Frances Mayes shares new memoir at ASU
Appalachian State University welcomes best-selling author
Frances Mayes at the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Lecture July 24, as part of the ASU library’s
summer author series.
Mayes’ body of work includes “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Bella Tuscany” and “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.” She has also written several collections of poetry, a novel and a variety of other works.
Mayes will visit ASU and discuss her most recent memoir, “Under Magnolia,” as part of her current book tour.
After many years as a professor in San Francisco, as well as time spent on the restoration of her Italian home, Bramasole, Mayes had a “life-changing epiphany” that established North Carolina as one of the places she currently resides.
On a chance weekend in Mississippi, Mayes said she realized that the South of her childhood, “the soft balm of a southern night, the protection of the sun-spangled leafy canopy and the sun that could melt a bar of gold,” was calling her home.
In an interview with The Mountain Times, she explained, “As this desire happened to me, I realized that something had been stirring. Now and then you find yourself suddenly on a big mysterious X mark, the moment of change, and this was one of those times.”
In her memoir, Mayes questions, “I wonder if I have the courage to reimagine the place I fled?”
When asked about the process of looking back into both the beautiful and painful parts of growing up in Fitzgerald, Ga., she said, “Once I actually found myself back in the South, it felt almost foreign and at the same time deeply familiar … the place itself strongly reasserted my deep, physical connections with it — the fecund earth smells, the chaotic chorus of tree frogs, the soaking humidity, the evening light raking across the meadow — feels like home.”
In contrast with her Italian memoirs, written about the excitement of discovery, “Under Magnolia,” she said, “is about the deepest workings of memory.”
Throughout her memoir, Mayes writes about the discord in her home as part of the realization that “we were not normal people.” The volatile relationship between her parents, their excessive drinking and the illness of her father are explored throughout the memoir.
Mayes described the difficulty of writing about these events.
“At least we were not dull,” she said. “My childhood was chaotic and full of extremes, but I was lucky in many ways. I knew who I was, and I just loved, always, the place. Writing a memoir is somehow freeing. You take the pieces of your past and make a narrative. That containment somehow tames the memories.”
“Frances Mayes’ presence and her talk are wonderful gifts to the High Country,” said Joyce L. Ogburn, dean of libraries and information studies at ASU. “I am excited to hear more on Ms. Mayes’ observations about what community means and how it plays out in different places and to discover the commonalities she has observed.”
Mayes’ work carries an incredible resonance about the significance of place and community.
“In California, I always felt that I was a happy visitor,” she said. “I loved living there, but I always was a traveler there. Mysteriously, Italy felt like home from the minute I put my basil plants in the ground at a house I rented in 1985. It still does, almost equally to the South. Those strange connections that say ‘home’ need to be acknowledged when they suddenly arise.”
She also recognizes a duality between Italy and the South.
“So much of what I love about Italy I also experienced as a child growing up in Georgia,” Mayes said. “The immense sense of hospitality and the way life centers on the table — a small Tuscan hill town and an isolated town in South Georgia both possess an intense sense of community ... (both) also have a great sense of the absurd and a love of jokes.”
Frances Mayes will discuss her memoir and more at 3:30 p.m. July 24 in the Parkway Ballroom of Plemmons Student Union on the ASU campus.