BY ALICE GORMAN - On Thursday, Feb. 9, at 4 p.m., the Johann Fust Community Library is honored to welcome the author, Maisie Houghton, at a presentation of her memoir Pitch Uncertain: A Mid-Century Middle Daughter Finds Her Voice published in 2011 by Tide Pool Press.
It is interesting to note that Kaiser refers to Pitch Uncertain as an autobiography. The charming and insightful book has more often been categorized as a memoir. Many readers might ask: what is the difference? Although both genres are essentially written from a writer’s memory, an autobiography is generally a linear account of an entire lifetime.
A memoir, on the other hand, is, in Gore Vidal’s words: "… how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked."
In Pitch Uncertain, Maisie Hougton follows a linear path through the her childhood and education, but the book’s most memorable moments come from her touching personal observations about her often difficult family life. In the end, whether it is considered an autobiography or a memoir, Pitch Uncertain is a compelling story that draws the reader gracefully into the inner life and the overarching societal boundaries of the writer.
In preparation for Maisie Houghton’s visit to Boca Grande, I asked her about the background of “finding her voice” and the personal experiences that led her to write her story. Her response was as open and as honest as the pages in her book.
“It came about as a kind of’ throat clearing’,” she said. It was something I had toyed with over past decades, some elemental desire to make order out of my growing-up years, un-sensational that they were. I was a student getting my MS in Education at Bank St. School in NYC in the 1980's, and we were asked to write a description of our family for some class and some of my thoughts for that little piece came into the story as it is told in Pitch. As soon as I wrote about my parents etc. they became distant figures in an evolving tale and they somehow lost their old mystique—they were now just part of a story.
“I always liked to write at school but at college I was too lazy to pursue any creative writing courses; it seemed easier to stick to the academic side of the curriculum. In the 1990’s, after Jamie's accident (reference to her husband Jamie Houghton), I took a class in memoir writing and the teacher was so reassuring and non-threatening, I began to get into the whole process of sketching out my childhood. But the book wasn't published for a long while after that first attempt. I also wrote a biography of Ruth Draper, the monologist whom i knew as a girl in Dark Harbor. That book was never published but an editor suggested I develop the stories of the little girls (my sisters and me) who knew her. She said, ‘you probably don't want to do that but’ ...and of course it was kind of a dare so I did do it!”
Another question I asked Maisie referred to an issue that all memoirists must face: How did this book affect other members of your family?
“My parents and one of my sisters had already died by the time the book came out but Sybil my older sister has been enormously helpful and supportive throughout,” she said.
My last question addressed her thoughts about writing and what she might have learned as a result of writing a memoir.
She responded: “I’ve learned that writing is hard, lonely work but that there is no greater satisfaction once you are launched with the thread of an idea.”
Please come and bring friends to the Johann Fust Community Library on Thursday, Feb. 9, for Maisie Houghton’s presentation. Afterwards there will be a book signing and a wine reception. It is free for members of the library and $10 for non-members. The $10 fee may be applied towards membership. In the unlikely case of exceptional cold or stormy weather, the presentation will be held at the Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium.
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