By Sonja Livingston
(University of Georgia Press, Hardcover, 9780820333984, 248pp.)
Publication Date: November 2009
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When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.” Ghostbread makes real for us the shifting homes and unending hunger that shape the life of a girl growing up in poverty during the 1970s.
One of seven children brought up by a single mother, Sonja Livingston was raised in areas of western New York that remain relatively hidden from the rest of America. From an old farming town to an Indian reservation to a dead-end urban neighborhood, Livingston and her siblings follow their nonconformist mother from one ramshackle house to another on the perpetual search for something better.
Along the way, the young Sonja observes the harsh realities her family encounters, as well as small moments of transcendent beauty that somehow keep them going. While struggling to make sense of her world, Livingston perceives the stresses and patterns that keep children—girls in particular—trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Larger cultural experiences such as her love for Wonder Woman and Nancy Drew and her experiences with the Girl Scouts and Roman Catholicism inform this lyrical memoir. Livingston firmly eschews sentimentality, offering instead a meditation on what it means to hunger and showing that poverty can strengthen the spirit just as surely as it can grind it down.
Sonja Livingston has earned a NYFA Fellowship, an Iowa Award, and Pushcart Prize nomination for her nonfiction writing. Her work has appeared in several textbooks on writing, as well as many journals, including the Iowa Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, AGNI, and others. She holds an M.S. Ed. from SUNY Brockport and an MFA from the University of New Orleans. Livingston teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis.
"Exquisite in its details and insights, Ghostbread shows us the invisible undersides of poverty. Sonja Livingston renders this so solidly that we come to understand the roots of despair, and the beauty that can be found in the midst of squalor. In an age when memoir exploits the seamier sides of life, thrusting their authors into the limelight, this book holds back, quietly resisting shock value in favor of understanding."—Judith Kitchen, author of House on Eccles Road
"Ghostbread weaves together a child’s experience of not belonging, the perilous ease of slipping into failure, and the deep love that can flow from even a highly troubled parent. This is rich, sensual storytelling. An amazing debut from a wonderful new writer."—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire (American Lives)
"’I know where I came from.’ With this declaration, the author of Ghostbread takes us on a journey through a childhood scarred by poverty and graced by love. Like an American version of Angela’s Ashes, the book allows us to encounter—and see, taste, and smell it—through the eyes of a beleaguered and intelligent child. We are grateful to be reminded of the human reality at the heart of a world that is all too often hidden in governmental ‘poverty indicators,’ and also glad that the author has survived to tell the tale."—Kathleen Norris, author of Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life
"[A]n absolutely astonishing debut . . . harrowing and hilarious."—Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble
"Livingston reveals the daily challenges poverty-stricken young children face. Her thoughtful testimony sheds new light on a tragic predicament that now affects not only lower-income families, but the entire nation."—Booklist
"Livingston writes with an understated restraint and paints her past in careful detail. The result is captivating. Ghostbread is a heartrending encounter with an adept essayist." —ForeWord
“This moving and inspirational memoir deserves to find the same popularity as Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. Told in short vignettes, Sonja Livingston shares what it was like to grow up in poverty in the 1970’s. Educators as well as high school students will find many insights about the strength of the individual spirit.”—Judith Repman, University Press Books