Jul 28, 2007

"ALMA MATTERS"

Hey kids, today's very special guest is a a wonderful and talented woman I met and read with at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and author of a book I absolutely fell in love with, please welcome my friend, Margaret Sartor.

When I asked her for a bio to use here, she wrote: "It’s an odd thing to try to write a bio, I think…what parts do you pick out to tell? This then: I teach at Duke University. I have the most amazing and tolerant husband. I have two children who are both extremely smart and funny. (I know everyone says that, but my case, it’s true.) I have two cats and an above average dog. I adore the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, “This American Life,” and mid-century modern design. I hate housework and practice T’ai Chi. I am hopelessly serious. I believe that compassion is a kind of power and kindness may be the one virtue that can save us all — if it’s not already too late."

See why I love her to bits? Right? Well, let me tell you a little more about her.

Her most recent book, the acclaimed and bestselling Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970’s, was selected as a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, a Washington Post Book World’s Best Memoir of 2006, It was a finalist for the SIBA Book of the Year Award and chosen by “O” The Oprah Magazine for its 2006 list of “What To Read This Summer.” Miss American Pie tells a compelling, frank, and frequently humorous story, delving into the same emotional and geographic territory that Sartor has been depicting in photographs for almost two decades. Her photographs of her family have appeared in a number of photographic books, including In Their Mother’s Eyes by Martina Mettner, The Spirit of Family by Al and Tipper Gore; and A New Life: Stories and Photographs from the Suburban South, by Alex Harris and Alice George. Her work has been published in periodicals, including Aperture, DoubleTake, Esquire, Harpers, New Yorker, The Oxford American, and The Washington Post Sunday Magazine. Her prints are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Mead Art Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and the North Carolina Museum of Art, as well as several private collections.

As an editor, Sartor has published three books, including: Gertrude Blom: Bearing Witness, edited by Margaret Sartor and Alex Harris, and What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney, edited by Margaret Sartor with co-editor Geoff Dyer. What Was True was chosen as one of the "Top Ten Photography Books of 1999" by the Village Voice.

Sartor has been a guest curator for exhibitions at the International Center for Photography in New York, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She lives with her husband and two children in Durham, North Carolina.

Feel like a slacker yet? She'll do that to you, but the thing that I really love about her the best, is that will all of these accomplishments and with so very much she could and should be bragging about, she's easily the kindest, most humble and most authentic person you'd ever want to meet. And, If you've never heard her read, you, my friend, are missing out. So, let's chat her up a bit...

Guthieroo: Tell us what you write, what you have written and how you do it?

Sartor: My most recent book is Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s. The title pretty much says exactly what it is. It’s a memoir of growing up based on the actual diaries, letters and notebooks I kept as a girl. To read Miss American Pie is to enter my head, my very subjective view of the world (love, sex, God, family, friendship, etc.) as I grow from age twelve to eighteen. It’s the story of a self-conscious, lonely, pissed off, frank, confused, and curious girl as she bumps and sashays her way towards being a young woman. In truth, it’s a book I never deliberately set out to write, but once I started it, once I transcribed and began editing my adolescent diaries — and even though the process sometimes felt similar to bleeding through my fingertips — I was compelled to finish it. Because I knew that only by finishing it, could I figure out what the essential story of my growing up really was. Let me put it another way: at a particular moment in my life, a few years ago, right around the time I realized that, biologically speaking, I was “middle-aged,” something clicked, and I knew that in order for me to move forward, I first needed to look back, back at those outrageously prolonged years of what we call adolescence. (My father would have called this urge of mine a need for Proper Perspective.) And that was the moment I thought about the diaries.

Opening up and reading my adolescence diaries was like traveling through time, like finding an alternate self on the other side of the universe. It was, to say the least, unsettling. But short of hypnosis, I could never have found, in the recesses of my memory, my authentic voice as a teenager. The diaries allowed me to meet that girl I was face-to-face, so to speak. And as I began to edit the diaries, I began to uncover the events and experiences that shaped who I eventually became — which is say that I began to understand where I came from and why I am who I am.



The fact that my story seems to ring true for other people has amazed me and felt very gratifying, but I think the underlying truth of that is that adolescence, for any of us, is defined by certain essential struggles: the search for belonging, love, and identity. These struggles are, by turns, poignant, embarrassing, heartbreaking, and very often (at least from the perspective of adulthood) really hilarious. Growing up is difficult under the best of circumstances and it lasts a long time, but we’ve all been through it. We all went to high school. We all have family and friends and secrets. We all have wounds and I can only begin by describing my own.

Also, the 1970s were an interesting time to grow up: loud fashion, a burgeoning drug culture, the rise of feminism, the spread of evangelical Christianity, sexual revolution, the disillusionment of Watergate and the Vietnam War — all with a killer soundtrack.

I should add here that I am also a photographer and my pictures are all about the ties of family and impact of the past upon the present. These photographs have been widely published and exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the country. When I photograph or write, my interest is in real people and real events. I take infinite care to render life accurately, but in the end, it’s still only my version, my imperfect and partial view. This is something I learned from photography, that we can’t escape the partiality of our view. So, though I attempt to tell the truth, I am always aware that it is still only my story, my point-of-view, my truth.

LaGuth: What grand things are next for you? What would you, we're talking dream
gigs and adventures here, love to be next for you?

Sartor: I would like to write a second book, again based on my diaries. But, as with Miss American Pie, I don’t have a preconceived idea of what form that book will take and what it may finally say. I will sift through the diaries for the touchstones, the insights – and especially for the laughs (humor is a big part of how I survive life and that comes through in the diaries), but I know now, from the experience of writing Miss American Pie, that this process will be emotional. It will not be simple. Still, that’s the next step. It’s what I need to do.
And if it were my dream gig, then I would have to say that I would like to write my next book while living in Paris. I don’t think that’s going to happen — but I can dream about it.

Guthy: What Smiths or Morrissey song or lyric sums it up for you right now?

Sartor: Oh, I love Morrissey! (All hail Sartor) But lately I’ve been infatuated with Lucinda Williams’ new album “West” and also relentlessly playing “The Essential Leonard Cohen” — which completely knocks my socks off. When I think of Morrissey’s songs, what comes to mind is “Alma Matters.” It’s smart and wicked and I love the double entendre of the title. This song also speaks to a question I often get, and have trouble answering. The question is: “What the hell possessed you to publish your diaries?” So this song will do fine for me right now.

So the choice I have made
May seem strange to you
But who asked you, anyway?
It's my life to wreck
My own way

You see, to someone, somewhere, oh yeah ...
Alma matters
In mind, body and soul
In part, and in hole

So the life I have made
May seem wrong to you
But, I've never been surer
It's my life to ruin
My own way

You see, to someone, somewhere, oh yeah ...
Alma matters
In mind, body and soul
In part, and in hole

To someone, somewhere, oh yeah ...
Oh yeah ...
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Oh yeah ...

Guth again: Margaret, it was a pleasure beyond to have you stop by today! Thank you so very much and please stop by again anytime.

Now, dear readers, you know what to do! Run, do not walk, out into the world (actual or online) and get a copy of Miss American Pie. In fact, be menschy and get more than one because you're going to want to save one and give copies to people you'll think of as you read. Trust me. Then, head over to Good Reads, then to Shelfari and then over to LibraryThing and claim and rate Miss American Pie. Also, swing by Margaret Sartor's website, look at all of the wonderfulness over there, and check back often to see her latest. And, for crying out loud, if you hear that she is reading in a place near you, do whatever it takes to go show her some love and hear her read. You will be so very glad you did.

In the meantime, I'll be taping her words to my bathroom mirror or someplace, because I think they are words to live by: "I believe that compassion is a kind of power and kindness may be the one virtue that can save us all — if it’s not already too late."

Want to be a featured author/writer type for Guthmantics? Well, just send an email to me at amy@guthagogo.com and I'll tell you everything you need to know.

3 comments:

Rhet said...

Sartorial Matters

jewgirl said...

she is so inspired and inspiring. I just started reading miss american pie and I can't put it down.

beautiful interview. absolutely beautiful. she's full of quotes to live by. such an exquisite talent.

Bubs said...

Very cool.

A nice side effect to all this blogging is, at least until school starts in September, I've been reading more, and discovering new authors.

Thanks