Rebecca McClanahan’s 10th book, “The Tribal Knot,” a multi-generational memoir, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press in 2013. She has also published five books of poetry, three books of writing instruction and a book of essays, “The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings,” winner of the Glasgow Prize in nonfiction. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best American Essays, Poetry, The Pushcart Prize series and many others. She serves on the master of fine arts faculties of Queens University of Charlotte and Rainier Writing Workshop. For 15 years she was Poet-in-Residence for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where she received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education.
Q. You’ve said memoir requires deconstruction, what do you mean? Memoir is not simply a chronology of events in one’s life. It requires the writer to look for patterns and meaning in a series of events. Deconstruction is breaking apart events and searching for deeper meaning in order to create a shaped text exposing universal themes.
Q. What are those themes in “The Tribal Knot”? As the title suggests the book looks at bands of people, my ancestors, for more than a century. I reviewed hundreds of ancestral documents and explore the theme of “where do I leave off and others begin?” Put another way, “to what extent are we responsible to forces that formed us?” Community and family are great influencers; they are ties that both bond us together and break us apart.
Q. What sense of obligation do you feel for those you write about? Any writer that draws upon life experiences requires full measure of head, heart and respect.
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Q. You write in multiple genres. Are you drawn to one in particular? I write to what calls to me at the time. With that said, literary nonfiction allows for other impulses such as poetry and fiction. It is an elastic genre in that regard.
Q. Essays are often defined in different terms. How do you define them? Essays grow out of personal quests to understand a person, event or idea. I read essays to see the movement of a lively mind at work. They don’t begin with what we already know; rather they ask questions, speculate and move perhaps to additional or deeper questions.