In August, Verbal welcomed a visit from Spirit of 2012, funders of the Reading Rooms Beyond the Walls programme, Alex Johnston (National Grant and Learning Manager) along with Thomas Copeland (representative from Spirit’s Youth Advisory Panel). Young participants from Beyond the Walls were invited to attend the Reading Rooms as well as representatives from some of our partners: Probation Board Northern Ireland and Western Trust’s 16+ Pathway Team in Derry.
The story read aloud was David Sedaris’ Hejira from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (Abacus, 2004) and the poem was Sharon Olds’ I Go Back to May 1937 from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002 (Random House, 2004).
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a collection of autobiographical essays of Sedaris’ upbringing in Raleigh, North Carolina. The short story Hejira tells of his life after dropping out of college and his father kicking him out of the house, as he explains “After six months spent waking at noon, getting high, and listening to the same Joni Mitchell record over and over again, I was called by my father into his den and told to get out”. Sedaris was not aware at this stage that the actual reason for being thrown out of his family home was “not because I was a bum but because I was gay”. Sedaris moves the reader onto the car journey with his mother, the drive to his sisters flat to live, her breakdown at saying goodbye to him and questioning what people must think of seeing them in this situation, “did they imagine, for just one moment, that we might be special?”.
This is a beautiful story of one person’s struggle with identity, not as we might imagine as a gay man growing up in 1970’s America, but as a drug addict, a sponge, a failure. The story was thought provoking and responses powerful and insightful. We spoke about the struggles of growing up, the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of family relationships, finding work and taking drugs, about being alone and wanting space and who to turn to in times of need.
The conversation was rich and engaging, the young participants full of great feedback and strong opinions. The story can be appreciated whether the reader was 21 or 41 years of age, whether the responses came from first-hand knowledge or life experience, there was plenty to talk about.
The poem also evoked many interesting responses, a daughter looking at a photograph of her parents when they were young, before they were married, before the choices they subsequently make in their married life. We discussed going back in time, would we do it all the same or would we even want to go back in time? Significantly, it was the programme participants who chose to go back in time, where the older participants thought better of it. The message we all agreed on at the end was that it is living life to the fullest so that we get the opportunity to tell our own stories.
Find out more about Spirit of 2012’s visit at our latest video for Reading Rooms Beyond the Walls.