Nonfiction MFA alum Alysia Abbott was recently interviewed by Riggio alum Ted Kerr for the Lambda Literary organization about her memoir, Fairlyand: A Memoir of My Father. The interview covers Abbott's feelings regarding "weirdness" or otherness and the responsibilities of parenthood, the impact of letter writing on her life, and how she approached writing a memoir about her father.
Here are some excerpts:
How did letter writing impact you as a writer and a daughter?
I can’t say I was writing beautiful letters as a child. They were dashed off, they were playful. There was one that says, “I love you more than Reagan loves to lie.” Silly little things that were between us. I am not sure it influenced me as a writer; I think it influenced my relationship with him. It was intimate. He was my friend. It was always something great that happened to me and I want to share it with him, or I am really anguished about this relationship and maybe he can give me advice.
Was it these letters from your father that inspired you to write the book?
He died 20 years ago last December. Almost immediately after he died I took the letters and I put them in chronological order. Reading them with my friends made me feel that I was with him. His letters are filled so much with his voice. There were so many great stories and scenes I was overwhelmed, and then I discovered his journal. It was almost too much for me to process. Eventually I tried to write about him. I published two essays in anthologies around 2000, and then I pursued an MFA and used the material, quoting them, never knowing how it was all going to fit together. The feedback I was getting was people could not see the arc of the story. I needed some distance. I had a hard time seeing myself as a character, which was a problem because the best stories are those in which characters go through some change. I had no distance on myself so I could not see how I changed through the course of my life with my dad. I was just the girl who this all happened to.
How did you change?
A lot of the book is about me feeling closeted about my father’s sexuality. In the straight community I did not have the bravery to come out about him because I didn’t know how they would react to me. Now I am very much out. Growing up I wanted to have a life separate from my father but I also recognized how much he defined me and how living with him, and the culture I lived in, was a gift. I had to come to terms with my past to share his story, and not just paint a smiley face on it and say he was a perfect gay dad like all the straight dads except that he was gay. The book ends when my father dies so that change only manifests itself in how I write it, meaning, I could comment on myself in the book, I could be aware that I was a difficult teenager to live with, or when my father was sick I had a hard time tuning into his needs. I did not have the maturity to stop and ask; Okay what is happening to him? I could only see from a distance of 15, 20 years that I was struggling to be my better self. So it wasn’t just that I changed during the course of my life with my father. I feel like I changed from the person that held my father’s hand when he took his last breath.
For more of the interview visit Lambda Literary's website.
Alysia Abbott's memoir, Fairyland, is currently available to order online or at your favorite bookstore.
Alysia Abbott grew up in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the only child of gay poet and writer, Steve Abbott. After graduating from New York University, she worked at the New York Public Library before receiving her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from New School University. For the last ten years she’s worked as a producer at WNYC and written articles and essays for Real Simple, Salon, TheAtlantic.com, Time Out NY, andBabble, among other publications. In 2009 she attended Harvard University as a Nieman Affiliate. While there, Alysia began work on Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father. Her first full-length book, Fairyland was completed with the help of a Ragdale Fellowship and the wonderful staff at W.W. Norton. You can follow her on Twitter @AlysiaAbbott.
Ted Kerr is a Brooklyn based writer and visual artist. In 2013 he graduated from The New School's Riggio Honors Program. Kerr was an artist in residence at Union Theological Seminary's Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice where AA Bronson is the Artistic Director. He has written for XTRA.ca, and Prairieartsters