Tag Archives: memoir

A Look at “Almost Her”

What’s it like to be the identical twin of a celebrity? Here’s an excerpt from Caroline Paul’s Almost Her. Buy it here.

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January 1966 – first look at their baby brother Jonathan.

Initially, Alexandra and I exhibited all the signs of being identical. We had our own language, arunic babbling that our parents heard from the next room and which stopped when they entered. We called each other by my name, Caroline, supposedly because I could not pronounce Alexandra. We looked very much alike. But we also fought (Alexandra could not be seated behind me in the stroller because she pulled my hair, and in the crib she took to sitting on me when she felt like it.) Early on, Alexandra was the more precocious one, I more shy. Baby photos are easily deciphered because her mouth was always open, mid-babble or laugh, while I stared at her or at the camera like a marmot caught in the beam of a flashlight, baffled and resigned. And so it was pre-ordained: Alexandra had the makings of an actress, and I was already comfortable with the fleeting attention due a fake celebrity.

 

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June 1999- at a gay rights parade.

Here are the questions I am most often asked:
Are you and your twin close? Yes.
Do you look alike? Sort of.
Do you have ESP powers? Not sure.
Are there any strange coincidences? I rescue people in real life while Alexandra rescues people
on television. That’s pretty strange.
Have you ever fallen in love with the same person? I’m gay, she’s straight, so no.

 

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1992- Caroline and Alexandra in their work clothes, LA beach.

But there was always a moment, in the time between the initial recognition and my demurral,
that I felt famous. I heard the wonder in the voice of the person before me, saw the awe in their eyes, was awash with their adulation and hope. Did I like it? Of course! I was living, if only
momentarily, the stuff of the American Dream. I was given free drinks at bars (again, no one inquired), better service at restaurants, solicitous attention in stores. This continued to amaze me – celebrities are the last to need anything extra. And yet I accepted it all. It was so damn fun (meanwhile, I wait for the day when I hear a waiter say to someone at the back table, “You’re a regular joe? A person of no repute? By golly, you deserve a comped lemon meringue pie.”) I was hugged by Dan Akroyd. I was kissed by Ray Liotta (when he realized I was not Alexandra, he stammered, stuttered, apologized, and fled.) After a trip to New York City I returned home to find photos of me posted on a celebrity site. I had had no idea that I was being followed by a paparazzi. There I was reading on a bench. There I was walking along the sidewalk. There I was making a funny face. These mundane movements, suddenly endowed with sparkling import!
It was amusing.
It was creepy.

 

Snapshots from a Tangier Love Story

Images from Author Carol Ardman and excerpts from her book Tangier Love Story.

New York 1972 Carol

Carol in New York, 1972

An unexpected meeting. . .

Sitting across from me, in the quiet shade of a leafy café on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Paul Bowles ordered two mint teas. He asked me how I liked Tangier. Honeybees hummed around the rims of our glasses and I felt shy as I told him how I wandered for hours, enjoyed getting lost, how much I liked the street life here, the architecture, the food and the music. This obviously pleased him. He seemed to want to know all about me, and he was so easy to talk to, so receptive, so casual and sympathetic I found myself telling him. I had been married and divorced, I said, trying not to let on how depressed I still felt, though the relationship had ended the winter before. Incredibly, he had heard of my ex-husband, the composer Steve Reich, though he had only recently become well known. “A CW—composer’s wife; that’s what Janie has always called herself,” Paul said, making the designation sound oppressed, ironic, and comic all at once. Then he explained he wrote music as well as words.

Traveling like a native. . .

Carol on Camel

Carol on a camel holding Jane Bowles’ typewriter

We drove south, staying a couple of days in the intense, medieval city of Fez, on to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, Casablanca with its wide tree-lined boulevards, staying in nice hotels for a song. We drove to Marrakech, where we saw scribes, note-carrying doves, and a cigarette- smoking donkey in the Jemaa el Fnaa, and down, across moon mountains, where for a whole day we saw no animal or human, except for a man on a camel far away on the top of a cliff. When we had a flat tire we knew Abdulouhaid had to fix it quickly, because we had no food or water and could die before help came.

The writer’s muse. . . 

Carol and Paul in Atlanta, 1994

Carol and Paul in Atlanta, 1994

Paul set up his typewriter and wrote in the morning on the patio of a little hotel near the desert village of Taroudant. I remember being elated by the sights of the Sahara and the mere thought of Paul there tapping out words. Feeling I was taking Jane’s spirit with me, I strolled down the hill to the country market, noisy with camels and people selling silver jewelry and cloth. A few days later in an oasis out of the Arabian Nights, white-robed men reputed to be Sharifs—descendants of Mohammed —welcomed us to their village, its green fields bordered by babbling brooks and shaded by date palms.

Paul was changing my life, but I could trust him to carefully see to my well-being. I felt so undeserving of attention and praise, it was a long time before I considered the possibility that I made Paul as happy as he made me.

Tangier Love Story is available for download at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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On women writing well

Suzanne Paola, writing guru, offers some thoughts on how male vs. female writing, and offers some tips for warming up.

Suzanne Antonetta Paola

I conceived of Stolen Moments after several things happened: one, I read several interviews with V.S. Naipaul, who dismissed all of women’s writing—including Jane Austen’s—as “sentimental” and nowhere equal to his own books, and those of other men. Two, I did in fact buy a pocketbook at a consignment store, as does my character, that still had two lipsticks in a zippered compartment that resembled mine so much that I used them. It was, at first, a challenge to myself: could I create a world out of two accidentally found lipsticks? What if even such a subtle change to one’s outward self could change how we fundamentally think of ourselves and therefore, act?

I just returned home from Hong Kong, where I heard several writers—male—argue that fiction should be political to matter, by which they meant, should include as a major plot point the actions of governments or those who act on behalf of governments. This approach of course can result in terrific fiction. But I think women may be more instinctively aware that life is a series of small moments, every one of which burns outward, into the world: whether I hug my child tonight, and help create a child who is secure, or not; whether I take time to be with a distraught student, or not.  Those who repeat small tasks every day, perhaps, learn to look for the soul in them.

The word sentiment in its Latin root simply means to hold feeling. Human feelings underlie everything in this world, including wars.

One thing I love about the women in my world is that, unlike someone like Naipaul, who dismisses women utterly but pursues numerous and noisy feuds with the occasional male writer as well, the women writers I know are remarkably generous people. This is true of Laura Fraser, editorial director and cofounder of Shebooks.  In the spirit of Shebooks and its generosity, I offer a few writing prompts for you out there. Feel free to contact me at susantonetta@gmail.com to continue the dialogue.

Prompt one: Think about a very small change that made an enormous difference in the way you felt about yourself. Imagine a character who makes a similarly small change, and imagine, in the end, the circumstances of her life change drastically as a result.

Prompt two: Actually make a large change in yourself—clothing, appearance—for one day. Take notes on how you behave differently. Think about how much of self is defined through these sorts of daily decisions on how we present ourselves, and write about it.

 

Michele Weldon on privacy, memoir, and finding time to write

 

 

Michele Weldon on privacy, memoir, and finding time to write

Michele Weldon

 

Memoir is such a crowded genre these days. What makes your book stand out?

MW: In order for a solid piece of nonfiction to resonate it has to move far beyond the self-indulgent navel-gazing of some memoirs that capitalize on celebrity or calamity. That is why I am so proud to be included in the stable of great writers I respect at SheBooks. The goal is to have masterful writing that bears broader meaning for the writer as well as for readers—moving beyond a simple regurgitation of events into territory that is universal and compelling.

How do your sons react to you writing about them in such a public way?

The quick answer is they are used to it. I have been a newspaper and magazine columnist since before they were born. So for all of their lives—and they are 25,23 and 20– I have been writing about my life and theirs as well. But I have some deliberate rules and boundaries. I write about my reactions, not theirs and I do not assign them any emotions or feelings. I am not a mind reader. I will ask them what they think about something and write that. I do not write anything that will embarrass or hurt them or that they want to keep private. I do feel that this piece of their lives is a tender minefield—the abandonment of their father. I asked each his permission, and each one of them has read this ebook, as well as the larger work. I write about my family, my emotions and what I know. They each have different reactions to what I write and how transparent I am. Still, there are things I will never write about that are to kept private forever. It is my story, not theirs.

Why is this book relevant to the conversation about parenting today?

I am weary of the narrative of mother as a crazy, harried buffoon. Work-life is presented as this perilous trap where you risk falling off the edge at every moment. Yes, it is hard, but so is putting blacktop on the driveway. I feel that an honest, uplifting approach to the precarious nature of raising good humans is edifying. I also feel that presenting a type of woman who can handle what is thrown in her path with humility and a call for help, is encouraging to those who handle much deeper crises. It is possible to do what you dream and also successfully parent, laughing and crying when the need presents itself.

When do you find the time to write?

I do a lot of different things professionally. I work full time, travel to lead seminars and deliver keynotes, but writing is always at the core. If I don’t write for a day or two—whether that is an essay or for a larger work like a book–I honestly don’t feel well. It feels as if my head is too big for my body, or that I am out of register. Writing is my cure. Because I have so many demands and responsibilities, I block out chunks of time—at least 3-4 hours—to write. It could be early morning, it could be late at night, or even midday. And I look forward to that like a dip in a pool on a hot day or a glass of pinot grigio with ice with a marvelous friend. It is my reward as well as my sustenance and a way to pay the mortgage.

Do you have a community of support for your writing?

I have been in a writing group of amazing authors for 13 years. Last count, between the six of us we had published or written in that time more than 28 books. Never mind that one of my writing group friends herself has published 19. We meet every week, Thursdays, from 6:30-9 at the local library. We each aim to bring 10 pages of double spaced writing with copies for everyone. We draw numbers, then each writer reads her work aloud, then we discuss it, line by line if we need to. We are never mean. We applaud, encourage and suggest. It is many times the absolute best part of my week. I love these women and how talented and creative they are. For about 8 years we met at each other’s houses, but then it got to be about the wine and the food and we would go long into the night, wrapping up after 10 or near 11. We get thrown out of the library at 9, so we have to set a timer for each person. We are starting to meet before group for dinner now. So I guess we are back to our old ways.

If you could make a bumper sticker about this book, what would it say?

Do your best. You will be OK.

 

 

Sarah Einstein: “Be as naked on the page as possible.” | Q&A

Sarah Einstein is a Pushcart award-winning writer known for her smart, revealing personal essays and creative nonfiction. A provocative collection of Einstein’s essays, Remnants of Passion, gives us a perfect excuse to pick the author’s brain about memoir and the rest.

 

How do you define “truth” in memoir?

I work very hard to be faithful to my own memory of events and, when I’m including historical information, to documented accounts. But when my memory conflicts with another person’s, and neither of us has anything but memory to suggest that we have the truer version of events, then I rarely change what I’ve written. Memory works that way, and memoir—as opposed to autobiography—reflects memory. It’s a writing down of the stories I tell myself to make sense of my life, not an accounting of that life as it might have appeared to another.

Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about? How do you find that edge?

There is nothing that is too personal to me, but I keep other people’s confidences and don’t write stories that aren’t mine to share. I also try not to ever write anything that might make another person feel ashamed or get into hot water. (For instance, the only time I change names or key facts is when what I’m writing could cause another person personal or legal trouble.) I believe that in memoir, it’s important to be as naked on the page as possible … but not to strip others of their dignity.

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?

I love my iPad, in part because it’s like having a bookstore in my own home. Does it sound like I’m being insincere if I say that right now, I mostly have Shebooks on my Kindle app? I just finished (and loved) Anna Marian’s Love Junkie and plan to start Barbara Graham’s Camp Paradox tonight. I’m sure I’ll love it, too.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I am in love with the works of Abigail Thomas, whose books Safekeeping and Three Dog Life taught me to think of form as my plaything, rather than as a set of rigid rules. I love brave women writers who write about experiences that go against the grain of what women are told we should think, feel, and do, so I’m particularly fond of the works of Lidia Yuknavitch, Laura Bogart, and Rebecca Solnit. Each of them writes against expectation in a very different way, but each one challenges the expected narratives for the lives women lead. I also have a few touchstone books that I return to again and again to remind me of how beautiful language can be: Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Kevin Oderman’s How Things Fit Together, and Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book. But really, I love reading. I could answer this question for a week and only start to get it right. I believe other people’s work is the food writers need to fuel their own.

Is there such a thing as “women’s writing”? Do you hate the term “chick lit” or think we should embrace it, like the term “gay”?

It’s funny, because I actually think we should fight against the term “chick lit” for all the same reasons I think we should fight against the term “gay” and, instead, embrace the terms “women’s writing” and “queer.” I like names that include everyone who might want to be included, and “women’s writing” can do that. “Women’s writing” tells me that the author of the work identifies as female; “chick lit,” on the other hand, tells me that the work is written for an audience of women. And I think everyone should read—and review!—women’s writing. That women’s writing matters as much and means as much as men’s writing to all readers.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Make a deal with your mother that she will only read your work when you tell her that she should, and then don’t share anything with her that will make her genuinely unhappy. It may sound like I’m kidding, but I’m not. Many, many writers I know have a hard time getting past the self-censorship that comes from worrying about what their mothers will think. My own mother is wonderful. I tell her which works are Mom-friendly, and which aren’t, and she genuinely stays away from the ones I ask her not to read. (Remnants of Passion is most definitely on the list of works that aren’t Mom-friendly, of course!)

What is your favorite word right now?

Blunderbuss. I’m working on a series of essays about my recent trip to visit my husband’s family in Austria, and his mother took us to all of these wonderful Christmas festivals in and around Salzburg. At many of them, men in lederhosen fired blunderbusses into the air to ward off winter. And, now that I think about it, I like the word lederhosen very much!

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on my book-length memoir about a fascinated friendship I had with an older homeless man. We were fabulous friends, and I spent some time “houseguesting” with him in his homelessness in the American West. It’s not a book about life lessons. It’s really more of a road-trip story in the classic sense. Two buddies, out for an adventure. I hope to finish it this summer.

 

Remnants of Passion

Looking for stories that will spice up your afternoon? Read Remnants of Passion by Sarah Einstein only from Shebooks.

 

Alone in the Woods: Beautifully Hypnotic Trailer

Micah Perks is the head of the creative writing program at UCSC and has written extensively about her childhood growing up on a commune in the Adirondacks. Her Shebook Alone in the Woods is a meditation on wilderness, the wildness she sees in her adolescent daughter and memories of her own wild girlhood. Here is the beautifully hypnotic trailer for Alone in the Woods.

 

 

Check out Alone in the Woods, only at Shebooks.

Alone in the Woods

Mona Gable: “Did we want to know we were going to die a slow horrible death? Would you?”

A guest post from Mona Gable, author of the Shebook Blood Brother: The gene that rocked my family, about her brother’s battle with Huntington’s Disease.

In the fall of 2010, as my brother was dying of colon cancer, I learned a terrifying secret. He also had Huntington’s disease, a horrific brain disorder that is passed down in families.

Suddenly, even as I was losing my cherished sibling, my childhood soulmate, I was also grappling with my own possible death. Because Huntington’s is purely genetic, I had a 50 percent chance of having the incurable disease. And if I carried the lethal gene, that meant my children could have it too.

There are no drugs that slow the progression of the disease. Eventually, if I did have HD, I’d lose control of my muscles, stumble like a drunk, be unable to speak or feed myself, and possibly suffer dementia.

I was terrified.

Before he got sick, my brother had been a fearless athlete, a tall, good-looking guy who barreled down the steepest ski slopes. When our kids were small, we often went skiing together, and I would stand at the bottom of the mountain watching him fly, snow spraying out behind him in a beautiful white arc.

By the time he died, he couldn’t walk. He was so thin his bones were visible. He could still communicate though. He could still understand me. I was able to tell him I loved him. He knew. He was so sweet. He adored his kids.

He died at home on Christmas Eve.

In January, I began researching genetic counseling centers, created a Google alert for “Huntington’s disease,” spoke with journalists I knew who covered science and medicine. Did they know any experts in Huntington’s they could refer me to? Most had never heard of it.

Even as I was grieving, waiting to hear news of my brother’s memorial service, I needed to make a decision. I was living in fear, anxiety. My siblings and I were emailing each other, sharing information, trying to decide whether to get tested. Did we want to know we were going to die a slow horrible death?

Would you?

Although I had no symptoms, I was conflicted. As I agonized, I thought of Nancy Wexler, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University. After discovering her own risk for Huntington’s, Wexler led the famous search that identified the HD gene, in 1993. She was the disease’s strongest advocate. Yet the scientist had never revealed her own status, or if she’d been tested. “I know that with me,” she told NBC Nightly News in 2009, “if I were to go to bed every night thinking I’m going to die of Huntington’s, you know, why should I bother to get up?”

The difference was I had children to consider. I could spare them the worry I now constantly felt if I got the test. That is, if I didn’t have the gene.

One day, I came across an article in the Guardian by Charles Sabine, a former British war correspondent for NBC. I recognized the name immediately. He had covered the war in Kosovo. I had been in Albania in May of 1999, doing a story on refugees spilling over the border. I was stunned when I read that he had Huntington’s. I read on.

“I now speak publicly on behalf of Huntington’s families around the world,” he wrote. “I chose to come out of the Huntington’s closet, so to speak, in 2007 because I wanted to make a difference. Huntington’s patients suffer in silence. There is a lot of shame surrounding the disease because patients appear to be out of control. Thousands of people in Britain are hidden away as a result. This disease has wiped out my family. There has to be something positive that can come out of this.”

I couldn’t go on being as depressed as I was. I couldn’t even think about my brother’s memorial service two weeks before, at New Life Church. My cousins from Oklahoma had come, Dick and Maggie, Dinah and Sudi and Ann, their husbands and sons and girlfriends. But the service was awful, cold and impersonal.

I made my decision. I was going to get tested. It was better to know, be 100 percent sure. I called the Huntington’s Disease Center for Excellence at UCLA. “May I speak to Michelle Fox?” I said.

This article was originally published at: http://www.blogher.com/blood-brother-gene-rocked-my-family

BloodBrother

Looking for a great memoir? Read Mona Gable’s Blood Brother: The gene that rocked my family, only at Shebooks.net

Q+A With Carol Merchasin

Carol Merchasin, author of the Shebook, How It Goes in Mexico, explains how she swapped out her life as a lawyer for her new post as an expat essayist.

What prompted you to write How It Goes in Mexico?

After I moved to San Miguel de Allende, I was stunned by my own ignorance about Mexico – history, culture, honestly everything except maybe tacos and tequila (actually, including tacos and tequila).  I began to write these essays to try to help my family and friends understand the magic of living here. I wanted Americans to glimpse the Mexico I experience every day – a place so rich, so different and so misunderstood.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

I heard Anne Lamott on the radio doing an interview for Bird by Bird in 1995.  I was driving and I had to pull over into a parking lot to make sure I could hear every word.  I was not a writer then, I was a lawyer, but I took an index card and wrote “index cards” on it. Ten years later, I read Hiruki Murikami’s story about how he decided to become a writer in What I talk about when I talk about running and I took out the carefully preserved index card and decided to become a writer.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I occasionally consult with companies on harassment and discrimination training.

I was a waitress when I was a teenager and that was probably my most interesting job.  As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the people you’ll meet…..”

What is your favorite word right now?

“Village.“ I love the word “village” and its denotation of a small place, a cluster of houses and shops, as well as the connotation of a less frenzied, more human scale, unfiltered life.  I am living in a Mexican village now and it fascinates me!

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now?

Yes. I read on my iPad, which is an extension of my right arm. I usually like to have a lot of books going at once so I can chose according to how I feel.  Right now I am reading The Life and Times of Mexico by Earl Shorris, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

What’s next?

I am finishing up the remaining essays for How It Goes in Mexico to be published in early 2015.

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Sonya Huber: “I don’t actually know what you should do. I just know what I did wrong.” | Q&A

Sonya Huber, author of the Shebook Two Eyes Are Never Enough, shares her thoughts about memoir, the Common Core, and her past life as a trash collector.

Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about? How do you find that edge?

I generally try to avoid writing about my son’s life in any great detail, although I’ll mention anecdotes that include him as a way to get into a topic about myself that I’m investigating. I avoid writing about my relationship with my husband because it’s not troubling, and I generally write about trouble.

Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?

I had someone close to me get upset because I didn’t put her in a memoir—when I thought people hated to be written about. I thought I was doing her a favor, but it turns out there’s no “perfect” in memoir. I shy away from a few (OK, maybe hundreds of) topics that I know would hurt people, but I’ve still hurt people I loved by writing about them, even if I hid their identity and agonized and did it with the utmost of care. It’s just weird to be written about, and it’s great for a memoir writer to have someone else write about them. I’ve had that opportunity, and it’s instructive. I only write about something that might be hard for someone else if I can’t not write about it. And then I worry about it for three to five years first.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Apply for writers’ residencies before you have kids. Shoot big with your applications and your submissions. Study the places that you’d die of joy to be published in, and then hound them with your submissions, and don’t give up. (Those are a list of my mistakes flipped around into advice, so I don’t actually know much of what you should do. I just know what I did wrong. I didn’t think of myself as having the potential to be a “real” literary writer until I was 30, so I missed some time rubbing elbows with people, getting my work out there, and going to writerly places.)

And here are a few things I did right: develop a second skill related to writing, like copyediting, proofreading, digital design, Web stuff, reporting, and so on. You can get paying work that way, and you never know when it will come in handy for creative projects.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I’m an associate professor at Fairfield University, but I was once a trash collector, a failed environmental canvasser, and a nude model for an art class.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I make a mean stuffed cabbage, but most cooking stresses me out.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two books simultaneously, which is how I like to do things. One is an essayistic memoir about what it means to be a witness to substance abuse, and the other is a book for teachers about how the literary essay might find a home in the Common Core (the revised national curriculum adopted by most states).

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Read about Sonya Huber’s experience working in Direct Care in Two Eyes Are Never Enough.

Teresa Wiltz: “I was in elementary school and my playmates kept asking, ‘What’s are you?’” | Q&A

Journalist Teresa Wiltz, author of The Real America, chats with Shebooks about the challenges she’s faced as a woman of color in the newsroom and beyond.

What prompted you to write The Real America?

I’ve been obsessed with the topic ever since I was in elementary school and my playmates kept asking me, “What’s your nationality?”

How do you think your gender/racial/ethnic/religious identity has influenced your writing?

They’re inseparable. How I’m perceived in the world as a woman of color impacts the way I am treated and, as a result, the experiences that I’ve had.

Have you ever experienced sexism as a woman writer? How so?

Certainly in the newsroom. There seems to be this unconscious thinking that men are there to think (and write about) deep thoughts, while women are there to do the lighter stuff. It’s not everyone, and it’s often unconscious, but it’s there.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

When I was in the sixth grade and we had to write weekly compositions for English class. My baby sister was a toddler then and she was quite the handful. So I started writing fiction about her—short stories where I would send her to the moon for NASA. I got A+++s.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?

Writing about myself, rather than reporting about the lives of other people. That’s terrifying.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Read everything. Write all the time. (Old school newspaper training is invaluable for that.) Learn the rules of grammar and style. Know them cold before you start getting all experimental with the written word.

Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?

Yes. But I’m working on that.

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Want to get real about race? Read Teresa Wiltz’s journalistic memoir, The Real America, only at Shebooks!