NiteTalk: Kelle Groom Saves Herself from Drowning

Few writers have guts enough to start out sad, work through tragic and wind up at devastating, especially when writing about their own life. Which puts Kelle Groom among a candidly courageous few. Not that the Florida gal's memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Free Press $23), is non-stop solemn, mind you. But it does go down, down, down before the upside kicks in. Of course, that just makes the upside ever more uplifting. Hit Books & Books this Thursday evening and hear for yourself.

Could you please tell us a quick bit about I Wore the Ocean...? I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is a lyrical memoir of 32 (mostly) short chapters about my search to learn about the life and death of my son, who I gave up for adoption when I was nineteen and struggling with alcoholism. Much of the memoir takes place in Florida and in Massachusetts. I thought that by writing this book it would take me to my son in whatever way was possible. That I could find him.

How much of this truth is true? I felt that to get clarity, to find the true story of what had happened - to my son, and also to my younger self - I had to start at the beginning, and see everything new, from this point in time. I'd kept journals that documented those years, and they were a great help in verifying dates, conversations, etc. But I didn't want to tell this story, I wanted to discover it. In writing the book, I learned that many things I'd believed weren't true after all - the reader makes these discoveries along with me. But yes, it's a memoir of grief, addiction, and hope.

Need readers worry they'll drown in sorrow? I Wore the Ocean does begin in terrible darkness - to find my son, I first had to look at how we were lost. But it moves into places of transformation, of hope. It becomes about how to live in the world.

That's good to hear. Is the title somehow evocative of that? Yes, the ocean is a great source of solace in the book - steadiness, beauty, continuity - a spiritual home. Throughout my life, it's the place where I feel most myself.

Where did the title spring from anyway? The title refers to a beautiful blue dress I wore when I was four years old, a flower girl in a wedding. The dress fell in waves and surrounded me like the ocean. It almost seemed to carry me. When I wore it, I felt like I appeared, became visible.

Kelle Groom reads from and discusses her memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, June 16, 6:30 p.m. at Books and Books 265 Aragon Ave Coral Gables. For more information call (305) 442-4408 or log on here.

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