Monday, June 6, 2011

Author Feature: Lisa Catherine Harper

credit: Lisa Johnson Photography
Lisa Catherine Harper began writing A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood, winner of the 2010 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, when she was pregnant with her first child, her daughter Ella. Chronicling from conception to her baby's first word, she writes "how motherhood transforms the female body, hijacks a woman’s mind, and splits her life in two," according to the publisher, University of Nebraska Press.

That split refers to life before child(ren), and after. But this book isn't only a memoir. While the story is rooted in her own experiences, it is also deeply researched.

In a "Redwood City Mother" interview in the Belmont Patch, Harper said about Double Life:

"I wrote the book to tell the story of how the biological facts of pregnancy and motherhood drive its emotional and psychological changes. I was inspired most by other works of narrative nonfiction that combined fact with personal narrative. I wanted to do the same thing for motherhood."
Even her "parenting" essays, published in esteemed journals such as Gastronomica, Glimmer Train and Literary Mama, aren't your run-of-the-mill variety. Harper's topics run the gamut from examining the possible positive effects of war play and toy guns on her own children to finding a balance between writing and parenting. Her recent essay, Living With Captain Underpants, an argument for her five-year-old Finn's joy of books, is such a tender portrayal of love--for her son and for literature--that it made me cry.

"A Double Life engages every aspect of my writing life: the rigor of research, the necessity of narrative, the experimental flight of lyric," she said in a recent blog interview with Writer Mama Christina Katz.

It is these elements that Harper, an adjunct professor in my MFA in Writing program at USF, brings to her teaching as well. In her Research for Writing course, which I took in the fall, she not only introduced us to the nuts and bolts of researching a history, topic, character or place. She taught how to "use craft to render something artful, based on the facts of reporting." Through weekly exercises such as observation of an event and reconstructing a narrative around it, Harper helped each of us shape our findings into compelling stories: engaging and clearly focused.

Lisa Catherine Harper is also a contributor to two anthologies--Mama PhD and Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Conoisseur Culture, as well as the co-editor of one--Dish: Making the Food that Makes Your Family. In addition to writing precise and prolific prose that's a pleasure to read, she appears to be a master of social media, marketing online for author success. Harper has a beautiful website (where you can get a 20% off promotion code to buy the book), she updates Twitter and her blog, and publishes high profile articles or guest blogs on her topic often--at least 4 times in the past month alone.

"Editors didn’t know what to do with the book, how to sell it, or where it would find its home in bookstores. I responded by working hard on two aspects of my manuscript: 1) Dramatizing the personal story; and 2) Ensuring the research emerged organically from the narrative," she said in an interview by writer Lisa Romeo.

If you're in the SF Bay Area, don't miss Lisa Catherine Harper at the Literary Death Match June Swoon: "Four sizzling scribes fight to survive a battle of words, wit and punctuation. Ink will be spilt!"

Check out this retro animated trailer for A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood ~

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