What does it mean to tell a story?
This question isn’t one that has a straight answer, but it’s what author Marita Golden made all of us in the audience consider during her opening lecture for the 2018-2019 season of Lehigh’s Notation Series. On September 13th, Golden filled the Lower Gallery of Zoellner Arts Center as she delved into her experience as a writer and crafting her newest novel, The Wide Circumference of Love.
Golden introduced herself with a term I had never heard before: literary activist. Its definition is quite literal, being someone who advocates for the power of words, and Golden perfectly fits that description. She began the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation with Clyde McElvene in 1990, and she admitted she never thought it would grow to giving out the only national award for fiction to college writers of African descent.
The Search for Authenticity
Her activism doesn’t stop there, though. Golden spent four years researching Alzheimer’s to write her latest novel. Four years. She talked about the time she spent in memory care units, the families who were kind enough to share their lives, and the amount of tries it took to write and rewrite passages to ensure they were authentic. No one in the room could’ve missed the care in her voice as she spoke about everything she learned. She took it upon herself to make sure that these people’s stories weren’t forgotten, and the passages she read from did just that.
The Wide Circumference of Love centers around Diane Tate, a family court judge whose world is turned upside down when her husband gets diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Forced to place him in an assisted living home, both she and their children must face what this means for the bond of their family. Things grow complicated when her husband meets another woman in the care unit, and Diane is left with the question as to whether or not love can act as a guide into her uncertain future.
But, this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill book reading. Golden did something extremely special in the gallery that night; she reminded me of what made me want to be a writer in the first place. She reminded all of us that we can always be the authors of our own story.
More Than a Memoir
Her first book, Migrations of the Heart, was just that: her own story. It’s also her favorite book she’s written because of the great things that come with writing a memoir, one of which includes being given the opportunity to know who you are. Through this, you can discover your life and the significance of everything that’s happened to you. You learn to appreciate the person you’ve become.
And that’s beautiful.
Golden made sure each and every single one of us knew that we have the right to write. There’ll never be anyone who can stop us from taking a pen to paper or opening up an empty word document and putting ourselves on the page. It’s easy for us to forget that; I know I did. It can be difficult to want to share your story, especially if you still don’t fully understand it yourself or are angry and upset with the plot you’ve seemingly been given.
But Golden’s words assuage these fears. She wrote through some of the most painful times in her life, and she’s nothing but better for it. In fact, she’s thriving because of it.
We can all learn something from her. No matter how far out of control the world around us may seem, we’ll always have agency over our words. We’ll always be the authors of our own stories, and our words will allow us to overcome anything that’s ever thrown in our way.
*Feature image of Golden’s latest novel. Cover art credits: Erin Seaward-Hiatt.*