Q&A with Jenny Forrester, author of Narrow River, Wide Sky

Our memories save us, she’d told me when she gave me a diary for my thirteenth Christmas. I started writing my memories to save myself from the grief I’d gathered and given, and to figure out how to live without her, to grow up, and to consider what it means to be of service. ~ from Narrow River, Wide Sky

There’s a theme that keeps appearing in the work I’ve been doing lately, both personal and professional: how writing saves us. Whether I’m writing a letter to a friend or pouring thoughts into a journal, as I’m editing the draft of an essay or reading a memoir, the way we pull at language or push at imagery can weave a story that brings resolution, a desire for redemption, always relief.

This idea holds true with Jenny Forrester’s new memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky (Hawthorne Books, 2017), a beautiful book that Kirkus calls “finely etched” and one that is encapsulated in the quote above. Forrester digs into the past in order to envision a future. Her book moves from scene to scene with little whitespace but plenty of close detail, offering a wide angle perspective on a society bound in politics and religion. The crux of her memoir is revealed in select critical moments between brother, sister, and sister-in-law to-be: we may grow up together in tight spaces and common struggles, but our journey can split at painful, philosophical divides and leave us hungry for understanding, for acceptance. Forrester writes of her return to such grace.

I’m honored to host Jenny for an interview and thrilled to give away a copy of her new book. Click HERE to sign up for the giveaway (deadline to enter is June 18th).

Now, welcome Jenny!


Christi Craig: You and I met several years ago in one of Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen online courses, and I remember mention of you wanting to write a memoir back then. It’s wonderful to see your book finally released into the world–here’s to perseverance, the twists and turns of the process, and success! How has your vision of this book changed from back then to now? Or maybe the vision has always been the same and time played a bigger (necessary) role in massaging the story onto the page?

Jenny Forrester: The desire to write a memoir has always been to pass the stories of my mother to my daughter, but the evolution to something bigger and for a wider audience happened over time. Time was required for this to become what it’s become. For sure, there was no other way than to be patient and keep writing towards the invisible (to me) ultimate form it took. You’re so right.

CC: In the chapter, “Supine,” you write “I got good at spinning in small spaces, careful of the river rocks around me,” and on the opening page of your book, you consider where to bury your mother, saying, “She liked expanses, the wider view. She’d suffered narrowness long enough.” Your memoir speaks on sense of place in relation to self as much as it does other themes (life & society, politics & religion), and it is a moment you experience at the Salt River where place takes you back to your core being:

I started to remember again rivers and where I’d come from after spending so much time and emotion on forgetting what I’d been and learned and forgetting what I’d fought against without knowing why.

Is there relief, then, in putting your story to the page?

JF: Writing helps me cope with the small and massive details of life, and I wish I didn’t have to have this sometimes. It would be so much easier to watch television and numb myself or maybe get involved in some other art form, but I do this because I must. I’m compelled. I would love to write fiction from now on.

CC: You are curator of the Unchaste Reader series, an ongoing literary event in Portland, Oregon. Can you tell us a little more about the series–its roots and its effect on writers, readers, and audience members alike?

JF: The series for women poets, spoken-word artists, and musicians began as a reaction to the male-dominated literary scene and has evolved as my understanding of the gender binary and other social issues and skills and you know, grit or maybe bossiness-used-for-good, and the know-how to create supportive art spaces has evolved. So the main effect of change has been on me, I suppose, and I hope it’s helpful to others. There’s this other effect that is hard to quantify – but it’s joy. There’s this joy that comes from the readers/performers that is so addictive. They’re happy, so I’m happy. Joyful, in fact.

CC: What are you reading these days?

JF: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Book of Joan and Sherman Alexie has a memoir coming out. Ijeoma Oluo, too. And Ariel Gore’s got a new book out soon, too. I’m always reading poetry.

CC: Do you have a quote or mantra that stays with you lately? (Because in many ways, life & society, place & politics hasn’t changed.) 

JF: As I drove through Colorado on the book tour, I kept hearing the lines of the book, and that meant so much to me. So, I suppose one of my mantras is to listen – the landscape has much to offer (solitude and sanctuary) and has much that it needs, you know? I navigate wanting more and being of service and seek to do right and believe that that rightness will widen the river, an important metaphor for me. And as a mantra, a repetition – I write myself resilient.

Jenny Forrester has been published in a number of print and online publications including Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Nailed Magazine, Hip Mama, The Literary Kitchen, Indiana Review, and Columbia Journal. Her work is included in the Listen to Your Mother Anthology, published by Putnam. She curates the Unchaste Readers Series. Visit her website for more information on her writing or the Unchaste Readers website for information on upcoming events.

Don’t forget! Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Narrow River, Wide Sky (deadline is Sunday, June 18th).

About Christi Craig

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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