Memory's Wake is a work of experimental nonfiction. It's by turns memoir, family biography, regional history, photo essay, and staggered narrative. This story revolves around my mother's childhood and the abuse she experienced at the hands of her family (her mom mostly) during the 1930s and 40s in the Finger Lakes of New York. It's about how that history hibernated in her mind until sprouting forty years later as "recovered memories."
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"Memory’s Wake is a brilliant, haunting masterpiece. Owens uncovers a tale of devastating brutality and intimate struggle with prose so inspired, so precisely, languidly beautiful it leaves you breathless. This story of one mother’s unfathomable hatred and one mother’s transcendent love is more than a personal history. Through revealing his mother’s trials and trauma Owens delivers us into the arms of our best and strangest self. The self capable of more than survival, capable of grace. Not since David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives has an American writer excavated the landscape of familial, spiritual and historical wreckage with such intelligence and honesty. Memory’s Wake is a profound and deeply moving memoir, apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word."
-- Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty
"Derek Owens’ Memory’s Wake is a solitary son’s journey into the forgotten burrows of New York State’s “Burnt Over District.” He uncovers an ancient American Furnace ready still, even in its twilights, to spread the upheavals of trance, hallucination, and the showers of whispers that seem to rain down out of this so often overlooked geography. He lets himself be bitten deeply by the ghost-footed noises he uncovers and the unsheltered wonders of our claimed and unclaimed ancestral broods who ignited the firestorms of prophesies, dooms, raptures, and locks of talking hair spilling their secrets into the beginning of our twenty-first century lives."
-- David Matlin, author of It Might Do Well with Strawberries and Prisons inside the New America.
As the inside book jacket reads: "What do H.D., John Cage, Gertrude Stein, Susan Howe, Howlin' Wolf, Public Enemy, and the French Oulipo movement have to do with the teaching of writing?" A lot, I argued in my somewhat eclectic rethinking of composition studies--a book drawn from the dissertation I wrote at the University of Albany, and published in 1994.
I proposed to teach writing from a perspective inclusive of feminist, non-Eurocentric, and experimental writing. I advocated a pluralistic tolerance for radically conflicting writing philosophies throughout the university. This book begins with analyses of experimental expository prose (H.D., William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, John Cage, Alan Davies), avant-garde feminist poetics (Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Howe, Madeline Gins, Nicole Brossard), African American discourse ("nommo" to blues, jazz to rap), hypertext, and other innovative discourse influences, ending with a series of proposals intended for teachers, theorists, graduate students, and writing program administrators. Gary Tate wrote that "No one who reads this book will ever return to teaching composition in the same old way without at least a twinge of guilt."
While sustainability—meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing the interests of future generations—has become a dominating force in a range of disciplines, it has yet to play a substantive role in English studies. I argue that, in light of worsening environmental crises and accelerating social injustices, we need to use sustainability as a way to structure courses and curricula, and that composition studies, with its inherent cross-disciplinarity and its unique function in students’ academic lives, can play a key role in giving sustainability a central place in students’ thinking and in the curriculum as a whole.
In this book I drew on student writing to articulate a pedagogy that gives students opportunities to think and write in three zones of inquiry: place, work, and future. This approach allows for the creation of a variegated course wherein students write neighborhood portraits, critique their work experiences, reflect on their majors, investigate alternative theories of education, compose oral histories, construct narratives about their futures, and design their own assignments—all from the perspective of sustainability. These writings are juxtaposed with observations from writers in architecture, ecological economics, future studies, planning, sociology, sustainable business, and urban studies. The appendices include a variety of environmental statistics, as well as a detailed description of the kind of composition course I used to teach, with assignments ready to use or adapt. In a review in Ecopoetics (no. 3, Winter 2003), Jonathan Skinner wrote "This book belongs in the toolbox of any instructor whose teaching is geared to a rethinking of the whole curriculum. Owens’s willingness to bring the most difficult issues of our time into the heart of his pedagogy is an example and a resource to all who work in education."