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Commentary on “In Dreams”
and “Family History”

Dorothy Wall

When my grandmother died in 2001 at age 102—having lived in three centuries—I ended up with many of her diaries, letters, photos, newspaper clippings, mementos. She was a saver, and I spent years sorting through a remarkable collection of artifacts. Each time I slipped a letter out of its envelope, or stared at a faded photo, I experienced a piece of the past in a tactile, personal way, going back to the 1890s. I was fascinated by all the family stories this trove revealed. I knew the broad outlines of events–marriages, illnesses and early deaths, divorces, kids, relocations. But here was an intimate, inside view. And along with the much-told stories, I found the darker ones: the racism, family conflict, marital strife in its head-shaking detail.  As a writer, of course I had to use these stories in essays and poems, two of which are “In Dreams” and “Family History.”

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Dorothy Wall is author of Identity Theory: Poems (Blue Light Press) and the essay collection Encounters with the Invisible: Unseen Illness, Controversy, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Southern Methodist University Press), and coauthor of Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction (St. Martin’s Press). Her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net, and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Prairie Schooner, Witness, Bellevue Literary Review, Sonora Review, Nimrod, Dos Passos Review, Cimarron Review and others. She has taught poetry and fiction writing at San Francisco State University and U.C. Berkeley Extension, and works as a writing coach in Oakland, California. Visit her at

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