LAist Interview: Felicia Sullivan, author of The Sky Isn't Visible from Here
New York author, media maven and baker extraordinaire Felicia Sullivan is in town this week to read from and sign her Brooklyn-based memoir of family addiction, recovery and hope in The Sky Isn't Visible from Here. Sullivan will be reading tonight @ Pi Restaurant next door to Book Soup at 7pm and tomorrow @ Vroman's at 4pm.
Your book is an intensely personal look at your life. The reader not only sees your mother struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, but we see you struggle with - and ultimately overcome - these vices as well. How difficult was it to write this book? What compelled you to write it?
Writing the book from both a personal and craft perspective was incredibly difficult. Personally, I was trying to come to terms with what I had experienced as a child while also struggling with a drinking problem, all the while trying to achieve what writers set out to do – write a good story that is their own. Returning to the past – memories of the years I had spent as my mother’s daughter, my mother’s caretaker – was indeed painful, but necessary. For years I was adamant about not returning to this dark country, but living this way wasn’t necessary healthy because the past consistently crept back in my life and the harder I tried to deny it (self-medicating, living a life of my own invention), the more difficult bearing the weight of these two lives became. Ultimately I knew that confronting the past was the only way I would move beyond it.
In some way or another, I’ve always written about my mother. When I was eight I published a haiku that likened my mother’s voice to thunder. She’s always been my subject – I can’t really recall a time in which my work hasn’t revolved around her – the one person I couldn’t, but desperately wanted to, understand. For years I was working on a novel of lifeless, unlikable characters that did mildly interesting things. I was writing a safe book because I was afraid to commit my memories, this horrific life lived, this very unsafe book, to paper. I was ashamed of my past, of living in poverty, of a mother who loved and terrorized me. I had lived a life of my own invention for so long, I couldn’t imagine otherwise.
At one point the weight of these two lives – the accomplished, in-control professional and the frightened child who never really mourned the loss of her mother – were becoming difficult to bear. Something had to give. One afternoon a friend of mine and I were trading stories about our mothers and we realized that we had both been shamed into secrecy. We were made to feel shame by our mothers, our impoverished upbringing, and a culture where not loving your mother is unthinkable.