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Katie Hafner P’15 garners praise for candid memoir reading

Katie Hafner P’15 garners praise for candid memoir reading

By Victoria Ungvarsky

In 2008, New York Times journalist Katie Hafner rented a classic Victorian home in San Francisco for her mother, daughter and herself to live in. She imagined it would be an idyllic adventure for the family to share.

“It was more like a year in purgatory,” Hafner said during her reading last Saturday, Oct. 19.

Parent of Zo? Lyon ’15, Hafner delivered a talk about her new memoir Mother Daughter Me to a packed Cheever Room in Finn House. The memoir recounts Hafner’s tumultuous and complicated relationship with her mother after Hafner invited her to move in with her. The Kenyon Review sponsored Hafner’s talk.

Hafner spoke to the audience first about the struggles she had connecting with her mother during her childhood. Her mother was an alcoholic and an unattentive parent. When she was a child, Hafner and her sister were taken away from their mother in San Diego and sent to live with their father in Rochester, New York.

The two reconnected years later, yet their relationship was still strained. Although they had what Hafner refers to as a “good phone relationship,” neither was ready for the struggles that would emerge when the family moved in together.

Hafner said she was thankful for the Victorian house they rented since it provided some degree of separation. Hafner and Zo? lived on the top floor, and her mother lived in the basement. The main living space became known as “the buffer floor,” which separated Hafner from her mother.

Mother Daughter Me came from a particularly difficult place for Hafner. She spoke about a time when she and her mother went grocery shopping, and Hafner turned away and ignored her arthritic mother reaching for something on the top shelf.

Plagued by her guilt, Hafner awoke one night and wrote out the sequence, trying to synthesize her feelings on the event.

Looking over her notes, she knew she had a story she wanted to share.

Hafner first asked her mother for permission to write the memoir. Her mother assented, saying, “write what you want, and I won’t read it.”

From there, she began to take detailed notes in order to make her story as accurate as possible, even bringing her computer into the group therapy session she attended with her mother. Hafner joked that her therapist said there were three people in the room during their sessions.

Ultimately, the housing experiment in San Francisco ended after six months, with all parties involved agreeing their attempt had failed.

Hafner said she knows her story is incredibly personal, but she has been overwhelmed by the responses it has garnered. “What’s interesting about the book is that though it’s a very particular story, people say they can relate to it on all kinds of levels,” Hafner said. “That’s incredibly gratifying.”

From a writer’s perspective, Hafner was enthusiastic about presenting her work publically.

“I know that Kenyon is chock full of writers, aspiring writers. So [the event] is really about Kenyon community hearing from another writer about what it was like to shift gears as a writer and go into uncharted writerly territory,” Hafner said.

Judging by the hearty round of applause she received at the end of her reading, Hafner was well-received.

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