By Kathleen Driskell, Chair of the School of Creative and Professional Writing at Spalding University
Terese Marie Mailhot
Though writing can be used as a therapeutic, as a literary artist I’ve always felt leery of talking about creative writing that way because it feels far out of my realm of expertise. What I do believe, though, is that the best writing is transformative for both the writer and reader.
That’s one reason I am drawn to Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries and want to share it with my literary community during the Spring 2019 MFA Residency in May at Spalding—and why our School of Creative and Professional Writing has chosen it as the first winner of our new Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature, an award with a cash prize of $7,500, established to honor a work of literature that exemplifies the mission of Spalding University and our community’s core commitment to compassion.
In Heart Berries, Mailhot reclaims her “maltreated story” through her writing—a transformation that is aspirational to me as I struggle to write my own story in lyric memoir. My hunch is this aspiration is also a goal for many writers across the genres of our Spalding community.
Our Spalding MFA students know I believe literary tension is best achieved through complexities, not simply a line of plot points rising in one direction toward climax and release, but through multiple tensions that create a taut web that unifies story and style.
Mailhot brings that kind of admirable complexity to her book. She belongs to a web of constituencies. She is a First Nations woman. Like many daughters, she has had a complicated relationship with her mother. Grievously, she has struggled with mental illness and is a survivor of child abuse. But those constituencies are drawn in tension with the fact that at the web’s center, Heart Berries is a story about a particular woman.
Other tensions exist in Mailhot’s style. Foremost, her prose is fierce, unflinching, yet lyric and finely wrought. Rarely have I read such anguish rendered so beautifully. It makes me wonder what I can make new in my own work. Heart Berries reminds me the writing I love most ardently and come back to again and again encourages me to understand old things in different ways.
I’m eager to discuss this book with our literary community at our spring residency and to celebrate the humaneness of Heart Berries. We’ll celebrate the writer Terese Marie Mailhot, too, as she visits campus May 30-31 to discuss her book with us and to collect her well-deserved prize.
To prepare for Spring 2019 residency, each MFA student and faculty member should read Mailhot’s memoir before coming to campus and bring a copy of her book to our first night discussion on Friday, May 24.
Kathleen Driskell is Professor of Creative Writing and the Chair of the School of Creative and Professional Writing at Spalding University. Her book of poems Next Door to the Dead won the Judy Gaines Young Award in 2018. She serves as a Trustee to the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.