During our recent residency, alumna Mary Johnson, author of An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life,  joined faculty members Kenny Fries and Reiko Rizzuto at Goddard’s Plainfield, Vermont campus on 1/10/12 to discuss approaches and experiences to developing a memoir.

Transformation: From Personal Experience to Published Memoir from Goddard College on Vimeo.

On her blog, Reiko shared the conversation, more than an hour long, introducing it as “about the pitfalls and pleasures of crafting a resonant, universal story from our daily “here’s what happened next” life.””

My question (one of many!) to Mary:  “There are those things we are afraid of…that we don’t want to relive.  Could you talk about what you left out of your memoir, and why, and how you got what you did onto the page?”

Mary: “Fear was a big thing for me…putting it down on the page for anybody to see was really scary.  Kenny was my advisor for my first two semesters at Goddard.  I had written a few things…  During one particular packet, I started to write the sex stuff.  And it was really hard for me.  I wrote this piece and I sent it off, and when I came back from the post office, I wrote Kenny an email and said, ‘I just sent my packet to you, please don’t open it.  I will send you another one.’ And he wrote me back and said, ‘Oh! So at last you have finally written something worthwhile!’”

Kirkus Reviews named An Unquenchable Thirst to their list of Best Nonfiction of 2011:

“Readers…will find themselves transported into another world by this powerful, revealing memoir…. Johnson’s portrayal of her time as a nun is likely to be controversial; her memoir is exceptional.”

At age nineteen, Mary joined the Missionaries of Charity, also known as the Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. During her twenty years as a sister, she spent fifteen of those stationed in Rome, where she lived and worked with Mother Teresa. After leaving the sisters in 1997, she completed a BA in English at Lamar University and an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. Mary now considers herself a secular Humanist and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, O the Oprah Magazine, The Huffington Post, Bloomberg View, Religion News Services, The Humanist Magazine, Soujourners, and National Public Radio. Mary’s work has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, Salon.com, Poets & WritersThe Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, National Public Radio, and The Rosie Show, among others. Mary serves as Creative Director of Retreats for A Room of Her Own Foundation. Mary’s website is here.

Alum Mary Johnson talks memoir at Goddard
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