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“I Started Thinking About My Family’s Story in Light of #MeToo”: A Conversation with Erin Keane

June 8, 2023

By Jason Kyle Howard, creative nonfiction faculty

During residency last November, in between workshops and lectures and readings, my friend and colleague Erin Keane and I escaped the Spalding campus for a perfect greasy lunch at D. Nalley’s. Our motivations weren’t just to have a break from the demands of residency or to carb up on a frigid, windy day. I wanted to talk to Erin about her exceptional essay collection Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me, which had just been released a few weeks before and would soon be named one of NPR’s best books of the year.

In creative nonfiction, I am especially drawn to work that looks beyond the self to place our own experiences and histories in conversation with something larger. Runaway more than delivers on this point. The book traces the story of Erin’s mother who, after leaving home at thirteen, thumbed her way across the country and ultimately landed two years later in the East Village. There, in 1972, she met and eventually married a thirty-six-year-old man with a drug addiction. Erin uses this family history as a launching pad to reexamine the inherited narratives she received from her family and her relationship with her father, who died when she was five—and whose story (and absence) loomed large over her childhood and adolescence. But Runaway also interrogates our culture’s dismissal and negation of girls and women, often via Hollywood—through films including Woody Allen’s Manhattan—and popular culture. Erin’s lyrical prose, intrepid journalism—the book also functions as a paean to the grit and grind of reporting—and cultural analysis are on full, shining display throughout her essays.

Our conversation appeared in the fall issue of Appalachian Review, the literary magazine I edit at Berea College. As you read, imagine the clatter of dishes, shouted orders for patty melts and fries, foggy windows that peer out onto a grey Louisville—and peals of laughter.


Jason Kyle Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music and coauthor of Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, Salon, Oxford American, and other publications, and on NPR and C-SPAN’s Book TV. He directs the creative writing program at Berea College and serves on the faculty of Spalding University's Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKyleHoward.


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