By Kathleen Archambeau
Interview with Author,Chana Wilson, March 23rd 2012, Berkeley, CA.
In 1958, when Chana Wilson was seven, her mother held a rifle to her head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and her mother was taken away to a mental hospital for two years. Chanaâs childhood was spent caring for her electroshock-treated, heavily medicated, suicidal mother and an overwrought, emotionally absent father, leading to the âsuppressed grief, hurt and angerâ that drives the arc of her first book, Riding Fury Home. The title refers to that suppressed rage and was inspired by a childhood memory of a wild black stallion, named Fury.
This memoir is as much about rage and eventual forgiveness as it is about Chana Wilsonâs coming to terms with her lesbianism and her motherâs coming out to her during the gay liberation movement of the â70s, a time when buttons proclaimed, Gay is Good.
When asked what motivated Chana to write this memoir, she told me, âI had to write it to heal myself: itâs very important for a therapist to do her own healing. To go deeply with clients, I must go deeply with myself.â As a psychotherapist in Berkeley, Chana Wilson knows the territory.
Chanaâs mother finally confessed to her newly out daughter that she had fallen in love with a married neighbor woman in the â50s and when the affair ended, that is when her motherâs mental illness erupted. Her motherâs depression was profoundly affected by homophobia. Homosexuality in the â50s was seen as a mental illness and her psychiatristâs goal was to convert her to being happily heterosexual. That treatment led Chanaâs mother into deeper despair, forced to deny her true self. In contrast, after Chanaâs mother came out, her daughter discovered a âhappy, upbeat person.â And when Chana came out, it was a celebration within a welcoming LGBTQ community.
Of the memoir, Chana says, âThis is the very intimate story of healing between a mother and a daughter. All daughters must come to some understanding as adults of their mothers that they couldnât possibly have had as children. Many children grow up with shame hiding the secret of a mentally ill parent. So, this book may help end that silence.â
Chana didnât start writing the book until after her mother died of cancer in 1990. That death gave Chana the freedom to write more honestly. Of writing, she says, âActually, I suffered from severe writerâs block as a student. When pushed as to why, what leapt out was: the truth will come out! Once I realized that, I was free to write and instead of writing my motherâs story, I found my own story.â
If early positive reviews from Dorothy Allison, Publisherâs Weekly, and Booklist are any indication, Chana Wilsonâs memoir, Riding Fury Home, holds the promise of transforming not only her own life, but the lives of many others as well.