To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Georgina Lawton shares some of the joys and difficulties behind her book, Raceless, about growing up in a family that fiercely insisted, despite all outward appearances, that she was white.
What do you love most about your book?
That I cover multiple themes and places, that it looks at identity in a way we don’t see very often, that it’s not boring! I write about love, grief, secrets and shame by working through my family lore. And the physical journey I undertook to learn more about race and community brings the reader from London to the U.S. to Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam and back again. Examining DNA testing, Afro-futurism, Black hair and my own past took me on a journey of self-actualization while helping me understand my parents’ choices, too.
What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book?
Those who navigate personal identities in the spaces between, anyone who has wrestled with family secrets—and readers with impeccable taste, of course.
What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
Perhaps on first glance, readers will find it hard to understand how an educated woman who looks like me grew up believing she was related to her white family. Or that my parents really did not ever discuss our differing racial backgrounds unless I pressed. Or that boxes were checked that declared my ethnicity as “white.”
What resistance did you face while writing this book?
The turmoil of writing about my father, our life together and the strength of his love, while also attempting to understand his silence around our racial differences and to work through issues with my mother, was incredibly tough to overcome. I’m proud of the chapter “My Lot,” which is all about my dad, but I detest rereading it because it still makes me cry.
Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
No one prepares you for the emotional time travel that a memoir necessitates. Writing something traumatic from your past is hard enough, but constantly editing and reworking it means that internal wounds take longer to heal. I was surprised by how draining some of it was.
Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
I’ve done a lot of memoir-style writing about me and my family over the years and received lovely, compassionate emails from strangers online, as well as some predictable trolling. It’s actually the other parts of Raceless—the analysis of the subjectivity of race and transracial identities—that I really hope readers are open to understanding.
"I learned a lot about love and belonging and the corrosive power of community secrets."
How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
Like I still want to go back and rewrite bits! I’m very pleased with the final product, but if I hadn’t had actual deadlines, I’d probably still be tinkering away. I am a perfectionist.
What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
Raceless is a hybrid of memoir and analytical writing. If I had just written it as a novel, I wouldn’t have been able to bring in other perspectives and studies. Situating my personal experiences within some sociological discourse added weight to my narrative and hopefully made it more persuasive.
Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
Mining the memories of my Irish mother and English family members for insight into how and why my race and parentage remained a hidden truth for years was quite the mission. But I learned a lot about love and belonging and the corrosive power of community secrets.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.
Author photo credit: Jamie Simonds © Loftus Media