The cartoonist, memoirist, and MacArthur “genius” Alison Bechdel described the myriad ways she has wrestled with time during the 2022 Rita E. Hauser Forum for the Arts on Tuesday.
“The main thing I love about memoirs is the challenge of finding a coherent story in the random events of life,” said Bechdel, who published “The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” a book about her relationship to exercise, last May. “You can’t make anything up. So much of writing for me is … figuring out how to sequence things, how to figure out what comes next in the story or argument. And I find that it’s only by engaging in that process that I learn what the story’s about or what I’m trying to say.”
In her talk, titled “The Psychochronology of Everyday Life: Time In Graphic Memoir,” Bechdel explained how childhood diaries and old family photos served as source material for the larger stories she wanted to tell about generational divides and filial relationships in her first two memoirs, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” and “Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama.” “Fun Home” examined Bechdel’s relationship with her father, an English teacher and funeral home owner who came out as gay when Bechdel was in college and died soon after in what his daughter suspects was a suicide. The book was later adapted into a musical and received five Tony awards.
“Are You My Mother?” focused on her mother’s unrealized artistic ambitions and how they affected their relationship. Bechdel recalled noticing in the contrast between photos of her mother as a young woman and in her 40s that something “had been extinguished from her eyes” as an older person. “That was the story” that she followed to structure the book, she said.