Elizabeth Kadetsky’s short stories have been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and two Best American Short Stories notable citations, and her personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Guernica, Santa Monica Review, Antioch Review, Post Road, Agni, and elsewhere. She has written for the Village Voice, The Nation, and more. She has traveled to Malta as a creative writing fellow at the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, to France as a fellow in the arts at Camargo Foundation, and to India as a two-time Fulbright fellow. She is the author of the memoir FIRST THERE IS A MOUNTAIN (Dzanc Books rEprint series, 2019; and Little Brown, 2004), the novella ON THE ISLAND AT THE CENTER OF THE CENTER OF THE WORLD (Nouvella, 2015), and the short story collection THE POISON THAT PURIFIES YOU (C&R Press, 2014). She discusses her newest book, THE MEMORY EATERS, below. It will be released on March 31, 2020, from the University of Massachusetts Press. She is an associate professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State University and a nonfiction editor at New England Review.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
That is so fittingly surreal. I’d want them to know that they are definitely a part of my target audience for my memoir about addiction, homelessness, Alzheimer’s, and those heady days in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The penguin, with its affinity for cold climates, will also be drawn to my portrayal of my French Canadian family and the frigid landscape endured by my ancestors in Quebec. Also, the penguin—as a bird that can’t fly—will be drawn to the disability angle of my book, which treats not only Alzheimer’s, addiction, and mental health problems across my family, but a hidden disability. My mother’s sister was institutionalized for epilepsy and mental development issues and died at age eleven in the institution, though the family didn’t talk about this to outsiders. My book explores the way that the stigma surrounding her disability reverberates for future generations of my family.
And the nuns! With due respect (what are they doing in a bar anyway?) my mother’s disaffection from her Catholic upbringing and her conversion to first Judaism and then to a kind of pan-religious mysticism might disturb them, but, as rebels who patronize bars, they may find her story alluring. My mother had many staunchly Catholic aunts. The nuns may have avuncular, protective feelings toward my mother if they dig in to the book.