The idea for Joy Passanante’s most recent book fell into her lap several years ago.
Passanante, writer and then-professor in University of Idaho’s English department, was visiting her parents during the late 1990s with her children. She was sitting under a maple tree in the backyard of their St. Louis home talking to her father about her current writing project, a novel that included a grandfather who served in World War II. Her father got up, disappeared into their basement and emerged with four books — diaries he’d kept from his own time serving in the war.
“He literally put them into my lap,” Passanante said.
Those diaries informed the character in her novel and, years later, became the basis of “Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars,” published in 2017. Passanante will read from the book Saturday in Pullman.
The non-fiction work is part biography and part memoir. Passanante constructs a narrative of her father’s journeys, along with her own, through a series of short essays. Its form evolved over time.
“I didn’t know it would be so narrative when I started it,” Passanante said.
Her original plan was to write a more academic piece, but she found that copy to be dry and decided to tell the story in a more narrative form.
“It’s a part of a wider story of my parents’ acculturation as the children of immigrants. It’s the story of their love. It’s the story of how a Catholic-raised boy and a Jewish-raised girl convince their families that they should be together, and how they stayed together for 60 years,” Passanante said.
The stories in the book are pieced together from letters her father wrote to her mother and the accounts written in the diaries, which contained more war details because they weren’t censored. She also relied on recorded interviews she did with her parents years ago.
Passanante did extensive research at historical museums and took several trips to Europe, following in the steps of her father. The title of the book comes from William Wordsworth’s famous poem composed above Tintern Abbey. Passanante’s father wanted to visit during his time in Europe but was unable to. Passanante and her husband found it on one of their journeys.
“I wanted to present my father to the world. I didn’t want to sentimentalize him but I wanted people to feel some of the emotions that I felt and to meet him as the complex character that he was,” Passanante said.
Passanante described her father as a Renaissance man, a doctor, pianist and artist who grew up as a child bootlegger, the foster child of a small time gangster, and went on to make something of himself.
Passanante has published a book of poems, a collection of short stories and a novel. This is her first non-fiction book. “Though a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars” was a 2017 Silver Winner for Biography in the #ForewardINDIES Book Awards. The book is available at BookPeople in Moscow and online.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Reading from “Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars” by Joy Passanante
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15
WHERE: Neill Public Library, 210 N. Grand Ave., Pullman
Inspired to tell a tale?
The Idaho Writers League annual conference will be held Sept. 20-22 in Moscow. This statewide event features keynote addresses and workshops on topics like research, creativity, self-editing and instruction in a variety of genres. In addition, there will be a publishing panel, author photos and more.
Attendees can participate in all or part of the scheduled events and can register the day of. The cost is $50 to $145, payable by cash or check only. The conference is at Best Western University Inn, 1516 Pullman Rd., Moscow. Registration and additional information is available at: idahowritersleague.net/info