English Reading Series: Jill Talbot

PROVO, Utah (Feb. 1, 2019)— Every Friday, BYU hosts accomplished authors who come and read some of their works and answer questions concerning their processes and thoughts behind their works. BYU welcomed Jill Talbot to kick off the English Reading Series for the month of February. She is the author of The Way We Weren’t: A Memoir and Loaded: Women and Addiction, the co-editor of The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Come Together, and the editor of Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction. Much of her writing has been featured in journals such as AGNIBrevityColorado ReviewDIAGRAMEcotone, Longreads, The Normal School, The Rumpus, and Slice Magazine and has been recognized in The Best American Essays. Last year, her story “Railroad Blues,” was nominated “Most Read of the Year” in Little Fiction. She has a Masters in Creative Writing and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of North Texas.

Beginning her discussion, Jill Talbot remarked, “I was asked at different times if there was anything I was working on now; I panic. I think, ‘do I write, am I writing? What do you mean what am I working on?’ I do have an answer…The Way We Weren’t, traces the nine states up until the point of the end of the walk where my daughter Indie and I have lived. My project recently is that she and I are going back to all these places where we have lived.”

In her essay titled, “One missing piece,” Jill read about the first venture she and her daughter had going back to visit the places they lived.  Jill Talbot’s voice lent to her writing a musical quality and so it became practically a musical experience. With her use of meter and the inflections she used in her voice, it gave the essay the same melodic quality of poetry. It was indeed a poetic essay. She retold her life through these brief moments that allowed you to peek through the windows she provided in each line. Throughout her essay, Jill Talbot explored the aspect of how returning affects us. How things change in our memories and how things physically change when we go back. Change, and the sometimes melancholy air that can surround it, was so vibrantly told. Memories floated in and out of her narrative, whispering about the sorrow of loved ones passing away; and the fear of near death experiences she had. “While I did see moments of us living there, our red couch, the column in the kitchen where I marked her height…the kitchen table where I wrote every morning…I also saw us almost dying, two huddled figured barely moving in that living room as we made our way out.”

Her essay was full of moments that readers could really connect to. Whether it was coming back to an old house or going back after keeping the garage opener to see if it would still open the garage door, she connected it to life. Full of vivid images of revisited places was this marvelous piece of literature that was real and honest in its retelling.

In the question and answer portion of the lecture, Jill Talbot was asked if she ever felt vulnerable putting aspects of her personal life out there. She answered saying “The world falls away and it’s just me and the screen, or me and the page, and I stop thinking about the implications; if I did, I wouldn’t be able to write.” Although she also admits that it’s part of her personality to be open and honest with others, it has been hard when she writes about the darkest parts of her life. Jill Talbot compared her essays to a keyhole; a keyhole for people to look through and see a world they had no idea even existed.

Jessica Mellor (B.A. English ’19)