My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas
by Tracy Seeley

Bison Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0-803-23010-1.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 08/19/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Had I not read a multi-part interview with Tracy Seeley on the Memory Writers Network Blog, I might never have read My Ruby Slippers. I'm one of the legions of people who make Kansas jokes and whine about having to drive across it to reach Denver from Pittsburgh. That has all changed. I've reformed. I'm not ready to book a vacation in Kansas, but Seeley has definitely convinced me that the proud state of Kansas deserves my respect, and I'm about to reread The Wizard of Oz.

This book was meaningful to me on many levels, perhaps because it's written in layers, forming a rich soup of multiple ingredients in an organic blend, as might be expected from a discerning gourmand like Tracy. She anchors the story in the present, using her life in California as a bowl to hold a melange of memories about family and place, reflections and insights relating to those memories, and sidebars of historical and ecological data.

Seeley rivals Julia Child in her ability to transform component ingredients into uniformly distributed bite-size chunks. She introduces rudiments of memories that seem complete at the time, then embellishes and develops them in subsequent sections. She does the same with background information about native tribes and prairie ecology. I'll admit I read quickly through a couple of pages of sidebar material, but I still absorbed enough to raise my awareness of prairie ecology, potential innovations in agriculture, and an overall sense of justice transcending generations. The primary reward was the satisfaction of witnessing Tracy resolve her rancor toward her father and settle into a more peaceful state of mind.

Seeley could have isolated personal and family history from place (history, culture and ecology) and had fine and complete stories of either. Memories such as those of her father's fickleness and occasional disappearances before his final departure, family vacations, and her experiences driving across town from a modest neighborhood to attend the best private high school in Wichita could comprise a complex and interesting tale, rich with insights. Or she could have written a compelling account of the cultural and ecological evolution of Kansas. The blend of the two, punctuating family memories with place, amplifying place with historical accounts and ecological background, and working in accents of cancer reflections, romance, and spiritual growth make this a uniquely rich and satisfying read.

By the time I closed the book, my mind had been stretched in several directions. Aside from my new respect for Kansas, I've been stimulated to think of history, politics, ethics, biodiversity, culture and other topics in expanded ways; my appreciation for focusing on place within a memoir is greatly enhanced, and I felt nourished by Tracy's personal healing journey. That's quite an accomplishment for a single volume on any topic. I've developed enormous respect for Seeley herself, for her ability to bounce back from her recurrent malignancy, remaining centered and present throughout, and for her unflagging efforts as a teacher and writer. She has become a powerful inspiration.

Tracy Seeley spent her formative years in Kansas, then escaped for college and a career in academe, eventually landing in the Bay Area of California where she teaches literature and creative non-fiction at the University of San Francisco. Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of My Ruby Slippers.

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