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The Scarlet & Black

Joy Castro shares story

Joy Castro held a reading yesterday as the first guest author in the Writers@Grinnell series this semester, and facilitated a roundtable discussion on “Literary Crimes: The Art of the Thriller.” Castro is a professor of literature, creative writing and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As an author, she is best known for her memoir, “The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses,” but has also written short stories, essays and novels. She writes from a place of deep personal experience and of the beauty of overcoming enormous struggles. The S&B’s Alejandra Rodriguez Wheelock sat down with Castro before her reading on Thursday. 

Why do you write memoirs: to actively reflect on your experiences or to share them with others who may have lived a similar event?

I do not believe those two things are mutually exclusive. For me, it was first about trying to understand and puzzle through difficult experiences in my own life; trying to shape and understand what had happened to me. Writing was a way to give shape and form to these series of events. I would write about anything that would seem puzzling, weird, beautiful, in order to understand its nature, because writing is my tool to understand the world around me and that gave me control of my life.

Were you not scared to share that much of yourself with the world and being that open?

Well, I understood it was a risk, but as a writer, I had this strange, chaotic experience that I challenged myself to give a frame in language. After you accept the challenge, you forget about the personal connection and it becomes all about the story and having it told in the most honest way.

How does writing about an experience change the way you look at it?

Well, in the case of some of the material, placing it into language helps unite isolated pieces from my traumatic experiences into a frame. This takes the emotional power out of these instances, and I can see them objectively and I can disconnect myself from it.

But if they are that traumatic of experiences, why write about them?

The process was not overnight. I was hesitant to get published, but my editor who had seen my short stories asked me if I had a memoir, which I did, in my private journal. I thought, “If I have this published, I would like all of my family to be dead.” Later, my father ended his life by his own hand, and I realized I did not want my family dead before I tried to figure my life out. I was hesitant about whether anyone [would] want to read [my memoir], but after I revised it, I realized it was about parental suicide, extremism, adoption and identity crisis. I thought maybe, just maybe, this could help someone—maybe someone will relate to my story. I was never completely sure about sharing my writing, for I was always very personal. Nobody knew about my past; only my husband knew some details about my life.

What is the most important thing an author has to have?

A very strong sense of identity and a voice, because that is what makes you different and unique. That sense of confidence is what lets you tell stories only you can tell, and oddly enough makes you relatable to a certain group of people, which I believe creates the most beautiful writing that happens only when you look at the vulnerable, witty, weird, strange parts of yourself. Also, one must beat the idea that one has nothing to say because we all do have something to say, even if it has already been said before. I believe if you have the urge to write, you should be writing.

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