Rebecca Carroll on the Joy and Relief of Finding Catharsis Through Crafting Memoir
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds Podcast
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan chats with writer and critic Rebecca Carroll, author of Surviving the White Gaze, about the tricky nature of writing memoir, being the mother of a Black son, and the power of being the one to tell the story.
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From the episode:
Jordan Kisner: How did you take care of yourself during the writing process? Other people I’ve talked to who have written extensively about relationships that were tough found revisiting those relationships on the page to be tough. I’m curious if that was the case for you, and if so, how you dealt with that.
Rebecca Carroll: I think the first draft, as in most situations, was a struggle. I kind of dipped my toe in the water and thought, okay, I know what temperature it is, let’s swim for a little bit. And then maybe not. I wasn’t like, “Is that really the temperature of the pool? Let me stick my toe in a little deeper.” I was reluctant to really go as deep as I needed to go. It wasn’t that I wasn’t prepared for it to require an entirely new skill set. Writing a memoir is not like stitching together journal entries, which is something I had to figure out and learn. But then when it started to come, when it started to flow—this is so cliché, I know—but it really was such a joy, it was such a relief. The whole idea of catharsis was like, this is dope. This is amazing. To feel like I was actually using a craft, my craft as a writer, to tell the story of my life was deeply thrilling to me.
I would say in terms of the tough relationships, that was also really like, okay, I am excavating this because it doesn’t need to live in my body anymore. In fact, it’s doing more harm in my body and in my brain. And I would very much say that about my relationship with Tess. I don’t think about that relationship anymore. It lives there. That’s where it lives, in the memoir. I think I captured it as well as I could, and I’m glad for it to be out of my out of my body and out of my mind.
This episode is brought to you by the House of CHANEL, creator of the iconic J12 sports watch. Always in motion, the J12 travels through time without ever losing its identity.
Rebecca Carroll is a writer, creative consultant, editor-at-large, and host of the podcast Come Through with Rebecca Carroll: 15 Essential Conversations about Race in a Pivotal Year for America (WNYC Studios). Most recently, she was a cultural critic at WNYC, and a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. Her writing has been published widely, and she’s the author of several books about race in America, including the award-winning Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. Her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze (Simon & Schuster, Feb 2021), has been optioned by MGM Studios and Killer Films with Rebecca attached to adapt for TV.