At our last residency for the Goddard MFA in Creative Writing in Vermont, we had three amazing and successful alumni return to talk to our current students. Mary Johnson, author of An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life, spoke with Kenny Fries and me about the pitfalls and pleasures of crafting a resonant, universal story from our daily “here’s what happened next” life. We spoke for over a hour, and I am pleased to be able to share it with you here.
Here’s a sample from the beginning:
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!’”