Marianne Gingher, director of the creative writing program at UNC, has reclaimed the genre with something a little different in her newest work, "A Girl's Life: Horses, Boys, Weddings and Luck" (Louisiana State University Press, $24.95). The work is the author's first memoir.
Unlike memoirs like Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes," Gingher's memoir explores the wonder and positive aspects of childhood.
"It's not sugarcoated or anything, but I had a happy childhood," Gingher said.
"It was not without the bad moments that happen in all childhoods, but I experienced an observant childhood in serene circumstances."
After reading a review of a heart-wrenching memoir by Anne Sexton's daughter called "Searching for Mercy Street," Gingher decided someone had to write a memoir of a relatively happy childhood -- and the idea for "A Girl's Life" was born.
Gingher, who was born in Guam, grew up in Greensboro.
The more she began to write essays about her childhood, the more she realized she'd experienced one of the last ages of truly innocent youth, before the days of oversubscribed childhood schedules.
"As a child, I had tremendous amounts of freedom," she said.
"My parents never had to worry where I was, and I didn't have ballet lessons or soccer practice every day.
"I realized it was very different from how my own children have grown up."
From the time she was a third grader, Gingher loved to read, especially childhood classics such as "Strawberry Girl" by Lois Lenski and "The Boxcar Children" by Gertrude Chandler Warner. She also was creative, writing her own stories.
"When we went to the grocery store, my mother would get us a treat," she said. "My brothers would usually get a candy bar, but I would ask for a pad of paper."
As Gingher's childhood interests weren't like those of other children, neither is her memoir like those of other writers -- and it is already receiving critical acclaim. "A Girl's Life" unfolds as a series of interconnected episodes, some funny, some sad. Although the last section deals with how Gingher's childhood has influenced her experience with her own children, overall, the book focuses on adolescence.
"Late adolescence is a sort of cross-roads because you are both the most hopeful you'll ever be and the most despairing," she said.
How did Gingher recreate her own childhood so vividly, with such a widespread appeal?
Perhaps it's a special gift -- Gingher's method of storytelling is a way of looking at life.
"It's how to make the ordinary extraordinary," she said.
Gingher will appear for a book signing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bull's Head Bookshop.
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