On Thursday, Sept. 23, celebrated memoirist and author Joyce Dyer visited St. Mary’s as the second reader in the VOICES lecture series.
Dyer is a distinguished Professor of English at Hiram College in Ohio, and has published three memoirs, one novel, and several essays. Last year, she won the David B. Saunders Award for Creative Nonfiction to add to her already well-stocked trophy case.
Director of the VOICES series, Professor Karen Anderson, commenced the reading by saying “I hope [the audience] enjoys [Dyer’s] quiet and ferocious prose as much as I do.” She then introduced Professor Jeffrey Hammond, who invited Dyer to be a part of the reading series.
Hammond seconded Anderson’s opinion, and likened Dyer to a journalist “searching for the truth, even if it is unsettling.”
The sections of her memoirs that Dyer shared with the audience certainly showcased her detective-like investigation into her own memories—and her love of the Ohio area where she was born and where she still lives now.
First, Dyer read from her memoir, Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town, in which she skillfully describes her feelings about growing up in the Firestone Park neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, a town built solely to house the workers for the Firestone tire manufacturer.
As a child, Dyer didn’t realize how out of the ordinary it was for a town to be so enamored with its founder, namely Harvey Firestone, whose portrait was directly across from George Washington’s in the entryway of the town’s elementary school.
Today, most Americans stereotype towns from the 1950s as cookie-cutter and ordinary, but Dyer introduces her readers to a unconventionally conformist world from that era in which everything from the town park (in the shape of the Firestone crest) to the grocery store (only for Firestone employees) bore the mark of corporate influence.
Up next in Dyer’s reading canon was another memoir, Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood.
Dyer introduced this memoir, a “prequel” to Gum-Dipped, by explaining that she was bothered because of her lack of memories from her very early days as a child in the Goosetown neighborhood of Akron, where she lived before moving to Firestone Park.
In the memoir, Dyer’s preteen self deals with the death of her grandfather, who she had not seen in nine years since her days in Goosetown, where her grandfather grew up. The only answer relatives would give Dyer’s curious questions about her grandfather’s whereabouts during those nine years was that he was a “rascal.”
Because of this, Dyer constructed her own memories of her grandfather as a happy working man, but she was always afraid of finding evidence of something shady in his past.
Dyer teased the audience, and said that although she did discover more about her grandfather, they would have to read her book to find out.
Towards the end of the reading, Dyer gave the audience a taste of her unfinished semi-biographical memoir about John Brown, the famously violent abolitionist who some say was a harbinger of the Civil War.
Dyer herself is unsure why she has taken such an interest in John Brown.
The section she read, which tells the story of a woman she met whose life was changed indirectly by living on the site of John Brown’s home, Dyer comes to the conclusion that she is so fascinated with Brown’s life because she questions if her own moral outlook on life is worth defending.
When asking if anyone had questions at the end of the lecture, Dyer was met with stunned silence.
The next VOICES reading will feature Jennifer Cognard-Black, a St. Mary’s professor of English, on Oct. 14 at 8:15 in Daugherty- Palmer Commons.