My Advanced Memoir Workshop students and I were fortunate enough to host Michael Steinberg, founding editor of the esteemed nonfiction journal Fourth Genre, and author, most recently, of Still Pitching, for an author Q&A this month.
In preparation for our session, we read Still Pitching, which, on the face of it, is a book about growing up in 1950s New York wanting to be a baseball player. It astounded me how very much I enjoyed Still Pitching, even though, having grown up in Germany, I have little appreciation for the game except for the fun I had playing softball with my American cousins. Steinberg clearly is a great storyteller because those passages where I was totally in the head of his adolescent narrator, experiencing what he was experiencing, swept me along, and the fact that I might be witnessing a baseball match mattered very little.
The level of detail Steinberg musters to create those scenes of his adolescence are stunning, and one of my students asked him how he managed to write at that level of detail after so many years. His answer was illuminating: “You don’t worry about the details when you write,” he said, “you worry about the feeling. I might not remember all the particulars of a scene but I do remember what it felt like. So I wrote myself into that feeling. I re-imagined what it felt like, what situation I had been in, what it had been like to be that kid. The details followed once I was in that place.”
This also explained to me, ultimately, why I liked this book so much: Because it is about universal feelings – of wanting to belong, and of being humiliated – feelings that we all know, no matter what the context. And it is with those universal feelings that the reader will connect. If well done, the subject matter becomes almost immaterial because we recognize ourselves.