When Detroit native Melissa Grunow decided to write her memoir, Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016), she didn’t give much thought about how much she would have to expose the most vulnerable parts of herself and her life. It was only later, in hindsight, that she fully realized that she had written about a series of abusive relationships.
“The book is less a story about finding Mr. Right, and more a story about personal validation,” says Grunow. “The bulk of my 20's was spent trying to find value in myself in relationship to others, particular in relationships with men — many of which were not that great.”
Grunow was pleasantly surprised after her book was published when other women let her know they also had found validation in reading her story.
“Women would say to me, 'I thought I was by myself in such experiences, I didn’t realize anyone else had been through this,'” Grunow says. “They thank me for providing a kind of platform for them to share their own stories and get a better understanding of their own struggles.”
Grunow says memoir seems to be her natural genre. During her years of learning to write and working with various writing coaches and teachers, she felt nudged toward fiction and poetry, yet was never quite comfortable with either.
“I like to joke that I’m not a creative person,” she says. “To pull people and events and settings out of thin air, to me that just seems like an impossible task.”
The challenge with memoir is to tell the story of one’s own life honestly, neither varnishing the truth or glorifying oneself. Grunow occasionally teaches workshops on writing memoirs.
“It becomes abundantly clear to a reader when you’re holding something back,” she says. “You have to tell yourself, 'I’m going to crack myself wide open on the page, because I’m doing this for something bigger than myself' — and that’s the art and craft of writing.”
Realizing River City is the winner of the 2016 Second Place Nonfiction Book of the Year Award, and the 2016 Outstanding Memoir category from the Independent Author Network. Grunow is a three-time recipient of the Detroit Working Writers creative nonfiction prize, a first-place winner of the Rochester Writers' 2016 Summer Award in the Michigan Memoir category, and a semi-finalist for the DISQUIET International Literary Lisbon Writing Program award in 2015 and 2016.
Grunow has a Bachelor's degree in English creative writing and journalism from Central Michigan University, as well as a Masters degree in English from New Mexico State University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with distinction from National University.
Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.