AWP 2014: Truth & First Person Journalism

My guest blog for Brevity on the AWP2014 panel, First Person Journalism

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

1901147_10152629853947656_1697701726_nGuest blogger Samantha Claire Updegrave responds to the AWP Seattle panel, “First Person Journalism: Tips for Telling the Truth”:

I’m in an end-of-AWP-day-one cranky stupor when journalist, author, and magazine editor Autumn Stephens’ humor lifts me up. I shift my sore hips back into the chain-locked chair, lean forward, and soak up her soft-spoken words. 

“Americans tell 1.6 lies a day,” she tells us, citing a 2010 study. She leans into the microphone and tosses out a few examples.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

We have an open marriage.

There are weapons of mass destruction.”

I’m pretty honest, but it makes me think. I tell that first lie to my four-year-old who demands the book Santa’s Toy Shop at bedtime at least four times a week. He says he’s going to be extra good this year so that Santa will stop at his house with a model…

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I keep a folder — one of those manila-like tabbed folders with fancy birds on it — labeled Encouraging Words.

This week I’m feeling discouraged so I dug it out. Seems that it was last updated in 2012. Which is when I started it. There’s only a few things inside — an email from a writing instructor about an assignment I totally flubbed and one from my friend Sarah an about essay I wrote, a letter of recommendation written by my friend Sean, and 1995 article my best friend and I were interviewed in, written by Sara Sherr, thee rock journalist extraordinaire of my youth, at a Huggy Bear show.

A good start. But clearly in need of additions.

Which got me thinking about all the good words I’ve encountered in the past month, from various people in various places, and how they are saving my ass through this discouraging spell. Instead of giving up, I’m acknowledging that while some piece of my heart is still breaking over and over, I can still be open. I can still write. And I can definitely pass along these encouraging words to all of you.

“Your subconscious knows more than you do.”
Pam Houston, author, January 24, in a Hugo House class, Tennis Without A Net

“The biggest rule I’m going to break is to keep writing what I need to write.”
Natalie Diaz, poet, February 21, at the Hugo House Lit Series

“Permission granted.”
Karen Finneyfrock, poet and YA author, February 22, in her Hugo House class, Writing Toward the Dark Places 

“Write about the lost good thing.”
Kim Stafford, poet and memoirist, AWP Panel, Invisible Geography: Writing Trauma, Pain, and Loss

(Hey, there was a lot of Hugo House in there. You should check them out. Seriously. Inspiring. Place.)

Composite Story

Samantha Claire was born on a fishing boat off the shores of Alaska. When the boat’s first mate (who also served as medic) held her upside down and slapped her, she slapped back. Then dove overboard and wrestled a passing salmon twice her size to the surface.

The fish was a pink salmon, and the incident gave rise to Samantha’s childhood nickname of “Pinky.”

Pinky always knew she wanted to be a writer and even as an infant thought, “This would make a great story.”

Pinky was an early writer, and by age 5 was the most widely-read child author to date. Her debut memoir, Potty Training with Pinky, is the first picture-book memoir plus instructional diagram of its kind, and also included an inflatable training potty for all her toddler fans.

Pinky became world renowned after her first poem was published at five:

“Dogs are boys, cats are girls,
and cows are horses’ wives.”*

And with trepidation she accepted a spot on Oprah where it was discovered she really did write the poem and there would be many more to follow.

Ducks wuddle
Puppies cuddle
Little sisters are always babies

Yes folks, the tragedy of a sibling had complicated Pinky’s perfect life on that ship in Alaska. The tidal wave didn’t help either…


A composite bio imagined by Michelle Hansen, Wayne Ude, Bruce Holland Rogers, Sarah Shepard, and Jo Proginoskes. All good folks, all amazing writers.

*This was written by an actual child.