Elizabeth Osta: Interview


Elizabeth Osta's Saving Faith: A Memoir of Courage, Conviction, and a Calling was published in 2017 and has since been nominated for Best Locally Written Book in Rochester, NY, won the Amelia Island Literary Award for Nonfiction, and was featured in the Kirkus Reviews 4/1 print issue.

She joins us today for a interview about her writing life, inspirations, and a very special upcoming event.


Elizabeth Osta was a postulant, nun, teacher, and activist with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester, New York. This was all in the 1960s and 70s during Vatican II's aggiornamento, or the "bringing up to date" of the Catholic Church.


COSMOGRAPHIA


We've called Saving Faith a book "fifty years in the making." How did your time as a postulant shape who you are now?


OSTA


My time as a postulant shaped who I am by affirming the importance of community, which to this day I feel committed. I was one of seven children and learned to share and play well with others, and as a postulant the lessons continued: respecting each person and their story.


COSMOGRAPHIA


I know you have a lot of friends and have shared your story with a lot of people. I'm curious as to what 'sharing and playing well' with others looks like when you are an author with a large community to reach.


OSTA


Sharing and playing well with others for me means thinking of others before I think of myself. Listening to them and what they need.


It reminds me of the Emily Dickinson poem:


If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.


A key to this, which took me a long time to learn, was the balance of taking care of myself so I could take care of others. All of it is sacred!


COSMOGRAPHIA


You have a way of bringing sacredness to everything you do. Tell me about your writing process. What is it like? How do you make it sacred?


OSTA


Since childhood I have been filled with words and images of love. Walking home and seeing into neighbors’ windows on autumn days as lights illuminated the dinner tables of classmates, I knew everyone was doing their best. I wanted to capture it and savor it. Writing was one way.

The desire to capture what is good and illuminate it! That’s the quest. And the joy.


COSMOGRAPHIA


Which writers, books, or literary traditions helped you shape your writing style and subject as a memoirist?


OSTA


My early love of Nancy Drew was replaced by Gone with the Wind. Then F. Scott Fitzgerald grabbed me for a while. Fast forward to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's War Within & Without. And finally Nuala o'Faolain Are You Somebody? The honesty struck me. That’s what I most valued. I adored Katherine Hepburn, but her memoir Me was a huge disappointment. She never even alluded to her brother’s death. Those survival stories are what help us all go on.


COSMOGRAPHIA


You mentioned that Hepburn's memoir disappointed you because she never alluded to her brother's death. In a memoir, every line is a decision about how much to tell. It requires a lot of bravery. Can you tell us about one of the 'survival stories' that made it into your memoir even though you were perhaps fearful of blowback?


OSTA


A survival story that made it into memoir despite possible blow back is difficult to isolate. I checked with some folks who were essential to the story (Sister Clare, Tom). Other stories were 30 years old and so many dynamics had changed that I didn’t worry about reaction to them. The CICP school stories were probably the most important for me to tell. I didn’t realize until I started to research the details, how emotionally laden they were for me. I believed they would be lost to history and I wanted to document the pain I felt—and so many of us felt—on many levels. I’ve had some who survived them thank me for telling them.


COSMOGRAPHIA


You have a big event coming up this month at our local Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, NY. A reading and discussion with music to accompany. Can you tell our readers more about it?


OSTA


On Thursday June 14th, 2018 from 6:00-7:30 pm a triple header will be presented at Barnes and Noble in Pittsford, NY. This will include: readings from Saving Faith: A Memoir of Courage, Conviction and a Calling, musical pieces interwoven and sung by vocalist Kitty Forbush, and an interview conducted by Unitarian Universalist Minister Peggy Meeker followed by open discussion.

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