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Memory Keeper's Daughter (Edwards) - Author Bio

Author Bio 
Reared—Skaneateles, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Colgate University; M.F.A., Iowa Writers'
   Workshop; M.A., University of Iowa
Awards—Nelson Algren Award, 1990; Pushcart Prize, 1995;
   Whiting Writers' Award, 2002
Currently—lives in Lexington, Kentucky


Kim Edwards is the author of the short story collection The Secrets of a Fire King, which was an alternate for the 1998 PEN/Hemingway Award, and she has won both the Whiting Award and the Nelson Algren Award. A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, she currently teaches writing at the University of Kentucky. (From the Hardcover edition.)

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In the late ‘90s, Edwards was making a major splash on the literary scene. Her recently published short story collection would soon be pegged for a Whiting Award and the Nelson Algren Award, and would also be an alternate for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Around this charmed time, Edwards heard a story that would ultimately propel her toward a career as a bestselling novelist.

"A few months after my story collection, The Secrets of a Fire King, was published, one of the pastors of the Presbyterian church I'd recently joined said she had a story to give me," she explained in an interview on the Penguin Group USA web site. "It was just a few sentences, about a man who'd discovered late in life that his brother had been born with Down syndrome, placed in an institution at birth, and kept a secret from his family, even from his own mother, all his life. He'd died in that institution, unknown. I remember being struck by the story even as she told it, and thinking right away that it really would make a good novel. It was the secret at the center of the family that intrigued me. Still, in the very next heartbeat, I thought: Of course, I'll never write that book."

Despite Edwards's quick dismissal of the idea, it would not unhand her. She let several years slip by without going to work on the story, but she never forgot it. When she was invited to run a writing workshop for mentally disabled adults, the experience affected Edwards so profoundly that she started mulling over the pastor's story more seriously. It would be another year before Edwards actually began working on The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but once she did, she found that it came quickly and surprisingly well-developed.

In The Memory Keeper's Daughter, a man named David discovers that his newly born son is in fine health, but the child's twin sister is stricken with Down Syndrome. So, the distraught father, who harbors painful memories of his own sister's chronic illness, makes a quick but incredibly difficult decision: he asks the attending nurse to take his daughter to an institution where she might receive better care. Although he tells his wife that the child was stillborn, David's decision goes on to affect the lives of himself and his wife for the following 25 years.

Haunting, dramatic, and moving, The Memory Keeper's Daughter went on to become a big seller and a critical favorite. The Library Journal hailed it as "an enthralling page-turner" and Kirkus Reviews declared that Edwards "excels at celebrating a quiet wholesomeness..."

Now that Edwards has broken into novel-writing in a big way, she is hard at work on her follow up to her smash debut. "I have begun a new novel, called The Dream Master," she says. "It's set in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York where I grew up, which is stunningly beautiful, and which remains in some real sense the landscape of my imagination. Like The Memory Keeper's Daughter, this new novel turns on the idea of a secret—that seems to be my preoccupation as a writer—though in this case the event occurred in the past and is a secret from the reader as well as from the characters, so structurally, and in its thematic concerns, the next book is an entirely new discovery." (From Barnes and Noble.)

Extras
From a 2007 Barnes & Noble interview:

• Although Edwards had been interested in writing ever since she was a little girl, she didn't actually write her first story "Cords" until she was in a fiction workshop while attending Colgate University.

• Among the many fans that Edwards has won with The Memory Keeper's Daughter is beloved novelist Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), who said of Edwards's first novel, "I loved this riveting story with its intricate characters and beautiful language."

Her own words:
• My first job was in a nursing home—a terrible place in retrospect. It was in an old house, and the residents were so lonely. People rarely visited them. I only stayed there a couple of months, but it made a strong impression on me. Just before I left I went to get one woman for dinner, and discovered that she had died—a powerful experience when you're 17.

• Though my stories aren't autobiographical, I do sometimes use things from my life. ‘The Way It Felt to be Falling,' a story from my collection The Secrets of a Fire King, uses sky-diving as a metaphor. Like my character, I did jump out of the first plane I ever flew in. It was an amazing experience, but I've never had the urge to do it again.

• One of my greatest times of inspiration is when I'm traveling or living in a new country-there's a tremendous freedom that comes from being unfettered by your own, familiar culture, and by seeing the world from a different point of view.

• I love to swim, and I love being near water.

When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is what she said:

Well, there are so many. It's hard to choose. But I think I'd have to go with a very early influence, which was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I read this book several times when I was quite young, and I was particularly drawn to the character of Jo, who of course was the writer, the story-teller. I'm sure it also was important to me, though perhaps not consciously so, that the novel was written by a woman.  (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)




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