Kathleen Stocking has traveled the world, and dug deep into her own community in Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula for what she calls a "bone- deep" understanding of people. She's written about her discoveries along the way in a trilogy of memoirs. The latest is The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale (Stocking Press, 2016).
“My first book was about my peninsula, the Leelanau Peninsula,” Stocking says. “I was writing then for Detroit Monthly magazine, so a lot of that book was columns published by Detroit Monthly. Then I received several awards and did the next book about my state, Michigan, and a lot of islands, because I was always curious about the offshore islands. Then, with my children being grown, and being very curious about the rest of the world, I accepted a fellowship from the William James Foundation and worked in the prisons of California.”
Stocking says she wanted to understand why so many people in the United States are behind bars. Teaching creative writing inside the prison helped her do that. Stocking relates the stories of inmates, many doing time for murder and other violent crimes. She soon found that the inmates were like anyone else, anywhere.
They broke down in tears speaking of their children and the other loved ones they had left behind. They longed for the simple pleasures of life: a good meal, a long walk in nature. Stocking says writing became the key for many inmates to open up what was locked up inside. Stocking’s stories about working with inmates open her new book of travels beyond her home territory.
“From there, curiosity took me to El Salvador, a couple tours in the Peace Corps, and traveling in between, coming back again and again to the Leelanau Peninsula,” she says. “I just wanted to understand the larger world. I was curious about human nature everywhere. It’s kind of like Odysseus, who wanted to leave his little island and have all of these adventures, then he finally came home.”
At 71, Stocking says she's now ready to stay home and care for her own backyard. Writing continues to be a part of her everyday life. She says it's a tool to understanding, growth, and healing.
“We’re all broken,” she says. “And we are all healing. We are all falling apart and all coming together all the time. I have a meltdown every few days as I’m sure everybody does, and then you regroup and you go on.”
Stocking says she had a different kind of childhood. She was raised as a boy for the first ten years of her life. After three brothers died at birth or in infancy, she was treated as something of a surrogate son — even after her sisters were born. That lasted until puberty. But she felt a certain sense of freedom available only to boys at that time, and a sense of adventure that's served her well throughout her life and travels, and now, for her homecoming.
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