Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lucille Lang Day's "Married at Fourteen: A True Story"

Lucille Lang Day is a poet, memoirist, and short story writer whose many honors include the Joseph Henry Jackson Award in Literature and a PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Award. She is the author of a memoir, a children’s book, and eight poetry collections.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her award-winning memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story, and reported the following:
Married at Fourteen tells my story of having been a juvenile delinquent, adolescent bride, and teen mother in the 1960s. I ran away at 13, married at 14, had my first child at 15, divorced my husband at 16, married him again at 17, and left him again at 18 because he didn’t want me to go back to school. In the first half of the book, I tell about these years and try to reconstruct what I was thinking and feeling in order to show how I gradually changed and matured.

My project was to write creative nonfiction, i.e., a book that sounded like fiction and used such literary devices as scene, dialogue, plot, and character development. I tried to show, rather than explain, that I became a juvenile delinquent and wanted to marry early because I was alienated from the other kids my age, who had started bullying me in elementary school, and because I had a poor relationship with my mother. I also tried to show how I discovered that my truest self was not an alcoholic, criminal, or dropout, and how I turned my life around.

On page 99 I am 16, between my two marriages to my first husband, and still struggling to figure out who I am and what is important. I relate two incidents that take place with my friend Cindy, another teenager, with whom I went to teen nightclubs and bars. In one incident, Cindy and I are barred from a teen nightclub by a woman who mistakes us for prostitutes because of our high hairdos and attention-getting clothes, and we wind up spending most of the evening talking to another girl at a closed gas station across the street.

The second incident concerns a man I met at a bar: “One man I went out with was about thirty-five years old, tall and angular, with dark wavy hair and an inscrutable expression. As we drove down East 14th Street, he told me he’d murdered his wife. I looked down at my lacy purple dress and thought, Great. I’m all dressed up for a murderer. Fit to kill.” Page 100 tells about the rest of my date with the man who murdered his wife.

These two incidents illustrate my narrative approach to the material and are indeed representative of the book. Both depict the life I decided I didn’t want to lead. In showing how my own self-awareness developed, I hoped to upend stereotypes about juvenile delinquents and teen mothers and show the potential for change in confused and troubled adolescents.
Visit Lucille Lang Day's website.

--Marshal Zeringue