In Her Own Words
by Lee Smith
|Photo by Susan Raines|
I started telling stories as soon as I could talk--true stories, and made-up stories, too. It has always been hard for me to tell the difference between them.
But he was hardly one to talk. Both my mama and my father were natural storytellers themselves. My mama--a home ec. teacher from the Eastern shore of Virginia--was one of those Southern women who can--and did--make a story out of thin air, out of anything--a trip to the drugstore, something somebody said to her in the church. My father liked to drink a little and recite Kipling out loud. He came from right there, from a big mountain family of storytelling Democrats who would sit on the porch and place 25 dollar bets on which bird would fly first off a telephone wire. They were all big talkers.
Decades later, I'm still at it. Narrative is as necessary to me as breathing, as air. I write for the reason I've always done so: simply to survive. To make sense of my life. I never know what I think until I read what I've written. And I refuse to lead an unexamined life. No matter how painful it is, I intend to know what's going on. The writing itself is a source of strength for me, a way to make it through the night.
The story has always served this function, I believe, from the beginning of time. In the telling of it, we discover who we are, why we exist, what we should do. It brings order and delight. Its form is inherently pleasing, and deeply satisfying to us. Because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, it gives a recognizable shape to the muddle and chaos of our lives.