Dangerous Archaeology: One Writer’s Excavation

August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Martha Donovan_53
Photograph by Autumn E. Monsees

“By digging and digging the truth is discovered.”
– Telugu Proverb

As a writer, I am interested in the intersections between memory, image, and narrative, and the ways in which the things we unearth – photographs, artifacts, ephemera, and other fragmentary evidence – can help narrate a life.

For quite some time, I have been working on a mixed-genre project Dangerous Archaeology: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (and Others) – a memoir in fragments (with photographs by Autumn E. Monsees), a work that springs from my research into my mother’s unusual and complicated childhood in rural South India as the daughter and granddaughter of foreign missionaries. I have imagined myself as an archaeologist, digging and digging my way to some kind of truth, some kind of understanding. Truth, as many writers have noted, is something quite distinct from fact and so we storytellers must become archaeologists, reading the earth before us. That work can be dangerous because what we discover is often what we least expect to find.

With this blog – part field notebook, part gallery space, part meanderings, musings, and asides – I continue to unearth the fragments before me and sift out what it might mean to narrate a life, piece by piece.

Here, then, is one writer’s excavation.

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