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Leslie Lawrence
An Improvisatory Approach to a Memoir about an Improvised Life
November 9, 2017

I’m pleased that we have as our guest Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire—and other essays from a life          outside the lines. We met spontaneously at her book reading in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I was having tea that evening and there she was. We became instant writer friends and had dinner together afterward in the lovely ambiance of Santa Fe–these are the perks of being an author and writer–you never know when you’ll meet someone interesting! I loved her book, and invited her to speak with us about her journey.

Her focus in a memoir in essays, a topic that comes up often with memoir writers–who are wondering whether to consider that form.

From Leslie:

I didn’t set out to write a memoir—my background is in fiction—but in the early 90’s, a friend editing an anthology on the “multicultural experience,” asked me to write something about my new and tentative lesbian identity along with my then-radical decision to co-mother a child with my partner. I leapt at the chance, knowing that my own complex journey was bound to resonate with people of all persuasions.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, my life as a memoirist had began.  As a working mother, I found the short form appealing—and I began to write essays and articles on whatever aroused my curiosity; at the same time, I continued to seek publishers for my two novels and one short story collection.

Fast forward twenty years:  By now I’d written and published a dozen or so nonfiction pieces.  When someone first suggested I put them in book form I protested. But they have nothing in common!  I thought.   Still, just to be sure, I re-read them all.  I then thought (not without some amusement!): Why they’re all about the same things! I began fiddling with various arrangements, deleting repetitions, filling in gaps and highlighting common themes.

To my surprise, I’d created a memoir primarily about what gets passed on and what gets left behind when a relatively conventional and timid woman born in the middle of the twentieth century summons the courage to seek a rich, authentic life “outside the lines.”  Publishing and promoting this book has been far more stressful but also far more gratifying than I ever could have imagined.

A recipient of Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and The National Endowment for Arts,  Leslie Lawrence has published poetry, fiction and non-fiction in many journals and periodicals including the Boston Globe Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Solstice, Literary Mama, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Her essay on Janis Joplin is forthcoming in the anthology, She Loves You: Women Writers Tell How a Teen Idol Changed Their Life. Her debut nonfiction collection  The Death of Fred Astaire—and other essays from a life outside the lines (SUNY Press) was a finalist in the 2016 Foreword Indie Book Award for memoir.  She is currently working on an essay about the agony and ecstasy of publishing a first book at 65. An enthusiastic practitioner of improvisational dance, Lawrence lives and teaches in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


What you will learn from the discussion:

  • You will learn about the unconventional path Leslie’s life and her book traveled.
  • You’ll be inspired by her persistence. I’ve been writing since my mid-twenties but didn’t publish a book until the year I went on Medicare.
  • We’ll talk about self-sabotage and its correctives from a seasoned writer and teacher.
  • We’ll discuss the ways that skill in different genres (and art forms) can feed each other.


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