Westmont Magazine A Missionary Daughter’s Memoir
Apricot Anderson Irving ’97, memoirist and oral history writer, traveled to New York in September to accept the 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. Each year, six women writers demonstrating excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers receive this honor. Apricot says she struggled with the recognition and the prestigious award’s $25,000 prize.
“Having grown up in a country like Haiti — surrounded by poverty, viscerally aware of its consequences — I am haunted by the knowledge that there are others who must need this grant more than I do,” she wrote. “I will use this generous platform to tell the story I have been given to tell. I am a writer today because of the years I spent on a missionary compound in Haiti—a place that I could only untangle with words.”
Three weeks prior, Apricot kicked off Westmont’s new Gender Studies Event Series by reading and discussing her work in progress, “The Missionary’s Daughter,” which she started writing 10 years ago and hopes to complete by the end of 2012. At both events, Apricot found reading from her book emotional.
“One piece was about how I perceived the world as a teenager in Haiti: my awkward, earnest, tumescent heart; my recurring arguments with my father about clothes and boys; the disdain I had for Haiti at that time,” she says. “The second was about how my father experienced Haiti, the stories he heard from the peasant farmers when he hiked out into the hills — stories of AIDS and tuberculosis, of drought and famine and despair. I was in a beautiful, elegant reading room at NYU with well-dressed, well-read men and women who (like me) had received a thousand opportunities. And yet the inequities I described in Haiti are still traumatic today. The juxtaposition of glitzy, glamorous New York City with complicated, messy, beloved Haiti felt jarring — as it should.
“As a teenager, I hadn’t understood why Dad felt such an attachment to Haiti. I just felt resentful of his lost affection. But as I read his journals and letters and began to tell his story — and my story, and my mother’s story, and the stories of the other missionaries — things changed between us.”
At Westmont, Apricot found she could still be herself in a room with wainscoting and Chagalls. “I wanted to convey that I felt awkward and out of place when I was a student at Westmont, and I wanted to persuade the students that if they felt the same way, there was nothing wrong with them,” she says. “Westmont is an immaculate, serene campus, which can feel suffocating if you haven’t grown up surrounded by luxury.”
Apricot says her professors at Westmont did an excellent job teaching her to think critically and to find beauty everywhere. “What I most appreciated about my professors and other mentors at Westmont was their kindness. People were very generous to me at Westmont, and I hope to continue that fine tradition by extending generosity to others as well.”
Apricot’s work (www.apricotirving.com) has appeared on This American Life, and More magazine will print an excerpt from her memoir next year. She earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Portland State University. She founded and directed Boise Voices Oral History Project, a creative neighborhood response to gentrification. She lives with her husband and two sons in Portland, Ore.