pat walters

freelance journalist in memphis

little tree

with one comment

Have you ever come across a book you haven’t seen in years? I did, about an hour ago. On the bookshelf outside my bedroom door (a structure that stands in the library of the hostel I live in), I found “The Education of Little Tree,” a memoir by Forrest Carter.

I can’t recall the time I first read this story, but I know I was a child. In my mind, I can see it sitting on a shelf in the hallway of the house I grew up in. It was a hardcover copy, signed by someone, a relative, I think. Surely the book was a gift. I remember my mother reading it to me. And I remember disliking it.

I’ve read the first three chapters, and they’re wonderful. Considering the blurbs on the back cover, I shouldn’t be surprised. Here’s a bit:

When Granma read about MacBeth, I could see the castle and the witches taking shape in the shadows, alive on the cabin walls, and I’d edge closer to Granpa’s rocker. He’d stop rocking when Granma got to the stabbings and the blood and all. Granpa said none of it would come about if Lady MacBeth had minded doing what a woman was supposed to do and kept her nose out of the business that rightly ought to have been done by Mr. MacBeth, and besides, she wasn’t much of a lady, and he couldn’t figure out why she was called such, anyhow. Granpa said all of this in the heat of the first reading.

I cannot accept that the coincidence of my discovering this book and the craft of oral history is meaningless. This is, in its own way, an oral history. It’s a book, of course, but one built by a single mind, and brimming with stories, insights and wisdom.

No one would call this news. Only those who ascribe to a rather inclusive definition of journalism would call it that. Nonetheless, it feel true.

And it is teaching me things. This is what good writing should do. (Stashed in my wallet is a small note recording that very idea. I wrote it today.) This is what I want to do.

Journalists do this every day. The very best of them do it especially well. But so do writers of memoirs, novels and poems.

I’m going to stop writing now. In part, because this is, by far, my longest post ever. And furthermore, there’s this great book staring at me (literally, as the cover is a portrait), demanding that I stop ignoring it.

(I meet with Kristen Iversen and class tomorrow for a workshop in creative nonfiction. Meaningless coincidence? Impossible.)


Written by patwalters

August 29, 2007 at 12:12 am

One Response

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  1. I didn’t know you had a blog….

    amazing how much time I can waste while working for the government….

    I can picture it on the shelf too. I’ll have to steal it when I’m home this weekend and read it 🙂 I needed a new book to read anyways, I’ll probably finish McKay’s tonight.


    August 29, 2007 at 3:05 pm

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