English professor's new book on list of books to read when sheltering in place

Susan Burlingame
April 21, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Elizabeth Kadetsky never dreamed the release of her highly touted book, “The Memory Eaters,” would coincide with a global pandemic.

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Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Kadetsky, author of The Memory Eaters

IMAGE: Nina Subin

Named to Volume 1 Brooklyn’s list of titles “most anticipated for March,” the book garnered the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize in Creative Nonfiction and received national attention, including coverage in the Boston Globe, She Reads, and other periodicals, websites and blogs. In anticipation of its release on March 31, “The Memory Eaters” was named to literary magazine Zyzzyva’s list of “New Book Releases to Read During Shelter in Place.”

Unfortunately for Kadetsky, Penn State associate professor of English and creative writing, the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent mandates to move to online teaching and sheltering in place meant canceling public book launches in New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh — and celebrating the book’s release in very different ways.

“Obviously, I would have preferred not to have the book published during a pandemic,” said Kadetsky. “Still, it seems to be the right book at the right time, because it is about finding ways to cope.”

Kadetsky calls “The Memory Eaters” a “lyric memoir” and a “memoir-in-essays.” It is a series of essays about growing up as a codependent member of a complicated trio along with her eccentric single mother, a New York City fashion model who later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and an older sister who suffered with drug addiction.

“I had a difficult adolescence,” she explained. “My father resented my mother for leaving him, and he took much of that out on me. My mother was distant and detached, and my sister was using drugs.”

Kadetsky said she would walk the streets of New York City “writing essays in my head.” Many of those essays became fodder for “The Memory Eaters,” which addresses secret-keeping, forgetting, and even Kadetsky’s own experiences with therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In some ways, it’s a book I have been working on my whole life,” said Kadetsky.

Kadetsky realized her propensity for writing early on. She began writing poetry at about age 12 and essays at age 14. She said she was fortunate to attend New York City’s famous Stuyvesant High School, which offered tuition-free accelerated academics to city residents. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz; a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University; and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine.

“Elizabeth writes so beautifully and powerfully in so many genres that any new book by her is a gift, but ‘The Memory Eaters’ will resonate especially with readers going through our current challenging times,” said Professor of English and Department Head Mark Morrisson. “While grappling with traumatic and painful situations, Kadetsky’s lyrical gifts are on full display from the very first sentence. We are lucky to have her on the English faculty at Penn State to help our students cultivate a sense of the lyrical and creative possibilities of nonfiction writing.” 

Kadetsky joined the Penn State faculty as a visiting professor in 2009. She is the author of three other books, dozens of fiction and non-fiction stories and essays appearing in journals and anthologies, and a variety of other writings. In 1999 and again in 2019, she was a Fulbright Scholar in India.

“I feel awkwardly proud that the book is getting this kind of attention right now,” concluded Kadetsky. “It shows me doing a lot of yoga, deep breathing and escaping through nostalgia to manage experiences in which a ‘new normal’ presented itself — only to be quickly surpassed by yet another more unthinkable and unmanageable ‘normal.’ This cycle has a lot in common with the collective crisis that we all find ourselves in right now. I hope that my book offers guidance to those who are seeking solace.”

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    The Memory Eaters, released on March 31, was named to a list of books to read during shelter in place.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Elizabeth Kadetsky

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 21, 2020