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 Annilee Newton, author of “Leet.”
Q: Did you write “Leet” with a particular person/reader in mind?
Annilee: I used to teach at an inner city middle school in Houston. Most of my students were Hispanic, and many of them had very strong family ties and cultural identities. One day while we were discussing a piece of literature that grappled with the theme of family, I mentioned that I didn’t know my grandparents very well. The eyes of one of my students grew wide with alarm. “You don’t know your grandparents? Are you okay, Miss? I mean, did it hurt you?”
“I don’t know, I mean, I don’t think so,” I said. “After all, I’ve never known anything else.”
Every time I write about my family, I remember this student and this class and this question. And, although he could never be the audience, I thought about Grandpa Leet himself, and all the rest of the dead Newtons in Kentucky. They are my ghost audience. I thought about Grandy. Also, my sister and my dad and my tiniest baby nephew. Together, the four of us represent all of the genetic material that Leet still has kicking around this world.
Q: How has the publication of your piece influenced the work you are writing today or your writing in general?
Annilee: The editing process taught me, or maybe reminded me, how invaluable another set of astute eyes can be to the process of creation. Collaboration of any kind is so rewarding, and now my piece gets to be a part of something bigger than me and my story. I’m am so proud that “Leet” can part of a this collection of voices and memories.
Six years ago, I started writing a multigenre book about food, memory, family, identity, taste, and experience. It’s all a glorious mess, and the different drafts of the separate pieces tell the history of my development as a writer. Something about the publication of Leet has made me see that the unifying thread that ties all the recipes and biology and myth together is me. In all the excitement of the research (which I love), I have choked out the narrative thread. In this summer’s revision, I’ll spend time writing myself back in.
Q: What books are you reading at the moment?
Annilee: During the school year, I’m usually reading two books–one that I’m teaching and one that I’m reading for pleasure. Right now, I’m teaching and rereading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Every year when students experience this memoir, I get to see their understanding of the world deepen and widen. With the power of her own story, Jeannette Walls gives my students an intimate portrait of poverty, and she shows them how sometimes in the messiness of real life, the hero and the villain can be the same person.
I’m also reading A. B. Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan. Mitford was a British diplomat who lived in Japan in the late 1800’s. He watched the country transform as it opened itself up to the world after a long period of enforced isolation. This year for spring break, I took a group of students on an educational tour of Japan, and we all learned so much. My trip also inspired me to rewatch the Sailor Moon anime series from the nineties, to my boyfriend’s horror.
Read more from Annilee
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.