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Samuel Autman looks into the distance

The memoirist-in-the-making

Samuel Autman was in his first newspaper job when he summoned the courage to write a first-person essay about his abusive father. It ran on Father’s Day 1990 on the Tulsa World’s front page.

“The response to that piece really told me that I had an interest in narrative writing,” said Autman, an associate English professor at DePauw. “I didn’t know that was what a personal essay was, but people were really moved by it.”

He wrote more essays over the years, some for the newspapers where he worked and later, after he came to teach at DePauw, for publication in literary magazines. He spent 15 years writing and revising “Our Eyes Were Watching Marcia,” a personal essay framed by “The Brady Bunch” TV show. The Bellevue Literary Review published it last October online and in the hard copy of its 20th anniversary edition, “a gift of visibility I could not have imagined.”

The essay drew the attention of the principals at a New York literary agency, who sent an email telling Autman it “made us feel that you have the talent to write a publishable book.”

Said Autman: “My hope was to write a piece that would elicit this kind of response. That was my goal all along.”

Now he is polishing his proposal, the skeleton of which has been in the works for years, to “make the voice more in line with what the agent liked about that piece.” His next challenge, he said, is “how do you have a through line that you can continue for 15 to 20 chapters that will keep somebody interested? … I’ve got it all mapped out. It’s just a matter of putting it in a voice. And maybe this agent won’t want it, but there are other agents out there who will want it.”


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