As some of you know, my new book, Out of the Shadows: Stories of Adoption and Reunion, was recently released. We had an amazing publication party at the Loft Literary Center with more than 80 people in attendance. The food and wine were appreciated and great conversations were started. Later that week, I read with Kate Vogl, author of Lost & Found: A Memoir of Mothers. Kate and I come from different perspectives within the adoption triad, and the discussions that night at the new SubText Bookstore were thought-provoking.
What follows is an edited version of my comments at the beginning of the book. One of the most strange and interesting things about being an author is that, seemingly suddenly, you are viewed as an expert on the subject. Here is the excerpt, from the “expert”:
What an incredible ride it’s been. Since Shadow Mothers was first published in 1998, I have learned so much – what it’s like to be public with my story and my life, how to handle other people’s responses, the fun and not-so-fun things authors need to do to market their books, how an author is seen as an authority on her subject matter, how to deal with failure and success, how to sell books out of the trunk of one’s car or the saddlebags of one’s motorcycle, and more.
Yes, I made a great effort with marketing, but I am still amazed at how, almost immediately, Shadow Mothers seemed to take on its own life and move into the world to touch people in so many different ways. I believe it continues to live because it is a book that our world needs. Shadow Mothers was a groundbreaking book – the first that examined the experiences of “unwed mothers,” along with adoption and reunion experiences from the points of view of ordinary people. I’m one of them. I am not a social worker, or any kind of counselor, although I have often found myself in a position to offer logical, common sense advice. The work I continue to do around Shadow Mothers is good work. I feel grateful about doing it.
Even to this day I get regular emails from people who have discovered my book and contact information. I have heard hundreds of reunion stories. There are as many kinds of stories as there are kinds of people. Some are heartbreaking, some are joyful, but most are a bittersweet mix.
In late 1998 I was industriously setting up radio interviews around the country and in Canada with anyone who would have me on their program. One of the programs in which I was interviewed was “Mid-Morning.” It was hosted by Katherine Lanpher at that time. The program aired on Minnesota Public Radio.
Not long after that radio interview, I received a phone call from the History Theatre in St. Paul. Ron Peluso, the Artistic Director, had heard me on MPR and said, “We have to talk.” He invited me to meet with him. My first thought was, “This never happens.” And it doesn’t. But it did. That meeting with Ron was the start of two years of intense research, culminating in the performance of the play, “Watermelon Hill,” which was inspired by Shadow Mothers and, “Watermelon Hill,” my poem about being unmarried, pregnant and living at a “home for unwed mothers.”
Throughout the process, Ron was always generous, professional and deeply kind to me. It was good of him to include me in virtually all aspects of creating the play. I knew nothing about theater and was amazed to learn how a play is developed, start to finish. The first thing Ron did was to hire Lily Baber Coyle as playwright, after making sure I agreed with the choice.
Lily and I met with Dr. Crutchfield, the doctor who delivered my son in 1966. He had been in his residency then, and “the home” was part of his rotation. Dr. Crutchfield was exactly as I remembered him – gentle and caring. I was surprised to hear that he remembered me from all those years ago. Ironically, the day Lily and I met with the doctor was my birth son’s birthday. That meeting was another reunion, of sorts.
January 27, 2001 was opening night for the play,“Watermelon Hill.” Although I had attended most of the auditions and rehearsals, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotions while I witnessed parts of my life unfold on the stage. It was uncomfortable, thrilling and profound all at the same time. While signing autographs after each performance, I met women and men who were so moved by the play they had tears in their eyes.
I felt humbled. Five years earlier, when I was writing into the darkness and pain of my own story, along with the stories of the other women, I had no idea how other people would react. I had no idea how important that work was going to be. So you see, I am very lucky.