On Thursday, March 7, 2019, the English department hosted a very special Read/Write session. Vikki Warner, editor, memoirist and nonfiction writer, is an alumna of the English department at URI and was back to share excerpts from her memoir Tenemental: Adventures of a Reluctant Landlady.
Join us on March 7th to hear memoirist, editor, nonfiction writer and URI English alum Vikki Warner!
Vikki earned her BA from URI and went on to earn an MA in Publishing from Emerson College. While pursuing a career in publishing, she also purchased a triple-decker house in Providence and embarked on her role as landlady. Working in positions from copy editor to arts writer, her career moved through many exciting fields, including audiobooks, a field she remains in today. In addition to her work in publishing, Vikki wrote. Primarily focusing on short pieces, she knew that she wanted to write a full-length book. It wasn’t until she was cleaning up water from flooding in the basement of her house that it came to her to write about her house, also called PennHenge in the book, and those who had moved through it.
Vikki was kind enough to spend time with Dr. Mary Cappello’s class before the reading. One of Professor Cappello’s capstone students, Alana Goodinson, gave a lovely introduction observing Warner’s house as the framework for the memoir, and stating that Warner’s text was a “subtle manifesto… for young women.” Warner responded to questions, discussed her career path, and what lead her to write Tenemental. Following this discussion, Vikki provided some advice for these writers amassing their own work: “what can you make out of your own story?” when writing, “riff on a couple of details or tasks,” and finally, recognized that “you are always going to be your harshest critic.” Vikki’s talk was relaxed and inspiring.
When the public reading began at 5 pm, the Hoffmann room was full of eager students, both graduate and undergraduate. Emma Dwinnel, a senior double majoring in English and Anthropology also in Prof. Cappello’s class, introduced Vikki. Emma’s introduction emphasized that Tentamental affirms that women can be loud, spontaneous, unapologetic, and can take up space. This introduction of the memoir allowed everyone to see the book as more than a story about a house, but as a story of becoming yourself.
Vikki’s reading focused on two sections of the memoir: the purchase of the house and a particularly rocky time when three relationships almost simultaneously collapsed or imploded and the aftermath for all the occupants of the house. Peppered with lines such as “I began to think of the place as ‘The House That Kills Love.’ Love among weirdos is famously hard to maintain, but man, we were running up a karmic tab with all of these long-term relationship deaths on the premises” (“Couples, Retreat” 112), the room often filled with laughter.
During the question and answer period following her reading, Vikki was asked the expected questions of whether any tenants have complained about how they were portrayed in the book, if this has affected her ability to rent or her relationship with contractors, and what her process was in writing. She was also asked what advice she would like to have heard when she was at URI and after some thought, she responded “Don’t be so down on yourself.” Vikki went on to explain that she was frequently worried that she was not good enough at that point in her life and while she sees that as a common sentiment at that age, it did not help her. Rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong, she advised focussing on what you are doing right and enjoying where you are.
This reading was a lovely homecoming for Vikki Warner and a good opportunity for undergraduate English majors to see one of many possible paths open to them. The book’s specific connection to Providence was also universally enjoyed and offered many listeners moments of connection and recognition.
Catherine Winters is a 4th year PhD candidate focusing on contemporary American narrative under the advisement of Dr. Mary Cappello.