2023 Winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction
by Casey Parks
Part memoir, part sweeping journalistic saga: As Casey Parks follows the mystery of a stranger's past, she is forced to reckon with her own sexuality, her fraught Southern identity, her tortured yet loving relationship with her mother, and the complicated role of faith in her life.
When Casey Parks came out as a lesbian in college back in 2002, she assumed her life in the South was over. Her mother shunned her, and her pastor asked God to kill her. But then Parks's grandmother, a stern conservative who grew up picking cotton, pulled her aside and revealed a startling secret. I grew up across the street from a woman who lived as a man, and then implored Casey to find out what happened to him. Diary of a Misfit is the story of Parks's life-changing journey to unravel the mystery of Roy Hudgins, the small-town country singer from grandmother's youth, all the while confronting ghosts of her own.
For ten years, Parks traveled back to rural Louisiana and knocked on strangers' doors, dug through nursing home records, and doggedly searched for Roy's own diaries, trying to uncover what Roy was like as a person — what he felt; what he thought; and how he grappled with his sense of otherness. As Parks traces Roy's story, she is forced to reckon with long-buried memories and emotions surrounding her own sexuality, her fraught Southern identity, her tortured yet loving relationship with her mother, and the complicated role of faith in her life. With an enormous heart and an unstinting sense of vulnerability, Parks writes about finding oneself through someone else's story, and about forging connections across the gulfs that divide us.
The Oregon Book Awards are presented annually by Literary Arts, Inc. for the finest accomplishments by Oregon writers who work in the genres of Fiction, Poetry, Literary Nonfiction, Drama, and Young Readers Literature. Listed here are the winners in the Creative Nonfiction category; the winners of the General Nonfiction award can be found here.