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Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography and Self-Discoveryby Patricia Foster
Synopses & Reviews
Writing about oneself, says Patricia Foster, "engages in truth but depends on the imagination, on the life just beneath the skin, a life that's impressionistic and fragile." These eleven closely linked personal essays are at once an absorbing chronicle of a life fully undertaken and a model for anyone who has contemplated self-investigation through autobiographical writing.
The book's three sections each convey a stage of Foster's journey--still ongoing--toward new levels of insight and maturity. "Inside the Girls' Room" takes us back to Foster's life in the rural South from the 1950s through the early 1970s. Here she reveals the mixed messages and stereotypes of southern womanhood by which she was raised-and from which she fled. With adulthood, Foster moves to "Inside the Writing Room," a place dotted with discoveries about autobiography as a path to creative expression and inner coherence. Finally, at the place in her life Foster calls "Inside My Skin," autobiography helps her to explore and to claim her cultural identity. Returning to her native South, she holds a writing workshop for a group composed mostly of middle-aged black women, visits a beloved maid from her childhood, and returns to old haunts as a witness to her concerns about race and class.
This gathering of lyrical essays explores the intelligent, intuitive heart of a woman struggling to claim both her identity and her place in the world.
"'Writing autobiography allows me to open up a vein of self-scrutiny, to peer through the slippery veil of what we call 'character' to define my own peculiar subjectivity,' explains Foster (All the Lost Girls), and she ably opens up just such an examination in this lyrical collection of personal essays. Organized into three sections that demarcate the stages of her creative life, Foster's slim volume probes the conflicting worlds that she occupied on her way to becoming an associate professor at Iowa's prestigious M.F.A. program. For Foster, the main struggle has always been with identity and desire; even her descriptions of childhood bristle with conflicts between her own pre-feminist ambition and the conventional mores of her rural Alabama hometown. The tension reaches its pinnacle in the 1970s when Foster, a recent divorcée, leaves Fairhope for freewheeling Southern California, where she enrolls in a visual arts program and serendipitously discovers her affinity for the written word. Foster explicitly sets out to reconcile the opposing forces of her history in the book's third section, where she travels back to Fairhope as professional writer and reconsiders the race, class and gender politics that influenced her youth. Filled with moving and humorous anecdotes, as well as with serious considerations of autobiography's aims and methods, Foster's collection is bound together by beautiful prose and unflinching honesty. Clearly, she herself adheres to the advice that she dispenses to her students: 'Writing requires risk.' And it is this sort of truthful scrutiny that extends her collection beyond its apparent subject matter: 'the life of a southern girl who ran away from the South but who, deep in her bones, feels the pull of that history, that story.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Patricia Foster is an associate professor in the MFA Program in Nonfiction at the University of Iowa. She is the author of All the Lost Girls; editor of Minding the Body and Sister to Sister; and coeditor of The Healing Circle. She is a recipient of the PEN/Jerard Fund Award, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, a Dean's Scholar Award, and a Florida Arts Council Award. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.
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