For Charlotte Matthews, the switch from poetry to the prose writing found in her memoir can be summed up in one word: Exultant.
“There was a sense that I was running a 10K race as opposed to one mile,” said Matthews, a poet, educator and the Week Three poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “It felt like the process was one of gathering lots of notes. It required a lot of organization and steadfastness to the task at hand.”
At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Matthews will give a Chautauqua Literary Arts Brown Bag lecture, titled “The Atlas of Vanishing Knowledge.”
Matthews’ memoir, Comes With Furniture and People, incorporates experiences from her life, and her Brown Bag will talk about how to write about experience.
The origin of the title of Matthews’ memoir lies in a Craigslist advertisement she said she saw one day while online.
“Someone was selling a dollhouse, and the ad said, ‘Comes with furniture and people,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘How strange’ — because when we move, the furniture and the people come with us.”
Matthew’s memoir, she said, is about growing up in Washington, and the experiences she had while she lived there, including the interactions she had with President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy.
“I played with Amy Carter when I was a kid, and I lived a block from the National Cathedral,” she said. “I actually got arrested by one of Amy Carter’s secret service agents once. I had a very interesting childhood growing up right in the city. There was a lot of moving for me, and that’s part of the backbone of the memoir.”
Matthews, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, is a returnee to the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
“I am going to talk about how writing allows us to articulate experience without diminishing it,” she said. “Writing can be gestures of mercy, and it can be about bearing gratitude.”
Matthews said she’ll share some poems with attendees, as well as the Gettysburg Address, in part because the Week Three theme for the Chautauqua Lecture Series is “The Future of Human Rights.”
“There’s much to be celebrated and much still to be done,” she said. “I thought I would talk a lot about what still needs to be done and how writing can be a part of that. We’re also going to look at the song ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the spiritual, and talk about the power of writing as a way to not diminish human experience.”
As far as her current reading list goes, Matthews said she’s reading both The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt, and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.
“I find both books to be really meaningful to me,” she said.