Leigh Newman still Facing North – an Interview with the Author

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by Sharisse T. Smith

“Just because you’ve written a memoir doesn’t mean you’ve resolved everything,” author Leigh Newman said recently about her debut memoir, “Still Points North” (The Dial Press).

Yet this beautifully penned book written with boldness and grace sure makes the reader feel that it’s possible. This Brooklyn author and mother of two, whose day job is Deputy Editor of Oprah.com, finds the time to establish herself in the memoir game and leaves us wanting more.

SS: You are reading at the Burien Library this Sunday, April 21, from 1-3pm. What’s your connection to the Seattle area?

LN: My grandmother lived in Hansville, Washington which is a very small town by Point No Point. I spent a lot of time there. During my parents divorce my mom and I moved in with my nana. I went to school in Seattle and would take the ferry over to attend school in Magnolia. When my nana died we sold that house. I felt that I was selling my family home. But for me growing up in this peripatetic way that was a very, very stable place for most of my life. We went clamming. It was a paradise.

SS: We’re you worried about the negative side of the tell all memoir genre?

LN: I was not going to publish a book that would destroy my family. I did not set out to write a memoir that punished my family. There aren’t that many memoirs out there like that. But, there seems to be some depicting horrific parents, and the memoir is really about this horrific childhood with these people. I don’t think good writers set out to make anybody out to be mortal enemies. But I actually didn’t even set up the book to criticize my parents. I wanted to explore what we all had gone through, and how we all made choices, and how those choices affected the outcome of our lives, in particular mine. I feel like I bore as much responsibility for loneliness, self-isolation, and total and utter terror of getting anybody too close. When I wrote the book I really fell in love with my family.

SS: You and your architect husband live in Brooklyn with your kids?

LN: Yes, one son is seven and the youngest is three.

SS: What are the greatest lessons that you hope to teach your kids?

LN: This Alaskan quality of self-reliance. The tricky thing is I don’t want them to fall into what I fell into because trusting yourself is not not trusting someone else. I fell over that line and I don’t want that for my sons. I want to teach them to hunt. Well listen to me, I don’t know how to hunt. Outdoor skills.

SS: How does your family feel about the book? Do you talk about the book?

LN: I gave my mother the book. I gave my father the book before we published the book. My mom read it. She had one factual change. My mom felt it was very important book for me. She supported me. It was harder for my mom. That divorce was a very dark period. I think it’s upsetting to her. She’s gotten a lot better since the time I was talking about. She’s quit drinking. My mom is more stable. I’m very proud of her.

SS: What have your sons taught you?

LN: That’s like gonna be a seventeen hour long answer. The #1 thing they have taught me is the wisdom of Star Wars.

LN: It is mind-blowing.

SS: The wisdom of Star Wars, huh? My husband would love that answer.

LN: Man, the darkness.

LN: Never stray to the dark side. We talk about it a lot in our house.

LN: Another thing that they teach me is if you don’t like something to eat you just drop it on the floor.

Author Leigh Newman will read from her debut memoir, Still Points North, at the Burien Library this Sunday, April 21, from 1-3pm.

Leigh Newman will speak at the Burien Library on April 21; more info here.

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