Communication & Public Relations
This story is part of our news archives, prior to July 2010.
Mary Karr / alex Lemon / Elizabeth Foy Larson
By Elizabeth Foy Larsen
(Lemon's book has received quite a bit of attention in the media - check it out»)
When Alex Lemon ’00 arrived at Macalester in 1996, he was slated to be star catcher of the college’s baseball team. The next spring, however, a cerebral hemorrhage knocked out his cocksure undergraduate swagger. Happy: A Memoir is a beautifully raw retelling of not only the crippling depression that followed his brain bleed but also a poetic examination of male intimacy and a love letter to his free-spirited mother, who nursed him through his recovery. An accomplished poet, Lemon is an English professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Q: Much of Happy is set during your undergraduate years at Macalester
and describes college guy culture in unflinchingly honest
terms. Was it hard to write about friends and girlfriends?
A: Yeah, it was incredibly hard to write about people who I love. In one way or another, I love all the people I was with during my Mac time. But I couldn’t love myself, so the person all of these wonderful people were caring about wasn’t really me. People want to know if writing memoirs is cathartic. I think it gets you closer to something that you will never fully understand. In a lot of ways the book is about masculinity in America—especially young men who are depressed and hurt but don’t know how to articulate it or talk about it with other people. It looks at how masculinity is shaped by the world we live in and how really sad it is that even at open-minded and idea-driven places like Macalester that kind of rigid gendering still exists.
Q: Memoir is a genre that grapples openly with the limitations of
memory. Happy is, in part, a description of what happens when a
brain is injured. Can you talk about truth in memoir and how it
played out while you were writing?
A: Milan Kundera said memory is an act of forgetting. Any memoir is just how the first person remembers something—it’s all about perception. If somebody else involved in the narrative in Happy wrote about the experience, they’d potentially write about it in a radically different way. After the first brain bleed, I didn’t know what anything was like anymore. I began to constantly question my perception, my senses, my reactions to events. I was always wondering what it was like before and not being able to remember. Through the process of living that way for so long, I became more comfortable with the idea that memoir is more or less an explanation of something that is unknowable.
Q: Why does memoir continue to be so popular, despite the negative
press it has received recently?
A: Memoirs continue to be successful because in the end they are just stories that people can connect to in an emotional and personal way because they are true. It also allows people to realize that everyone has stories. If you focus on artistically telling a story, you can write about sitting at the bus stop and people will be drawn to it because it touches them.
Q: After graduation you returned to Macalester to teach creative
writing and literature. Did being back on campus affect how you
wrote your book?
A: It definitely did. The three years I spent teaching in the English Department allowed me to appreciate Mac in ways that I couldn’t when I was there as a student. I don’t think I had a fondness for much of anything when I was 19 or 21 or 22. When I came back as a professor, I really could appreciate that entire world. I will always feel like Mac is not only one of the best academic institutions around, but a really vibrant and thrilling place to be.
Q: What advice do you have for students interested in writing?
A: Read! You need to really immerse yourself in that life. That means you are writing and reading and paying attention to the world around you. To be a writer, you need to not only open your eyes but open every aspect of yourself and notice the amazingness of what you’re surrounded by.