Earlier this month, Evans released his second memoir, "Should I Still Wish: A Memoir," which picks up where "Young Widower" left off — just after the one-year anniversary of his wife, Katie's, tragic death in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania where the two were hiking together in 2007. Katie, 30, was killed by a bear as Evans, 29, helplessly watched.
"I watched the attack, trying to close the distance: 15, maybe 20 yards. Every time I thought to approach and intervene, I could not move my body forward. I panicked, but I also had a sense to fear for my own life," he wrote in his first book describing that day.
His new memoir chronicles Evans's efforts to leave an intense year of grief behind and to make peace with the natural world again.
Evans, a Jones Lecturer of creative writing at Stanford University and former Wallace Stegner Fellow, reflected on how writing played a significant role in his grieving process. Evans said that when he looks back, he often wonders why he was able to be so eloquent and thoughtful in writing during his time in Indiana, just after Katie's death. It was during that time that he produced the work he submitted for the Stegner Fellowship that brought him out to Stanford in 2008 and which also went into his first collection of poems, "The Consolations." It wasn't until later that someone pointed out an explanation for his impulse to write: He had spent so much time training himself to write, that when a subject presented itself, he was able to write about it.
Ironically for a poet and memoir writer, it takes Evans less than 3 minutes to summarize his entire life: born in Overland Park, Kansas; moved to Westchester County, New York, at age 14; went to Northwestern University, studied history and received a teaching certificate; joined the Peace Corps; taught middle school in Chicago for a few years; went to graduate school in Miami; his then-wife received a fellowship to go to Romania; the internship turned into a job; they lived in Romania for a year; taught high school there; he and his wife went hiking on the day she passed; spent a year in Indiana; applied for a fellowship; came out to Stanford in 2008; has been out here ever since; the 2-year fellowship turned into a job.
There's a pause once he finishes giving his comprehensive summary of his entire life.
"I realize I just gave you a resume. No personal details. Sorry," he laughs.
Indeed, the bare-bones facts of Evans' life stand in stark (and laughable) contrast to his own detailed and rich exploration of his life and the threads of grief, loss, guilt, hope and happiness within it.
After writing "Young Widower," Evans said that he thought he had said everything he had to say about grief and guilt ("and in some ways I really thought I had," he emphasized). He thought he'd take up something new, write about a new subject. Maybe wrestling. Maybe a heart condition he has.
"This is probably an unusual thing, but I thought, 'If I die suddenly, I don't want my (sons) to think all I ever wrote about was the great tragedy of my life, that it didn't interest me as much to write about the happiness that followed, to write about the life that followed," he said.
Evans explained that, while the two books were driven by an attempt to answer the same overarching question "How did I become this person?," he sees them as telling separate stories.
"I think they're really about different lives; the one is really about what it was like to become and live as a young widower, and I think this one was about what it was like to be that person who is hopeful and is falling in love again and who is living with and as that person," said Evans, who has remarried and has three sons.
Evans explained that the title of the memoir "Should I Still Wish" came from the section he wrote to Katie, which was motivated by a question that Evans described as "not the most flattering question to me: 'Shouldn't I still wish that you hadn't died?"
"I think the corollary to the title is so much nicer," Evans said. "What would it mean to wish or want anything? And, I don't ask that as a sensational, attention-grabbing question — It's just, as I say in the book, it's just a question I keep thinking about; it keeps coming back to me," he said.
Other deep, thought-provoking questions that Evans explores in the book include "What is meaning in the context of completely different and disrupting experiences?" and "What does it mean to be hopeful when you ... know what can happen?" ... "Not a question I think I've settled," Evans remarked.
His advice to all of those aspiring writers out there (and to the students he teaches at Stanford) is to continue writing because, "At some point in your life, you're going to have something that you want to make sense out of and write about."
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