BOOK NOOK: An exquisite visit to Planets of Pain and Redemption

The poet Stephanie Clare Smith didn’t realize she was writing a book. Smith had been taking care of her mother, who was dealing with dementia. When her mother died she began seeing a therapist. During this period Smith was also writing down some poetic paragraphs.

She showed what she was doing to a friend who encouraged her to keep at it so Smith did. As these paragraphs accumulated Smith eventually recognized that she was actually writing a book and it was published recently as “Everywhere the Undrowned - a Memoir of Survival and Imagination.”

As the memoir opens the author is looking back at her early teens when she was living in New Orleans. Her father was out of the picture, her parents got divorced when she was very young. Her mother would leave her at home alone. She writes: “normal were the many nights I counted cars that came and went that were not hers.”

When she was fourteen her mother told her she was going on a camping trip with her boyfriend. They were going out to the southwest and were gone for over a month. Stephanie was left all by herself. One night she went out to get a cheeseburger and that was when everything changed for her.

A man abducted her and he did bad things to her. She thought he was going to kill her. She kept trying to talk him into letting her go. She feared he was going to drive across the river to Mississippi. In an interview she told me: “if I was going to be murdered. I wanted to be murdered close to home.”

She worried nobody would know what became of her. They might think perhaps she had simply run away from home. After that, in a way, she did run away because as she explained, she spent her life running away from her own story and from what happened that night.

She didn’t blame her mother for putting her in harm’s way. Her mother was the only adult who showed any concern for her. She said “there weren’t any other adults in my life who were helping.” Many years later, after her mother died, she finally began “to dismantle this whole view of her.”

Up until that point she said “you create this elaborate, beautiful view of that parent.” It was never her intention to reveal these things to a mass audience, to strangers. She told me that “some of the things that are in the book I never shared with anybody.” So many of us have to live with our secrets.

She believes “there are a lot of people who have had similar experiences. Writing this book might make them feel less alone.” There’s healing happening here. She writes: “don’t be scared, I would tell my mother during her days of dementia. I’m not going to leave you. I know, she would say without looking at me.”

Smith writes beautifully. Her memoir is tragic and yet stunningly gorgeous. It completely blew me away.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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