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‘The resilience of the human spirit’: Patricia Horvath’s ‘But Now Am Found’ recognized by CELTSS

By Raena Doty

Arts & Features Editor


Every semester, the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, Scholarship and Service (CELTSS) hosts an event for the Scholarly and Creative Showcase Series.


The event for the Fall 2023 Semester, held on Nov. 30, was a Zoom discussion between authors Patricia Horvath and Marita Golden.


May Hara, the director of CELTSS, introduced the speakers.


“These events are hugely inspiring to me. I come away feeling like my bucket has been filled by all the creative work that is happening on our campus,” she said.


Horvath, a professor of English at FSU, published a collection of short stories earlier this year titled “But Now Am Found.” This is her second book, following a memoir, “All the Difference.”


Golden is the author of over 20 books, the Writer in Residence at the University of the District of Columbia, and the founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.


“And [she] has been a question on ‘Jeopardy!’” Hara added.


“This is the 40th anniversary year of the publication of ‘Migrations of the Heart.’ So we’ve been friends, mentors, colleagues, buddies for 40 years,” Golden added.


They started the conversation by talking about how a writer’s childhood is profoundly impactful to their creative work.


“Everybody has a childhood that they never escape,” Golden said. “Particularly because you’ve written both memoir and fiction, and I’ve done the same, let’s talk about childhood and your childhood and how you’ve mined that for the two genres.”


Horvath said, “Flannery O’Connor has said that anybody who survives childhood has a life’s worth of material to work with.”


She added she knew adults were unreliable from a young age due to her father leaving her family without explanation and the knowledge that her grandparents left her mother to foster care, and this has deeply affected her writing.


She said her physical disability, severe scoliosis, meant she didn’t go outside to play a lot, and she spent a lot of time in her room reading.


“I read Dickens. I knew what happened to orphans - it terrified me,” she said. “My stories are about that - what happens when you have that moment of awareness - of, you know, ‘There are people around me, but I have to pay attention, and the adults in the world might not be able to save you.”


Golden said writing memoirs helped her make sense of her life.


“It gave me an opportunity to look at my life as if it were lived by someone else,” she said. She added it also gave her a new appreciation for how “majestic and grand” her parents were.


She said her parents, neither of whom was formally educated, were her first writing teachers and mentors, and they grew up teaching her about literature and history. She noted she wouldn’t have had so much to invest into her writing if they hadn’t raised her the way she did.


“Isn’t it wonderful to be a writer?” Golden asked. “It’s agonizing. It’s hell, but it’s also wonderful.”


Horvath said new writers tend to focus on what happens in their life when they begin to write, but “it’s not what happened. It’s what you make of it in retrospect.”


Golden said, “I think we’re living in a very wonderful time for writing,” adding when she was growing up, “The American writer was stereotypically a certain kind of person.”


Horvath agreed, saying, “Not you - not me.”


Golden said, “We’re living in a time now where, when we think of writers, we think of all different persuasions.”


Horvath said back when she started writing, Golden was the first person to call her a writer because the people around her didn’t know why she wanted to write after coming from a working-class background.


She said when Golden’s book “Migrations of the Heart” came out when she was in school, she brought her mother to the launch to meet Golden.


“My mother said, ‘Patti wants to be a writer.’ And you looked at her and said, ‘She is a writer.’ And that blew my mind,” Horvath said.


They switched topics after that and began discussing the memoir as an art form.


Golden said even though the memoir genre has become very popular, as recently as 10 years ago, her students would complain about other professors not taking it seriously.


Horvath said this is because the memoir is “a female form,” and compared the criticism of it to the term “chick lit” - “What it means is fiction written by women. Don’t call it ‘chick lit.’”


Golden then turned the conversation to talking about “obsession and delusion,” and the way characters try to distance themselves from their reality in favor of “an idealized world.”


Horvath said, “I became really interested in religious and moral certitude, because we live in a world where that’s so prevalent now, and we’re seeing what it does. We’re seeing the kind of dangers that exist when people are convinced of their own rightness.


“I tell my students, I write about what I term ‘vexation and inquiry,’ which just means, ‘Something’s bothering me and I have to figure it out,’” she added.


Golden said, “The beautiful thing about literature at its best is that it smashes certitude, and prioritizes and makes us comfortable with ambiguity.”


Horvath said though she often writes from her own life, she also writes about stories people told her that she thought were interesting.


She explained a colleague once told her about a girl with a disability who required a brace like her own, and she found someone willing to accept her “physical deformity,” words she said in air quotes, but she ended up leaving him because he was Jewish. Horvath added she found this interesting and wrote a story about it.


“I originally wrote it from her point of view, but I disliked her so much,” she said, adding she rewrote the story because of it.


After hearing this, Golden added, “I think all stories are true and all stories are fiction.


“With the first sentence, we’re fictionalizing whether we know it or not,” she said.


She said a good memoir should read like a novel, characters should “sound like they’re confessing,” and a memoirist should create a whole world.


“We wouldn’t have them any other way. They couldn’t satisfy us any other way,” she added.


Horvath said even though she agreed, she also thinks it’s important for a memoirist to tell the truth. “You don’t just make things up,” she said. “It’s what you make of your own life that’s interesting.”


After this, Horvath read the final two stories in “But Now Am Found,” titled “Accident” and “Sunrise.”


She pointed out both stories are about dealing with grief and the relationship between a mother and a son, which she said wasn’t a coincidence.


“So much of what I’m interested in is the last moment of innocence. And both of those stories are about the last moment of innocence - before the cops show up, before the phone rings, before the doctor walks in with the CAT scan results,” she said.


Horvath also said much of “But Now Am Found” was inspired by the death of her husband from cancer.


Golden added, “Loss is a powerful inspiration,” and related Horvath’s loss to the death of her mother and her father when she was 21 and 23 years old, respectively.


Horvath also said her scoliosis was a major point of inspiration.


“Resilience - the resilience of the human spirit, whether it’s loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of agency, the loss of health. I’m very interested in … ‘How do you go on as you go on?’ I don’t have an answer for that,” she said.


They ended their discussion by talking about how writing fiction and nonfiction are different from each other.


Golden and Horvath agreed writing in the two genres enriched their abilities in both.


“I was writing a novel several years ago and got stuck and put the novel aside and wrote a nonfiction book. And then writing that nonfiction book gave me something that I needed to finish the novel,” Golden said.


Both writers agreed if they had to choose between one or the other, they would both choose fiction, because it gives them the ability to write in the perspective of people who are different from themselves and about stories where they don’t know the ending.


“I love not knowing where I’m going, because then I can go anywhere,” Horvath said.


After a question-and-answer portion of the night, the authors finished the conversation by talking about how important it is to discuss books.


“I think that this is such an important conversation to have in the current atmosphere, where reading has become in some quarters a fearful, dangerous act,” Golden said.


“The best thing we could do now is read a book - buy a book for a young person,” she added.


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