Friday, May 25, 2012

Must Have Names and Facts

My memoir, THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Families Legacy of Infidelities will be out in a pretty new paperback edition from Broadway Books in a couple of weeks.

A question I have been asked a few times since the book's publication last July is about my motivation and indiscretion in writing about family history. Why did I delve into such personal stories about my grandmother Kay Swift, in particular?  My answer each time has been the observation that unlike most family stories, numerous versions of the central events in my family's  history have been in the public view all along. The events and personalities have been scrutinized and gossiped about and picked over for decades, in newspaper stories, magazine articles, gossip columns,  cultural histories, and biographies. Countless people think they know all about my family members. And so what I have written is in many ways a counter-story, a push back against the distorted narrative that has been in public view for a very long time. I know that what I have written is an act of loyalty, love, and devotion. I also know that certain people are both judgmental and truly uncomfortable about my choices.

Last week I came across a particular letter, dated Saturday November 9th, 1940, one of hundreds of letters from my grandmother to her lifelong friend Mary Lasker, to whom she wrote nearly daily from the ranch in Oregon where she had lived for a year by then with her second husband, a cowboy. At the time of the letter, Kay was 43, thirteen years younger than I am now.

I read through all the letters a few years ago, but I didn't recall this particular passage, which seems especially pertinent at this moment, and I am very glad I found it.  She ended the eight-page rambling and reflective letter to her closest confidante with this passing thought: "When I'm 75 my autobiography would be good reading -- but that is fairly far off; and no discreet autobiog. is any good at all. Must have names & facts."

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