August’s Memoirist of the Month: Kathryn Campbell

“I always thought I’d write a novel, and when I was younger I’d draft chapters with the big end goal in mind. But when I discovered short story form, and then poetry, and then six words, I came to the realization that often, less is more.”

Name: Kathryn Campbell
Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota
SMITH Member Since: April 2011

Kathryn Campbell with her children, Cameron (14), Olivia (4) and Victoria (17) celebrating Cam’s middle school Moving On this spring. [Photo by Diane Anderson]

Kathryn Campbell with her children, Cameron (14), Olivia (4) and Victoria (17) celebrating Cam’s middle school Moving On this spring. (Photo by Diane Anderson)

Kathryn Campbell has shared so many milestones with SMITH (from “Yes! Yes! 5 years cancer free.” to “She turns 0-4; I turn 4-0.”), it’s hard to believe it’s been a mere two years since she joined us. As SMITH member Lillybrook, Kathryn’s memoirs are insightful and touching (“Failed moments are awarded with wisdom.”), clever and introspective (“So perfectionist even my blood’s A+.”) and show she’s wise beyond her years (“Important life lesson: do no harm.”). We were fortunate to catch the super-busy Kathryn during her summer break and are thrilled to feature her as SMITH’s Memoirist of the Month for August. Thanks to our friends at Spreadshirt. Kathryn can mark this milestone with a Six-Word Memoir T-shirt of her choice.

When did you start writing, and what have been turning points in your creative life?
I started my first diary when I was six years old. I still have that Hallmark book with its keyed lock and green gingham cover. Most of my notes were pretty bland, but I wrote every day. Writing in a diary taught me that recording time illuminates those moments in life, both extraordinary and mundane, that you don’t see if you don’t document them. The written word is exceptionally potent and has a sticking power that memory and oral history just can’t match.

I always thought I’d write a novel, and when I was younger I’d draft chapters with the big end goal in mind. But when I discovered short story form, and then poetry, and then six words, I came to the realization that often, less is more. Each of those departures from recognized to unexplored genres taught me to be selective with my words and trust the reader to uncover what was unarticulated. I now lead the reader by the hand less, infer more, and know that readers are smart; even if they don’t catch every minute detail of an experience as I saw it, they capture something even more significant when they connect to a narrative in their own way.

Teaching writing has also been a turning point for me as a writer. I work full time as an Upper School English teacher and Journalism adviser at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul, where I advise The Rubicon, a state and national award winning newspaper, and teach junior/senior electives in the English department. I also teach one course per term at Hamline University in the Graduate School of Education. Giving feedback to others has taught me that all writing is personal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a third person essay or a first person reflection: Writers risk when they share their words.

How did you first hear about the site what does Six Words bring into your life?
A high school friend and fellow Wyndmere High School alum Chuck Klosterman was highlighted on the back cover of the Six-Word book Not Quite What I Was Planning. I bought a copy so I could read more and loved the format.

I tell my students it is important to write every day, and with SMITH in my life, I model that on a small scale. I’ve also shared the site with many students. At Hamline, I’ve used Six Words as an icebreaker. In Reading and Writing Memoir class at SPA, students write Six-Word Memoirs on the first day and often write several thereafter; at the end of the term, when they self-publish their first memoir, a chosen Six Words rest on the first page. At the end of the 2012-13 school year, I asked students to write “Six Words to the Seniors” and we created a collage in the English hallway of their advice. It seems like there is always a lot to do with this little, malleable form.

Personally, it has become–in many ways–the 40-year old continuation of that six-year-old diary. But, better than that gingham Hallmark journal, this one comes with a community of caring, supportive people who make me laugh and cry and show me that my experiences aren’t isolated. The entries at SMITH document and reflect the world I walk in.

One of my favorite entries is not a memoir as much as it is a thread. I remember reading many, many memoirs about Believe hats (if you want to see a very, very long list, search “Believe Hat” in Life and you’ll see many, including two by me). I commented on one (which, sadly, I can’t find anymore) admitting that I was a little envious of the Believe Hat wearers and within a day, I received a SMITH concierge message from Believe responding: “Let’s fix this hat envy of yours.” I was astounded that someone who didn’t know me would read my work, reach out, and send me a handmade, personalized gift. I cherish it so much. That facilitated a turning point for me on the site: I began to connect differently with the community.

If I were to choose one of my memoirs, I think it would be “Artifacts tattooed naturally: stretch marks, scars” in Love & Heartbreak. The greatest teacher of my life has been my own heart. I’ve felt it expand each time I gave birth to one of my children, I’ve seen it heal from what felt like insurmountable damage at times, and I am reminded–each time it beats–that I am still living, still present, still learning.

Is there someone’s writing in the community hat’s especially moved you?
There are so many, with new people I’d add to the list every day. But the constants for me are canadafreeze, DynamicDbytheC, ShellDeFelice, jl333 and Dragonflower. These are all incredible, strong ladies who wield powerful, thoughtful words not only in their sixes but also in their generous comments to other writers. The authenticity of their stories resonates with me every time I read their work.

What authors inspire you or do you admire?
The Bard.

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;

A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene 1)

Shakespeare invented forms. He invented words. He took tired storylines and made them timeless. His work is the most adaptable, in both poetic and theatric form. I teach Macbeth, a perfect example of Shakespeare’s ability for adaptation. It’s a brilliant play, just on its own, in what it says about power, about grief, and about love. But then modernize it (look at the film version with Ethan Hawke), or turn it punk (as SPA theater’s director, Eric Severson, did a couple of years ago), read the John Updike prequel novel Gertrude and Claudius, or spotlight two minor characters like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…for one play.

Some current contemporary Shakespeare favorites of mine would be Sleep No More, the immersive Macbeth experience by Punchdrunk, playing in NYC. I went to celebrate my 40th birthday this summer and I think I could’ve gone back the next day, and the next, and probably again. It is very provocative. The two sonnets-turned-songs by Joss Whedon for the film noir-style movie, Much Ado About Nothing released in June play regularly on my iPod. I love Shakespeare’s work so much I gave my youngest child a name he created for a character in Twelfth Night: Olivia.

I am not, however, stuck in the 1600s. I find classic and contemporary authors who inspire me every day, and one of my most dangerous outings is one to the bookstore, where I regularly clasp my hands behind my back so I won’t pick up fifty books and find myself unable to set them down. The library is a kinder outing, but those tomes come with a computer-generated ending to the book love affair from the moment I check them out, so the parting is much less dramatic.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
As a single mom of three kids, my favorite activities revolve around my children. Whether it’s dancing around the living room with my four and seventeen-year-old girls or talking video games with my fourteen-year-old-son, it is all so much fun. Minneapolis is a vibrant city for entertainment, and the free events—especially in the summer—are a tremendous draw for us. We love Cromulent Shakespeare in the Park, the Music and Movies series from Minneapolis Parks and Recreation, and the Hennepin County Library events, to name a few. But we also make our own fun with Pizza and Movie Night, bike rides, and school activities.

Finally, Kathryn Campbell, what’s your Six-Word Memoir for today?
Take heart. It’s only just beginning.


27 Comments » for August’s Memoirist of the Month: Kathryn Campbell
  1. Redx3 says:

    Lillybrook, it is a joy to meet you and your lovely family. Congrats!

  2. kathi wright says:

    congrats on this well-deserved feature. i so enjoy your writing, your prompts and your insights. lovely picture of the family, too!

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