Writing about family members is tricky business. On the one hand, it is a fine way to honor and remember the people who have helped shape us. On the other, it’s rife with opportunities to get it wrong, to misunderstand, to wound, to misrepresent.
James McKean, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and professor emeritus at Mount Mercy University, is well aware of the rewards and the risks. In the introduction to his new essay collection, “Bound,” in which he writes about women in his family, McKean puts it this way:
“(L) et me admit that by writing about them, I may have turned the light of betrayal on what they wished left in shadow, the enigmatic, the nuances of their internal lives, restrained or hidden by gender and class. I can only imagine their lives. They are real people. For years, I have been away. To write and revise is to see them again. To write about their lives is to write about my own life as well.”
The essays in “Bound” are thoughtful and often beautiful reflections on the lives — both public and private — of the women McKean profiles. “Stations, 1979,” his recounting of a trip to Europe he and his wife took early in their marriage, is lovely, built as it is, from memories tinged with young love that has endured.
“So Much More” speaks to the challenges of writing about family. The essay is a revisiting of an essay from McKean’s previous collection, “Home Stand: Growing Up in Sports.” McKean’s aunt, who swam in the 1936 Olympics, was not pleased with the original essay. “So Much More” is his attempt to do justice to the fuller scope of his aunt’s accomplishments. It’s driven by a sincerity on display throughout the collection as he imagines his way into lives intimately connected to his own.
l What: James McKean reads from “Bound”
l When: 3:30 p.m. (Q&A) and 7 p.m. (reading) April 5
l Where: Mount Mercy University, Flaherty Community Room (204 Basile Hall), 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids
l Cost: Free