By Sarah Skrydstrup
While waiting for the panel The Art of Life to begin last Wednesday, the crowd in the Brigantine Room buzzed with anticipation. The audience’s excited chatter was quickly hushed, however, when host and moderator Stuart Woods, editor of Quill & Quire, stepped onstage to do the introductions. Plum Johnson, Lynn Thomson and Priscila Uppal each read from their memoir, then sat down to participate in a fascinating round table about family, parenting and writing. All three of these authors’ memoirs deals with parent-child relationships. The readings and the discussion that followed brought a lot of laughter from both the audience and the participants on stage.
Plum Johnson, founder of KidsCanada Publishing Corp., began by reading a passage from They Left Us Everything, which chronicled a conversation she had with her brothers about their realization that the birth date on their deceased mother’s headstone was wrong. One of Plum’s brothers quietly admitted that the birth date on their father’s headstone was wrong, too!
Lynn Thomson, a bookseller, mother and now author, read an excerpt from her memoir, Birding with Yeats, about a bird-watching excursion to Pelee Island with her teenage son, Yeats. Lynn attempted to properly prepare for the cooler weather by wearing rather embarrassing nylon pants. This aggravated Yeats, causing him to proclaim, exasperated, “Mom! Your pants are too loud!”
Finally, it was Priscila Uppal’s turn. She read from her memoir, Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. An audience member gasped in shock at the circumstances under which Priscila’s mother left her family: she escaped to Brazil when Priscila’s father was made a quadriplegic after a dangerous accident. The gasp, however, was quickly followed by chuckles when Priscila described how she accidentally stumbled upon her runaway mother’s website and “did what any academic would do, applied for funding” so that she could head to Brazil and seek her out.
When the panel discussion began, the audience was captivated by the three women on stage. They learned much about each woman’s experience. Plum, Lynn and Priscila gave such great insight into life and writing.
Plum shared that “all of us, at some point, will have to sift through what is left, all the things we inherit.” She said that during the writing of her book, she read many memoirs, which she affectionately called “the literary equivalent of reality TV.”
Lynn chimed in, saying, “I couldn’t have written the book without my journals.” When asked about motherhood and what she’d learned about parenting, she highlighted the importance of supporting a child and participating in their interests: “It was the kind of mother I chose to be.”
Priscila was a great participator in the discussion: “I wanted to make sure I was writing the book for the right reasons.” She then reflected on the title of her book and how “people in your life have an idea or projection of who you should be…. People don’t always see us for who we are.”
Spending time with these three accomplished and self-assured women, delving into their lives, was both an enlightening and truly entertaining experience.
Sarah Skrydstrup is currently the Communications Intern at IFOA and is completing her MA in Literatures of Modernity at Ryerson University. She enjoys reading short stories and her favourite novel is Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.