While I Was Gone
I was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1943, the second child of four. My family was ecclesiastical to its roots - my father was an ordained minister (though he never had a church), and both grandfathers and various great grandfathers and so on back through the ages were preachers. More important, my parents struggled to make their lives meaningful in terms of witness to conscience, to pacifism, to racial equality; and though I don't see the direct embrace of religion among my siblings, and the cousins in my generation, I'm aware, in myself anyway, of a tendency towards self-examination and examination of others-intention, meanings, scruples, ethics-that seems to connect directly to that tradition, and has served me well as a writer.
For about twenty years, my father taught church history at the University of Chicago. I went to a public grammar school in Hyde Park. I was a reader, a painter, an inventor of solitary projects, the quiet child in a fairly boisterous family. I attended a tiny private girls' school, now defunct, for high school. I was writing poetry all the time I was growing up, mostly derivative, though decreasingly sappy as time went on.
At sixteen, after my junior year of high school, I began Radcliffe College. I was, simply, too young to have done this. Overwhelmed, I stumbled unhappily around Harvard for four years, taking comfort mostly in a love of music-rock and roll, the blues, the folk music of the early sixties-and a string of boyfriends. I wrote fiction again only in my senior year of college, and it was in no way noticed or remarked upon, with good reason.
I graduated at twenty and was married two months later. In the early years of my marriage, while my husband went to medical school, I got a degree in tech high school English and did that briefly. I worked at a Head Start program - again, briefly. I got a job as a research assistant in psychology, as a cocktail waitress, as a model. My husband and I separated for a short time. I also wrote a very bad novel during this period, which I've since destroyed.