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 Memoir Review   

 

 

Witnessing
By Ellen Douglas
University of Mississippi Press, 2004
Hardcover, $28.00 (176 pages)
ISBN: 1-57806-670-0
 
 
 

Before the concept of "witnessing" was co-opted by conservatives, it carried the notion of perception and observation. In her first collection of personal essays and autobiography, Ellen Douglas makes the phrase synonymous with "eyewitness."  

These sixteen essays, which were written over the course of four decades, are intended to encapsulate Douglas's "conviction that observing life around us -- events both historical and personal -- is the writer's essential calling." Douglas has had an extraordinary life. She read Richard Wright, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in her early twenties and recognized immediately her kinship with each writer; her circle of close friends included Shelby Foote and Walker Percy; and, she had the good fortune of marrying a man who believed writing was (and is) essential. 

Douglas understands the ways in which she writes from her own experience. In her essay, "On Eudora Welty," she writes that to be a witness is "to be someone outside the action, waiting to see - seeing. And then? Shaping, limiting, putting into a frame ..... We want our stories to bring to bear the past on the present." She's wisely shown how reading her contemporaries shaped her own sense of writing and of art. 

Witnessing is a pleasure. Douglas's humanity is palpable on every page. 

Ellen Douglas received the 2000 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. The author of several novels, including A Family’s Affairs, Where the Dreams Cross, The Rock Cried Out, and A Lifetime Burning, Ellen Douglas lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

 

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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