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Release: Oct. 21, 2001

Writer to discuss memoir and identity at Oct. 26 Saturday Scholars

A boom in popularity of memoirs in recent years may be at least in part the result of people's desire to understand how others have made sense of turmoil and chaos in their lives.

Patricia Foster, a University of Iowa associate professor of English, will talk about readers' desire for wisdom and understanding and writers' desire to tell the story of self-definition in her presentation, "Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography and Self Discovery," on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 10 a.m. in Room 40, Schaeffer Hall. The discussion is part of the Saturday Scholars series, presented by the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In a preview to her presentation, Foster will be a guest on Iowa Talks on WSUI (AM 910), on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 10 a.m.

Foster will focus her presentation on four recent memoirs—her own "All the Lost Girls," Adam Hochschild's "Half the Way Home," Blake Morrison's "And When Did You Last See Your Father?" and Vivian Gornick's "Fierce Attachments." She will explore how she and the other writers get "beneath our own skins" to tell the story of coming to identity. Each of the memoirs involves a parental figure, whose "larger than life" persona both overwhelms and confuses the narrator.

"We'll talk about how each writers comes to understand his or her enmeshment and separation from these powerful figures," Foster said. "The story is not based on a traumatic experience but on a conflicted relationship. Such intimacies are often ruthless."

Writing about the conflict helps the writer to work through questions that have loomed throughout life, and reading about what went wrong in someone else's life can often help people to resolve issues of their own, she said.

"Even if you don't necessarily resolve things as a writer or a reader, you can come to a sense of forgiveness that is very comforting," Foster said.

In addition to "All the Lost Girls," Foster is editor of "Minding the Body," (translated into German, Dutch and Portuguese), "Sister-to-Sister," and co-editor of "The Healing Circle." She won the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award for women's nonfiction as well as numerous other awards in both fiction and nonfiction. She is currently completing a novel about rural Alabama and a second book of nonfiction, "Smart Girls." Foster received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and her doctorate from Florida State University. She has taught in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1994.

The final lecture in the Saturday Scholars series is scheduled for Nov. 9, "The Neanderthal Mystery: Who Were They and Why Did They Disappear?" by Robert Franciscus, assistant professor of anthropology.

All presentations will begin at 10 a.m. in Room 40, Schaeffer Hall, the southeast building on the UI Pentacrest. Each session will last about an hour, including a 20-30 minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. Refreshments will be served.

Additional information is available at:

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in advance at 335-2610.