Poet, playwright and teacher Jeanne Murray Walker will read from her new memoir “The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s” and selections of her poetry today at 4 p.m. in the Payson Library Surfboard room. The book details the journey she underwent in caring for their mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.
Director for Library Advancement and Public Affairs Ken LaZebnik said it is a great opportunity for the Pepperdine community to interact with a great scholar.
“It is a unique opportunity to hear from a wonderful author about how to write about a searing personal experience,” LaZebnik said.
Born in Parkers Praire a town of 900 in northern Minnesota, Walker wrote the book after her mother passed away. It was only after she read the “shockingly grim,” and what she described as depressing, Alzheimer’s literature in the United States that she realized the discussion had to change.
“Our experience was difficult, but it also contained laughter and a great deal of drama and deepening bonds between all of us,” Walker wrote in an email. She wrote that even though losing a parent to Alzheimer’s can be very harsh, it wasn’t difficult for her to write about it.
“My mother was so smart and so subversive, the book is often funny, as many of its surprised readers have commented on Amazon,” she wrote. “She was a formidable matriarch and a very funny woman.”
Walker described her book as a “complex and interesting reflection on a topic of interest to a lot of people, since so many of us are caregivers.”
Raised a Baptist, after Walker turned 18 she was affected by several violations of civil rights and ended up becoming an Episcopalian.
“I am deeply committed not only to the life of faith, but also to our gathering as a community to celebrate our faith together. I think it’s more likely that I’ll find answers there than anywhere else I know,” she wrote. Walker now lives in Merion Station, Penn.
At the event, she will discuss “Geography” and read a chapter that her mother tried to persuade her not to read — a situation that Walker labeled “ironic” since the event will take place inside a library.
LaZebnik said students attending the event will be exposed to the process of transforming a heart-wrenching experience into art, and will be moved by the poetry. “There will be a greater understanding of the condition of Alzheimer’s, and on this other level I think they will take away insights into how poetry is written and hopefully that will inspire their own thinking,” LaZebnik said.
When asked what students can take from the event, Walker wrote: “First, and perhaps most importantly, a good story.” According to LaZebnik the projected attendance is 50, which would include students, faculty, staff and the Malibu community. Spots are still open.
Follow Ricardo Avila Alvarez on Twitter: @Ravila27