Telling Your Story Alphabetically

Kerry Madden-Lunsford, associate professor and Director of Creative Writing, teaches her creative writing students to shape their life stories alphabetically.

Kerry Madden LunsfordKerry Madden-Lunsford is an associate professor in the Department of English and director of the Creative Writing program.By Kerry Madden-Lunsford

Thirty years ago, my husband and I were teaching English in China at Ningbo University on the East China Sea. I’ve never figured out how to write about the time, even though I wrote letters every single day from China on an old electric typewriter. Recently, poet and UAB English alumna, Ashley Jones, asked me to read some nonfiction at the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series at Desert Island Supply Company, terrific places of support for writers in Birmingham.

Ashley had introduced me to the work of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She wrote a kind of lyric essay memoir called, “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life,” which is Amy’s life alphabetically as an encyclopedia. I’ve often used it as an example to get my own creative writing students to shape their stories. One student wrote about her family’s obsession with “Everybody Loves Raymond.” One wrote about a bossy aunt named Aunt Fred under “F.” One wrote about being Jewish in Trussville, Alabama. One wrote about earning her Girl Scout badges — all alphabetically. Here are some other entries by UAB students:

A - Albany, Georgia. That’s where I was born, but I grew up in neighboring Leesburg (home of Luke Bryan and Phillip Phillips!). When asked where you’re from, you still would say “Albany” (pronounced all-BEN-ny). It’s sort of like people who live just outside of Atlanta. It’s easier to say “Atlanta” rather than explain where your little town is. It’s also known as Agony, Georgia, which if you’ve ever been there, you’d understand. Elizabeth McAlister

F is for fainting, something I did frequently when I was a child if I ever came in contact with blood. Especially if I had my blood drawn. There’s a funny story my mother always tells about how my sister was bleeding and it freaked me out so bad I fainted. Elliot Moe

J is for Jazz, the music I grew up to. My mother was obsessed with Jazz, and she always took me to the many Jazz festivals that would pop up throughout the seasons back in Miami. Our house always echoed with the melodies of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. I first started writing around six, mostly terrible short stories based on the lives of my toys, and it was the sound of fingers playing upon the piano keys to the lull of the saxophone that carried into my room. To this day, to even attempt to write something, I must have some sort of Jazz radio playing in the background. Chase Coats

Amy Krouse Rosenthal begins her book with a timeline of her life, categories, and finally an “alphabetized existence.” My students could see how simple and ordinary it was, but not only that, they could see they had a story to tell, too, because of how Amy did it using the form of a lyrical essay, which invites the writer to explore and play with memory and story.

But I’m so deeply saddened that Amy’s story has ended way too soon—she just recently lost her battle with ovarian cancer. A week before her death, she wrote a beautiful essay for the Modern Love column in “The New York Times.” The essay is presented in the form of a personals ad for her husband, whom she knew would survive her.

Amy’s essay broke my heart in a million ways, because I’m not much older, and we have kids the same age. It also made think about Ningbo, China, and beginning a life 30 years ago with my own husband, whom I love dearly but have lived apart from for eight years because of our tenured jobs (yet somehow this distance has made us even closer). It also made me remember our first year of marriage in China and the place I discovered Carson McCullers when I was losing my mind with culture shock.  

Then I had my proposal accepted for this summer’s “Carson McCullers in the World” symposium in Italy to commemorate her 100th birthday. So with Amy’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life in mind I tapped out a creaky alphabetical beginning and realized that I could possibly write it alphabetically – Atlanta Falcons, Black Hole, Bourgeois Liberalism Campaign, Carson, China, escaping the South, Thornton Wilder’s Long Christmas Dinner, Kramer Vs. Kramer (the only film in Ningbo at the time),– all of it. Somehow. I’d never been able to lasso any of it chronologically, but with Amy as my guide, maybe I could find the story the way my students did with their own radiant lyrical essays.

To learn more about Ashley Jones, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and the organizations listed above visit:

ashleymichellejones.wordpress.com

nittygrittybham.com

discobham.com

whoisamy.com

  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

    While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    posted a while back 283 views
  • Events

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Homecoming to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted a while back 245 views
  • Building a Legacy

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    posted a while back 384 views
  • AEIVA Receives Significant Gift of Works by David Levinthal

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    posted a while back 325 views
  • A Legacy of Love

    Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    posted a while back 414 views
  • Capturing Success

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students.

    posted a while back 294 views
  • Blazing the Way

    The Blazing the Way Scholarship Match Initiative is designed to increase the number of scholarships awarded to students by offering an innovative strategy that matches donor investments.

    posted a while back 225 views
  • Paying it Forward

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

    posted a while back 482 views
  • They Persisted

    Despite complex social, cultural, and professional trends that keep women from academic careers in the sciences and mathematics, a small percentage of female research faculty stay the course.

    posted a while back 1154 views
  • Taking a Leap

    Psychology and Public Administration alumna Ann Bridges Steely says her biggest career risks brought the greatest rewards.

    posted a while back 388 views
  • Stellar

    Physics alumna Christina Richey has built a successful career in the competitive, and mostly-male, field of planetary science.

    posted a while back 704 views
  • Across the Spectrum

    Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    posted a while back 2184 views
  • Everyone has a story

    “How did you end up in Alabama?” I get that question a lot, both here and abroad. I suspect that every immigrant is frequently asked the same question out of genuine curiosity, maybe interest.

    posted a while back 638 views
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.
    posted a while back 1363 views
  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    posted a while back 1269 views
  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    posted a while back 1456 views
  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    posted a while back 1820 views
  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

    This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

    posted a while back 2212 views
  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    posted a while back 2103 views
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    posted a while back 1672 views
  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    posted a while back 1827 views
  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    posted a while back 1507 views
  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    posted a while back 2457 views
  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    posted a while back 2918 views
  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    posted a while back 5648 views
  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    posted a while back 1700 views
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 3982 views
  • A Vibrant Fall Semester
    There was an explosion of creativity and celebration last fall with AEIVA and the Institute of Human Rights kickoff event at the Alys Stephens Center.
    posted a while back 4033 views
  • Senior Wins Gilman Scholarship
    Jane Murphy, a student in foreign languages with a concentration in French, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad.
    posted a while back 4375 views
  • Dean's Award Winners
    Congratulations to these deserving undergraduate and graduate students, who were nominated by their professors for this prestigious recognition.
    posted a while back 3603 views
  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    posted a while back 5072 views
  • Lamario Williams Wins Scholarship and Travel Award
    Physics major Lamario Williams received a PhysCon MSI/HBCU Travel Award to attend PhysCon 2016 in San Francisco.
    posted a while back 3762 views
  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Win Big at 2017 ADDY Awards
    Students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences make a strong showing at the ADDY Awards.
    posted a while back 4389 views
  • New Degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology and Genetics and Genomics Sciences
    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to offer new degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences.
    posted a while back 5391 views
  • Public Relations Certificate First in State
    Majors in public relations and other communication studies will now have the opportunity to boost their resumes with the addition of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.
    posted a while back 4255 views
  • Dr. David Schwebel Receives Multiple Honors
    Dr. David Schwebel, professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the sciences, receives multiple honors.
    posted a while back 4125 views
  • Dr. Christopher Lawson Named Chair of National Research Nonprofit
    Dr. Christopher Lawson, professor in the Department of Physics, has been elected board chair of a national nonprofit coalition.
    posted a while back 3884 views
  • Dr. Sarah Parcak Launches TED Wish, Receives Additional Recognition
    Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
    posted a while back 4221 views
Back to Top