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Work Sample Submission: "On Nostalgia." This personal essay is part of my memoir-in-progress, The Grace and the Torment: In Search of Wilmeth, and it explores the nature of family secrets, inheritance, and nostalgia. Originally published in Passages North magazine in 2016, the essay won the 2015 Hrushka Memorial Prize, was honored with a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, and earned a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2016. The book centers on my late grandmother, Wilmeth, and her suicide in 1965. Part memoir, part detective story, part social history, the memoir is inspired by Wilmeth’s death, my father’s silence about it, and my childhood visions and dreams of the ghost of my deceased grandmother. It uses Wilmeth’s suicide (at the age of 48) as the locus for an exploration into the nature of inheritance, family history, gender, and the consequences that long-held secrets and trauma can have across generations. Using personal letters, photographs, diaries, archival records, interviews, and official documents, this book enters the complicated era of 1960s Washington, D.C., and looks at the life of a woman working in the Kennedy Administration and aching to be more than just a housewife. Science and biology also inform this writing, including the emerging field of transgenerational epigenetics, which studies how we inherit ancestral experiences via changes to our genetic code. I use my award-winning journalism and creative-writing skills to tackle my most compelling assignment: unraveling the story of my brilliant but troubled grandmother and reconciling my father’s secrecy. Ultimately, this is a detective story of the human heart. It is an attempt to resolve the mysteries of what we inherit and to understand how we inhabit our present while living with the ghosts of our past.
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