How would you be affected if your mother died giving you life? And how would such a loss affect your children? These questions are the foundation of many issues raised by the author, Nancy Owen Nelson, in her search for the missing pieces of a grandmother who in 1905 died giving the author’s mother life, all told in her wonderful memoir, Searching for Nannie B. It was a tragedy that seemed to affect multiple generations, the voids in identity and ill-spent guilt flowing from the stream of blood that kept mother from daughter, and then from granddaughter. But it was a search well-spent.
The Reverend Roger Mohr, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, may have said it best. “Often the tapestry of family history does not seem to offer us the sort of clarity about who we have become, and why. And sometimes the narrative tells us a story about ourselves that we do not wish to accept.”
Nancy Owen Nelson’s search resulted in raising more questions about herself, even as it answered questions about her mysterious grandmother. Nonetheless, in the end her journey toward discovery was one of startling self-awareness and connection. No matter whether you feel connected or lost in family, you will be unable to avoid the heartfelt pleasure and pain that comes from the author’s brave attempt to connect three generations of Southern women.
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Nancy Owen Nelson has published articles in several academic journals and anthologies. She is co-editor of “The Selected Letters of Frederick Manfred: 1932-1954” (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) and editor of “Private Voices, Public Lives: Women Speak on the Literary Life” (1995, University of North Texas Press) and “The Lizard Speaks: Essays on the Writings of Frederick Manfred” (the Center for Western Studies, 1998). She has a published poetry in the, “What Wildness is this?” (University of Texas Press, March 2007) as well as in the “South Dakota Review” “Lyceum” and “Graffiti Rag,” and has creative nonfiction pieces in “Mom’s Writing Literary Journal” (Fall, 2008), “Lalitamba” journal, and “Roll: a Collection of Personal Narratives” (Telling Our Stories Press, 2013). She currently offers a manuscript consultation workshop with Springfed Arts of Detroit.
Nelson earned her B.A. in French and English at Birmingham-Southern College and her M.A. and PhD in English at Auburn University. She taught composition and literature at Auburn University, Augustana College, Albion College, and Henry Ford College. For three years she served as Assistant Director of the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing at Yavapai College, Prescott, AZ.
She is looking for a home for her memoir, “Divine Aphasia.” Her memoir, “Searching for Nannie B: Connecting Three Generations of Southern Women,” is available for purchase. Her poetry chapbook, “My Heart Wears No Colors,” is due for publication in early November, 2018.