A Tribute to Mum, my own Literary Maven by Guest Author Savannah Schroll Guz

american-soma-front-coverWe’re delighted to welcome Savannah Schroll Guz to the ball today. She is author of the short story collection, The Famous & The Anonymous (2004) and editor of the theme-based fiction anthology, Consumed: Women on Excess (2005). A new collection of fiction, American Soma, will be released by Oregon-based So New Publishing in late-May 2009.

It’s just after Mother’s Day, and once again, I wasn’t with my mother to observe it. However, this is not out of the ordinary.

For most of my adult life, I’ve often spent Mother’s Day with other people’s mothers. It is circumstance that keeps us apart, and we usually celebrate afterwards, or sometimes beforehand. Nonetheless, with the exception of my college graduation, which fell on Mother’s Day 1997, I’m usually gallivanting around another state or, as previously happened, another country. The pattern repeats annually, despite the fact that the occasion is intended to honor the woman who spent many pained hours laboring to bring me into the world and decades afterward “fetching me up” properly.

I owe my mother a great deal (my father, too). I’m the first to admit that raising me was a challenge. I was a chatterbox and a pistol. I fought boys in elementary school. My Dad’s affectionate nickname for me was “Rip-n-Tear”. Heaven knows Mom tried a variety of things to help develop my interests and encourage some level of personal grace in this previously uncompromising tomboy. (If the bit about fighting boys on the playground didn’t convince you, note that I played with Tonka trucks and once told my mother that, in my previous life, I had been a little boy.) So, Mom tried piano lessons, but I was fired—yes, fired!—by the piano teacher. There were also dance lessons. I can still conjure up the shrill voice of my Hungarian-born ballet mistress’ repeated (and thoroughly exasperated) chidings of, “Sa-bann-ah, Sa-bann-ah, Sa-bann-ah!” when she found me dallying in the rosin box rather than practicing plies at the balance bar. There were also acting lessons, and happily, I did not disgrace myself there.

guzphotoBut perhaps it was my mother’s first (and probably instinctive) act–reading to me–that has determined the rich texture of my life now. My mother had been an English major, and my father built bookshelves that stretched along one extended wall of our den. In some of my earliest memories, she and I are sitting on the den’s brown plaid couch, whose texture reminded me so much of polyester sweaters, and she would read to me from Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear series, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, and from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I also recall, very fondly, a tape my mother bought that I played so often it finally refused to work. The tape was a compilation of poems and stories released by Cricket Magazine. I have many of the poems memorized, and occasionally, just to entertain my husband with my wackiness, I recite them for him. One of his favorites is Aileen Fisher’s “Cricket Jackets.” Another is John Ciardi’s “Why is the Sky Blue?”

As I got older and could read on my own, I remember that I was given an illustrated edition of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. There was also Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s Stories for Free Children. By the time I reached middle school, I had cracked into my Mom’s fiction stash: her textbooks and prize-winning story anthologies (which, in the late 1960s, cost just cents!). I remember being floored by W. F. Harvey’s “August Heat”, W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”, and Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace”. Eventually, on my mother’s nightstand, I found a Joyce Carol Oates’ paperback, The Seduction and Other Stories. Seduction indeed. Oates was a revelation to me and remains a constant influence in her dialogue, in her characterizations, in her ominous reflections on the human character. I’m glad to have the opportunity to transmit this passion for Oates’ stories to other minds: I now teach “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in my own college composition classes.

In high school, my Mom brought home three books by Günter Grass, The Flounder, Local Anesthetic, and Headbirths. To this day, I can count them as an influence on my own work. Grass weights his idiosyncratic characters with historical anchors, lending authenticity to their motivations and making their foibles inexorable. His microcosms reveal so much about the macrocosm they exist in.

By the age of nineteen, I was employed as a tutor at the college writing center. People brought their essays to me for help and revision assistance. Yet, it was my Mom who served as the sounding board for my own academic essays. And I’m sorry to confess that I was not the most gracious recipient of constructive criticism. Mom did not candy-coat her findings. She had been an English teacher. She could spot over-embellishments, leaps in logic, and sins of omission long before my verbiage wound its way to the figurative ‘bridge out’ sign. Was there offended skulking? Indeed. But do I appreciate it now? Absolutely.

So, on the eve of So New’s release of my second book of short stories, American Soma, I have a mountain of gratitude for all the things my Mum, Carol Ann Schroll (you can say hello to her on Facebook!), has done for my benefit. For all those fabulous meals, for all those years of washing my clothes, for your push to educate me, and for instilling in me a continued desire to learn and achieve (and for kicking ass and taking names when I really needed it), I am so very, very grateful, Mom. Thank You.

12 Replies to “A Tribute to Mum, my own Literary Maven by Guest Author Savannah Schroll Guz”

  1. Thanks for being our guest today! Your mom sounds great, Savannah. And I used to love Cricket Magazine. We had a subscription, but I never knew there were tapes! I can still recite my favorite Shel Silverstein poems though (“there’s too many kids in this tub” etc.). It’s a great way to learn to appreciate the written word.

  2. Thank you *so much* for having me! Yes, Cricket was wonderful. I remember the Shel Silverstein poems, too! Even Cricket’s beautiful illustrations, especially by Trina Schart Hyman, really made the magazine a continuing fascination for me.

  3. Thanks for being our guest. Your mom sounds like she had her hands full, but I bet she had fun, and you obviously turned out A-ok! Good luck with your new anthology!

  4. What a wonderful legacy for a mother to pass on to her daughter–a love of literature! And how proud she must be that you’re creating your own literature now, as an adult.

    Thank you so much for being our guest today!

  5. This is a lovely tribute! And I adore that picture of you two. My parents took me to the library all the time as a kid, and isn’t that a wonderful gift? The love of reading?

  6. Thank you so much, Tiffany and Katie! Absolutely, Kristina. This love of reading opens up new dimensions for me on a regular basis…reading has, in some ways, become a kind of escapism. It also means I will never be without something to exercise my mind. And there’s so much to enjoy now, both online and in print! 🙂

  7. What a wonderful tribute to your mother! My mother was a voracious reader; she always had several books going and for us kids, bedtime stories were the norm. Any wonder that we became writers?!

  8. Hello, Rebbie! So true about becoming writers! I definitely agree that if a mother loves books, she’ll pass this passion on to her children. Once I started to really appreciate the meaning and power of words thanks to Mom’s work, writing just started coming out. So I guess it was pretty inevitable, but all the time I spent on the piano stool and ballet barre wasn’t so terrible. It just gave me even more stories. 🙂

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