Today at the Cottage I am pleased to present you with an interview with Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back To Kansas, as well as my thoughts on this wonderfully written memoir about home and space.
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Bison Books (March 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0803230109
- ISBN-13: 978-0803230101
Product Description: (from the Publisher)
Sure, there’s no place like home—but what if you can’t really pinpoint where home is? By the time she was nine, Tracy Seeley had lived in seven towns and thirteen different houses. Her father’s dreams of movie stardom, stoked by a series of affairs, kept the family on edge, and on the move, until he up and left. Thirty years later, settled in what seems like a charmed life in San Francisco, a diagnosis of cancer and the betrayal of a lover shake Seeley to her roots—roots she is suddenly determined to search out. My Ruby Slippers tells the story of that search, the tale of a woman with an impassioned if vague sense of mission: to find the meaning of home.
Seeley finds herself in a Kansas that defies memory, a place far more complex and elusive than the sum of its cultural myths. On back roads and in her many back years, Seeley also finds unexpected forgiveness for her errant father, and, in the face of mortality, a sense of what it means to be rooted in place, to dwell deeply in the only life we have.
1 As you reflect on your journey and the writing of My Ruby Slippers, is there anything in particular, perhaps a memory or an event that surprised you in any way? And if so, how?
What completely surprised me was that I fell in love with Kansas. When I left at 17 to go to college, I never thought I’d even want to go back. My family hadn’t really felt at home there, and I was happy to leave it behind. But going back decades later, I realized how deeply the landscape lived in me, and how much I felt at home and alive there. Along the way, there were lots of sweet surprises in the people I met, and the places I visited that I’d never been to before.
One of those places was a small town called Nicodemus, which was settled by African-Americans during Reconstruction. Every year, the town celebrates Homecoming, and I happened to be there one year for that. Everyone who grew up there or had ancestors in Nicodemus comes back for the celebration, and that was all a great, wonderful surprise. Growing up in Kansas, I’d never heard of Nicodemus or the history of African-American settlers. So being able to share in the celebration anchored me more firmly in the state. It helped me know the place I’d come from much better.
As an author, what do you hope your readers will take away from reading your book?
One thing I feel passionately about is that every place has its own special character worth preserving, cultivating and celebrating. For a long time, I thought of Kansas as the anti-San Francisco, where I live now. But I came to realize that it’s not an impoverished version of some other place, but a place in its own right with virtues of its own. In a time of globalization and virtual realities and digital connections, I think it’s really important for all of us to connect more deeply to the places we actually live and to the people who live around us.
I also hope that readers will take away some ideas about how they might live their own lives more fully. While I learned to appreciate Kansas and thought about how I might acquire a deeper sense of place, I was also learning how to live more deeply in my own life. I’m happy to share those insights with readers.
Although this wasn't necessarily about your journey with cancer, the process of answering those questions of space and home certainly seemed to help define your personal outlook in a very positive manner, so I have to ask, how's your health today?
So far, so good. I haven’t had any new cancer developments in five years now, and in those five years, I’ve lost a lot of the friends I met in cancer support groups—young women who still had so much to offer. I feel very, very lucky.
Can we anticipate any more books in the near future? If so, what might the topics be?
I’m starting a new book that’s rooted in a family story from my great-grandmother’s generation. But it’s very new and is just beginning to stir, so I don’t talk about it yet. I need to let it build up some steam for awhile.
I noticed that My Ruby Slippers is part of the American Lives series, and I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about this series?
Sure. The ‘American Lives’ series is edited by Tobias Wolff, who wrote the wonderful, now classic memoir This Boy’s Life. The University of Nebraska Press publishes the series, which promotes literary memoirs from a wide variety of American perspectives and experiences, as well as a variety of aesthetic approaches to memoir. It’s a terrific series, and I’d long admired it before I submitted my manuscript. It’s not just great stories, but great writing, and I’m honored to be in such good company.
More About Tracy (from Amazon)
After high school in Wichita, college in Dallas and graduate school in Austin, where she finished a Ph.D. in British Lit, she taught at Yale for five years before hoofin' it west to San Francisco in 1993. And there, for the most part, she's stayed. Except for a semester in Caracas, a semester in Barcelona, a semester in Budapest, and three years living half-time in L.A. Oh, and after 17 years of living in The City, recently moving to Oakland.She's been at the University of San Francisco since 1993, teaching literature and creative nonfiction. There, she has won the Distinguished Teaching Award and the College Service Award, and spent a year as the NEH Chair in Humanities, during which time she started writing My Ruby Slippers. In addition to teaching, she currently runs a program that supports faculty writing. So she spends a lot of time organizing writing groups, salons and workshops, determined to change writing from a solitary to a communal activity.
In the midst of it all, and above all, she's raised two smart and darkly witty daughters who now live too far away.
For the moment, Tracy lives in Oakland with her husband Frederick Marx, a filmmaker. There, she grows vegetables, writes, grades papers, and hangs out on her stoop, talking to neighbors. She is plotting to acquire some backyard chickens. She figures if she gets chickens, she'll never have to move again.
Tracy can be found on the web by visiting: www.tracyseeley.com
My Ruby Slippers is not only thought-provoking and inspirational, but also elegantly insightful and at times quite humorous. I found myself sitting along side the author and taking in the sights of her journey back to Kansas; a journey to define space quickly became one of self-discovery and finding one's roots. Seeley has such a profound and charismatic writing style that quickly engages the reader with anticipation for more. I truly enjoyed this memoir and found myself on my own journey of self-discovery as I began to recall memories from my own childhood that I thought were long forgotten. Like Seeley, I moved quite often as well and defining home has always been a challenge. I highly recommend this memoir to everyone, and it would make for a wonderful reading group discussion as well. Seeley is now on my list of favorite authors and I look forward to reading more from this talented writer in the future.