Author to read and discuss memoir about dementia

On Sunday, May 4, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild will be hosting an informal conversation and reading with poet, playwright and memoirist Jeanne Murray Walker, who will be reading from and discussing her memoir, “The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s.” The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the upstairs room of Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach.

While “The Geography of Memory” chronicles the author’s experience of watching and helping her mother as she gradually “disappears” into dementia, organizers said, Walker’s story is unique — and hence receiving so much attention — because it does not focus unrelentingly on the negative aspect of the experience.

Walker, they said, does not shy away from what is difficult — the struggle to help her mother when she lives more than 1,000 miles away, the pull between helping her mother and taking care of her own career (Walker is a professor at the University of Delaware), and the way a parent’s illness opens up other family silences and disagreements.

But Walker also uses her knowledge as a poet and playwright, as someone who cherishes the imagination and the playfulness of language, to try to understand her mother as she slips away from who she is now, they added.

“There is a wonderful lightness to this book that you don’t expect, given the subject,” said Maribeth Fischer, the executive director of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. “And Jeanne herself has that same quality. It’s why we’re hosting the event at Dogfish — as Jeanne commented, ‘Perhaps a glass of ale was a good thing to have when talking about dementia.’”

Following the reading, Walker will hold a conversation with attendees — about the difficulties of writing memoir and how it differs from other kinds of writing, about the difficulties of writing about family, and about her own experience with her mother’s dementia — and how writing about it helped her to better understand that experience.

In addition to “Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s,” Walker’s poems and essays have appeared in many periodicals, including Poetry, the Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, the Atlantic Monthly and Best American Poetry. She is the author of seven books of poetry. She lectures, teaches, and gives readings extensively in places ranging from the Library of Congress and Oxford University, to Whidbey Island and Texas canyon country.

To RSVP for the event (which is free) email contactus@rehobothbeachwritersguild.com. For more information about the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild, which is a nonprofit 501c(3) association dedicated to encouraging and nurturing writers of all genres and skill levels, go www.rehobothbeachwritersguild.com.

Walker’s book “The Geography of Memory” will be available at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth (and will also be available for purchase at the reading).