Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 10:03 pm | Fair 52º


Memoirist Helen Macdonald to Give Reading at UCSB

When her father died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007, a bereft Helen Macdonald sought an outlet for her grief. A falconer for many years, she found it — quite naturally — in a goshawk chick named Mabel.

How adopting and raising this fierce and feral young raptor helped Macdonald navigate her own grieving process is at the heart of her award-winning memoir, H Is for Hawk.

As the 2018 Diana and Simon Raab Writer-in-Residence at UCSB, Macdonald will discuss her book and give a public reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at the university’s Corwin Pavilion.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) and the campus’s Writing Program.

“The book is mind-blowing to me because it does so many things,” said Susan Derwin, director of IHC and a professor of comparative literature.

“It is, on a very straightforward level, a memoir about losing your father and coming to terms with it — finding a way to live again,” she said.

At the same time, Derwin said, Macdonald turns to something she knows very well — raising birds of prey — and the baby goshawk becomes, for her, a means of mollifying and managing her pain.

“And she does it, and writes about it, with total abandon; she becomes this bird, she lives this other existence, she crosses over to another world, which parallels her father’s crossing over from this world,” Derwin said.

“And yet a vast body of knowledge, Macdonald’s recourse to literature and history and legend becomes the fabric from which she creates the story and makes it so rich and multi-layered,” Derwin said.

That the book would resonate so deeply with Derwin makes sense.

Derwin's scholarly work parallel’s Macdonald’s memoir in that both examine the ways in which people can manage grief and remorse and the many feelings that can accompany loss, regardless of how that loss happens, and how to make something productive out of those feelings, which can be self consuming and destructive.

Next year, Derwin will participate in Felix Culpa: Guilt as a Source of Cultural Productivity at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at Bielefeld University in Germany.

The research group will consider the question of how guilt, depending on the situation, and as one kind of response to loss, can be a force that produces greater social good and personal regeneration.

“My work with that group is about the way in which veterans take feelings of loss and guilt in the aftermath of having seen combat, and come back and learn how to mobilize those feelings to become useful citizens,” Derwin said.

“And the feelings that arise after you have experienced loss are always so complicated. About Macdonald, it’s simple to say she lost her father, but on the heels of loss, as her memoir shows, come all kinds of unexpected emotions she has to manage.”

And so lies the overlap with Derwin’s scholarship.

“Like all great memoirs, Macdonald’s book is the story of a single person with her own cultivated voice, but it is particularly great because it is situated in worlds that are broader and larger than the author,” Derwin said.

“You can tell, for example, that hovering on the edges of this memoir was awareness of the wars that were going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. They seep into Macdonald’s creative intelligence and manifest in subtle ways,” she said.

Made possible by a gift from Diana and Simon Raab, the writer-in-residence series gives undergraduate writing and literature students at UCSB an opportunity to engage with masters of the craft.

Creative writers, humanities scholars, journalists and filmmakers give public lectures or readings for the Santa Barbara community, and while in residence, they meet with students in a classroom setting to explore the craft of writing.

Of H Is for Hawk Derwin said, “This was, as we know, such an acclaimed book of a current author, and the writer-in-residence program is about bringing acclaimed living authors to teach our students.

"And Macdonald is the perfect person to do it. I think memoir as a genre — and Diana Raab is a memoirist and a teacher of memoir writing — is very appropriate.

“The genre — creative nonfiction — complements who our sponsor is, but also it’s a genre that’s taught on our campus in the writing program,” she said.

“So we have a body of students who can profit from Macdonald’s instruction. We thought she’d be a perfect fit,” Derwin said.

— Andrea Estrada for UCSB.


Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

Photo of John Sener
John Sener
"I am known for tenacity, diligence, honesty, and sound decision making with the ultimate goal of closing every transaction to the satisfaction of all involved parties."

Full Profile >