Kidd and kid come to Fairfield to discuss new book
By Rita Papazian
In her new book, Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, Sue Monk Kidd finds herself wondering "what 'the work' ought to serve." The best-selling author of The Secret Lives of Bees, may have discovered it is easier to answer that question now that her new memoir written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, is hitting the general reading public with aplomb.
It will probably be just a few short weeks before the public sees this new memoir hitting the best-sellers' lists, as did Kidd's previous novels, including her popular The Secret Lives of Bees which spent more than 125 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list and was adapted into an award-winning film in 2008. Her second novel, The Mermaid Chair was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller and was adapted into a television movie. Each of her novels has been translated into more than 24 languages.
In a telephone interview on the Tuesday, the day the Charleston-based authors' book was released, Kidd said she hoped every mother and daughter, and every woman would read the book and find new meaning in their relationships with others and with themselves. For following their mother-and-daughter journey together during their three trips to Athens and Eleusis, Paris and Rocamador, over a course of three years, Kidd and Taylor came away with a better understanding of their own lives. They took their journeys beginning in 1998 when Sue was 50 and entering middle-age and Ann, 22, had just graduated from college with the burning question: What do I do with the rest of my life?
"There are layers of stories in the book and I hope all of them will shed light on relationships to ourselves and the world," said Kidd, who noted as an author, her focus is to serve a larger audience than herself. "You want your work to have a dent in this big world and that's what I wanted. This book is one of the hardest books I've written, but also the most satisfying. I wrote it with my daughter and it deepened our relationship."
Taylor, who chronicles her depression during a great part of her journey with her mother, said in a telephone interview that her depression at the time was "situational," She had received a rejection letter from a graduate school where she had hoped to study to become a teacher of ancient Greek history. In the interview, she acknowledged that probably as with other recent college graduates, she had raised questions of herself: "Who am I? What do I want to do in the world? "¦ As I said in the book, the rejection letter became more than a rejection letter. It became an official document of what was wrong with me." She had to learn to live with herself.
Similarly, Kidd realized during her journey that she had to live with herself and the struggles manifested through her bouts with hypertension connected to the stress and drive to achieve. Her journeys with her daughter taught her how to be in the world without having to do anything. She learned the act of "being" without "doing."
During their travels to Greece and France, the two women found themselves on a quest to redefine themselves and to rediscover each other. They traveled to sacred sites with the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone and mother-daughter estrangement and reunion serving as a backdrop for their journeys. The myth became the foundation for the memoir. The title references the seeds of the fruit that Persephone ate, which guaranteed that she and her mother would be separated a third of every year. According to the myth, that was how winter came into the world. In a personal and modern reconfiguration of the myth, both women felt lost to each other and to themselves.
In the book, Kidd wrote, "I have one of those stabbing crystalline moments when it's as if I'm outside of myself, observing. I see myself almost 50 and my daughter unrecognizably grown, and I wonder: 'How did this happen? Where did all the time go? Where did we go -- those other selves?' Then the moment passes and I'm back, staring again at the bones, these tiny sticks of enduring."
Wednesday evening, the authors talked about their memoir at WSHU Public Radio's "Join the Conversation" event in the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart University. The event is part of WSHU's author series that brings prominent writers to the area for engaging, thought-provoking discussions.
Before the program began, Kidd and Taylor stood behind individual podiums, flanking a large screen that flashed photos of mother and daughter taken during their trips abroad and during special moments in their lives including both their wedding days and photos of grandmother Kidd with Taylor's baby boy, Ben, now 6 years old.
During the program, mother and daughter took turns talking before an audience of more than 450 people about their journey that began when each was navigating into a new stage in life at a time in their lives when each was facing a struggle in the mother-daughter relationship. As Kidd told her audience, in 1998 she knew she had to "let her daughter Ann go," but she saw her daughter as an appendage of herself. And in her daughter she saw someone struggling to please her mother and at the same time trying to differentiate herself from her mother.
Taylor admitted during their talk that early in her 20s she never saw writing as a career because that was what her mother did.
Kidd said the first 36 hours of their first trip to Greece was to celebrate milestones: Taylor's graduation from college and Kidd turning 50. But "it was really about rediscovering each other while crossing the milestones in their lives as women.
"I wanted to go into my 50s to find out what sort of renaissance happens as an older person," said Kidd, realizing that something has to end, in this case her younger self.
"There is a real Odyssey that one finally wants to make. It's not about the body or physicality. It's about the soul and for me, it's about the young woman leaving."
Taylor described their journey as a spiritual and creative quest. Each embarked on a search for creativity. For Kidd, she discovered a novel that was awakening inside her. For Taylor, she realized she wanted to become a writer and document her travels. After the mother and daughter returned from their journeys, Taylor got married (in her mother's wedding dress), and decided to write about her travel experiences. However, she realized that she could only tell half the story and she needed her mother's voice. In 2003, she asked her mother to collaborate on their travel experiences in a memoir. They spent 1,095 days writing about their 40 days of travel.
During a question-and-answer session following their talk and readings from their memoir, Kidd and Taylor fielded questions from the audience. One person asked Kidd how she approaches each day now that she has managed to navigate into being an older woman. Kidd is 61 and her daughter is 33 now.
Kidd said, "Just to live is holy." She added that she inspires to be "an artist of her own soul. It's all an eloquently sacred experience." She said there are a lot of writers, particularly poets who become more fully of themselves. "It takes some navigating."
Kidd spends her days writing. Shortly, she will begin a new novel that she has been incubating for years. She said she has not discussed the novel concept with anyone. She plays with the dog and with her grandson. "As I get older, I appreciate more the simplicity of being."
Taylor said that once their press junket for the memoir is over, she will return to her writing. She wants to write fiction.
In the memoir Taylor made reference to the term "necessary fire" that her mother used to refer to writing. This is a term that Kidd had attributed to the novelist John Gardner.
Taylor wrote, "To me, it meant finding work with which I had a deep compatibility, a true affinity, yet work that also held the possibility to bring me alive."
During her journey with her mother, Taylor discovered that her "necessary fire" was to be a writer, a profession, she earlier rejected because, as she wrote, "Why in the world would I take up something famous for rejection letters."
Judging by the reviews for Traveling With Pomegranates thus far, this mother and daughter duo don't have to fear rejection.
Publishers Weekly writes: "In a probing literary collaboration. ... The two create a gently affectionate filial dance around the other. Kidd and Taylor found strength and inspiration on their respective journeys in the lives of Athena, the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc, but mostly through a new understanding and appreciation of each other. Theirs is a moving journey."
Kidd especially is a writer who moves readers of all ages. Catherine Hulme, of Weston and Shannon Larson of Fairfield, both sophomores at Laurelton Hall in Milford attended the authors' event. Both had read Kidd's The Secret Lives of Bees during the summer. The book was required reading from their English teacher at their school. Both students said they were attending their first author event and found the experience "very inspirational." In fact, during the question-and-answer session, Hulme told Kidd that her teacher had noted that in Kidd's novel is really about "finding the mother within yourself." She wanted to know if Kidd agreed with that theme.
Kate Remington of Shelton, who is music director for WSHU, said she and her mother read The Secret Lives of Bees. The mother and daughter are big fans of Kidd's writing. Remington said that her mother's reading of Kidd's novel last February got her mother, Dolores Remington, 75, who lives in Madison, Wisc., through a series of operations. "The novel was very comforting for her and she wanted to make sure I came tonight."