I feel totally immersed, kind of like I imagine what it might be to scuba dive under a glacier, gorgeous and terrifying. . . that’s how this book feels.
But at AWP, I got a handle for my terror – the term immersion memoir. A memoir written because the writer immerses herself in the subject – as in Kathleen Norris entering a Benedictine cloister in The Cloister Walk and then writing about that experience. Robin Hemley has written A Field Guide for Immersion Writing, and I had the privilege of hearing him and several others writers (Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Joe Mackall, Christopher Merrill, and Melissa Pritchard) talked about the ways they immersed themselves in the stories they were telling by traveling, by moving into communities, by embedding themselves in the lives of the very people they were writing about. Just hearing them talk made my brain spin . . . this is what I am doing.
Of course, I am immersing myself in the lives of people long ago dead, so there’s no way to interview anyone or spend a day working alongside them. But I have immersed myself in this place and in this work – this is the story of my home, the place I grew up, the culture that is this place in the South – it’s not exactly the same as what other writers have done, but the idea of “immersion” helps me get a handle on what I’m writing because this book isn’t history and isn’t straight memoir – it’s a blend . . . I like the genre-bending nature of the book, but I also like having models to read. . .
So here are a few if you want to check some out:
A Year of Living Biblically by A J Jacobs
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
Do Over by Robin Hemley
Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines by Stephanie Elizondo Greist
Plain Secrets: An Outside Among the Amish by Joe Mackall
I’m not sure exactly what this new paradigm will mean for my book . . . not sure if it will change everything or nothing . . . but knowing I’m not alone in this cold sea of writing, that other people are swimming under the glacier, there’s comfort and strength in that.
What do you think of the idea of immersion writing? Have you heard it before? What other books might fit this idea?
If you’d like a great article about the subject, check out Suzanne Farrel Smith’s piece in the December issue of The Writer’s Chronicle.