This post is part of an interview series featuring the authors of Family Stories from the Attic, an anthology of essays, creative nonfiction, and poetry inspired by family letters, objects, and archives. Monday posts are featured on the Hidden Timber Books website, and Wednesday posts are featured here. Learn more about Family Stories from the Attic at the bottom of this post. Without further ado, let’s meet JoAnne Bennett, author of “When We Feel Invisible.”
Q: How has the publication of your piece influenced the work you are writing today or your writing in general?
JoAnne: I still have every assignment I wrote back in my favorite high school class, Creative Writing. Not even looking up from reading one of my first stories, my adoptive mother would say, in a less-than-impressed voice, “That’s nice.” I don’t ever remember hearing my mother’s words of encouragement or that she ever believed in me as her daughter.
Years later, while going through difficult chapters in my life, I found myself leaning on this “buried gift” that I didn’t even know I had up until then. Now, each time I get brave and share my deepest thoughts and heart-felt feelings in a possible new submission, I find myself not only growing as a writer, but also as a human being. I loved being a part of this wonderful writing project where I felt encouraged to try new things, like writing my first prose poem. I am going to take this newly-found confidence as I move forward and continue to challenge myself with more diverse writing opportunities.
Q: What is a fun, interesting, or unusual fact to share with your readers?
JoAnne: How many sisters can say they have enough brothers to have their own Tee-ball team? Yes, I have seven brothers. None are full-siblings, and some are not even related to me by blood. Sadly, many I have never even met, and three have passed away.
When I was placed for adoption at birth, my new parents were already in the process of adopting another newborn – this brother and I are only two months apart (brother #1). Our adoptive parents already had a son … our big brother (#2). And in recent years, I learned who the guy was that called our home back when I was a teenager. My adoptive mother and my stepfather weren’t home. I asked the person on the other end of the line if I could take a message for my dad. This nice guy just said, “Please just tell him his son called” (brother #3). I never asked for any explanation; I knew I wouldn’t get one. He passed away before I got a chance to meet him and to say how sorry I was that life had to be so complicated for all of us.
In searching for my birth family, I learned that 10 months after I was born, my late birth mother got pregnant again from infidelity, and placed my younger brother (#4) up for adoption as well. The much older siblings (including brother #5) that were raised by our mother had been led to believe that she had placed twins for adoption. Of course, we are not twins, but my brother’s adoptive parents named him Joe, which seemed surreal. One year on my birthday, out of the blue, the florist delivered a beautiful bouquet of flowers signed, “With love, from your brother, Joe.” But it hasn’t been easy to make up for lost time. I have learned it’s easier for some birth siblings to stay guarded and keep their distance out of self-protection from the hard stuff in life.
I wasn’t searching for him, but recently a new brother on my paternal birth side found me (#6); he also has a younger brother (#7). While working on this new family tree, I feared it would change everything if I revealed to my new brother that all my close DNA matches were starting to connect to his family. When I asked, “How do you feel about being my brother and me being your sister,” his reply was something I never heard from any of my other brothers.
“I am proud to be your brother.”
You would think I’d have this brother and sister thing all figured out by now.
Connect with JoAnne
Family Stories from the Attic features nearly two dozen works of prose and poetry inspired by letters, diaries, photographs, and other family papers and artifacts. Editors Christi Craig and Lisa Rivero bring together both experienced and new writers who share their stories in ways that reflect universal themes of time, history, family, love, and change.