At age three I was desperate to read. I looked longingly at the books for grown-ups in my parents’ library. Every few months I tried to read a page in one of them, believing that increasing age would magically confer literacy on me. I thought the Readers’ Digest was made especially for me since it fit comfortably into my little hands. I tried to copy the letter “e” from
the Digest, since it seemed an especially pretty letter.
My father, a Cornell University graduate in 1924, took my sister and me to the campus when I was 12 and she was 8. In an empty classroom he wrote on the black board the dates that he expected us to graduate from college, 1960 and 1965. On that visit I discovered that I could earn a degree by majoring in English. I imagined four years of just reading – no science, no
math, no history – just novels and poetry and plays. I graduated from Cornell on the expected date with a major – – in English!
I’ve been reading and teaching ever since. A masters from Smith College and a doctorate from Columbia University led to teaching positions at Columbia and New York University and positions in corporate training at PaineWebber and the Rockefeller Foundation. Along the way my husband, Marty, and I raised three girls in Westport, Connecticut who attended the local schools.
In 1971 a friend and I discovered Toni Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye. Astounded because she was talking about us, black women who as girls had imagined becoming white, we formed a black woman’s book group dedicated to reading fiction by black women. That reading led Marty and me to create an anthology of short stories by black American women, Centers of the Self. We discovered that black women began publishing stories in 1859, that they are an important part of American literature. In the past few years, I’ve expanded my reading to include other marginalized authors. I want to hear the voices of those who are often ignored.
Lately I’ve taken another step. I’ve started writing a memoir of my late-in-life marriage to Bill Buckley. It was an unlikely pairing, he a white, socialist filmmaker from Vermont and I, a black democrat and academic from Queens, New York. I am trying to capture the joy of our partnership, its cocoon of wonder and security despite the occasional skepticism of our children, the sidelong glances of passers-by, the inevitable diminutions that age inflicts. This bubble “built for two” grew stronger as we faced our sicknesses and his death.
Reading and writing are like sinking into a warm bubble bath or relaxing into a well-worn chair that supports and enfolds me. They revive my spirit. Can I write a memoir that creates similar feelings in my readers?