. Her other honors include the Pushcart Prize for her 2004 essay, "Shunned."
Listen to the NPR interview with Hall and read an excerpt from Without a Map.
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