Celebrating the Release of Patrice Gopo’s Autumn Song – I had the pleasure of visiting with Patrice Gopo at last year’s EpicFest, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s annual literary festival for children of all ages. At the time, Patrice was doing a presentation based on her picture book titled All the Places We Call Home. During our conversation, I asked her if she had new projects in the works, and she mentioned that she hoped to bring out a new collection of essays in the fall. I had previously read her first essay collection, All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, which came out in 2018, and I told her that I was looking forward to the publication of her second essay collection. Well, I am pleased to report that the University of Nebraska Press will officially publish Patrice’s Autumn Song: Essays on Absence on September 1, 2023. I contacted Patrice and asked her for more information about Autumn Song. Here is what she sent to me:
After publication of my first essay collection, All the Colors We Will See (W Publishing, 2018), I found myself in a creative wilderness. The words seemed to disappear. In time, however, a new project—a collaborative project—called to me. For several months, I poured my energy into developing that work, only to realize by the autumn of 2019 that this collaborative project would not happen as I expected. I can look back on that season and recognize how sadness existed even as I tried to bounce back from the disappointment.
But that project that did not materialize was not the end of the writing story. Instead, just days later, the infancy of an idea emerged during a day trip with my family to the mountains, the idea that perhaps within me existed another essay collection. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. And then, in the early days of the pandemic, words returned to me after a time of absence.
Sometimes when I think back to the project that did not become a reality, I see how the absence of that project made room for the presence of something new. Ultimately, that absence inspired me to bring Autumn Song to life. This story reminds me how our disappointments can give way to unexpected gifts.
The title of this essay collection is so interesting because I’m not a musician or a singer of any sort. However, I am a person who believes in the power of sharing personal stories. To tell our stories, to speak of our experiences, is to sing a song that is part of who we are. Also, those closest to me know my favorite season is autumn: the way the temperatures turn, the color evident each day, the reminder that retreat is part of life. And the season of autumn often appears across this collection. In addition, the season of autumn has always served as a beautiful metaphor for a person’s maturing in age, thought, and understanding—a maturing that often helps us process the past but also see, with greater clarity, the years to come. Ultimately, I hope these two words in communion with each other, autumn and song, speak of what it means to voice the authentic grappling that comes with living life and to see the beauty that might exist there.
The subtitle arose after I let the essays forming the collection speak to me. As I saw the themes emerge across the collected work, as I considered experiences with loss and disappointment, injustice and inequity, change and the passage of time, I saw that the larger word to encompass all of this was absence. The reality is that absences in our lives exist. We will always continue to contend with heartache woven into the fabric of our existence. But we are not alone in this. I hope that in illuminating the absences I have noticed in and around me, I might also empower others to consider the absences in their lives.
One of my early beta readers for Autumn Song told me this is the “Charlotte collection.” I loved those words because she highlighted something I hadn’t noticed in the writing. But I knew such truth resided in that statement. The bio for my first essay collection included, “[Patrice] lives with her family in North Carolina—a place she has recently begun to consider another home.” My first essay collection was so much about my Alaskan childhood and search for a sense of belonging in the broader world. And now, as I return to the page with my second collection, I find that Autumn Song tangentially considers how this place where I live now has become another home. In this book, I write about the destruction of the old Brooklyn neighborhood, a snow day in Charlotte, the city’s desire for a more equitable world, and what it means to create a new home when you no longer live in your place of origin. I ponder these moments through my unique lens because of the story I have lived.
As readers engage with the words, I believe they will recognize the varied ways we live lives littered with what we leave behind. In addition, whether or not we fully realize it, we are asking ourselves what do we do with the different types of heartache we encounter across our lives. As readers finish Autumn Song, I hope they will understand that the presence of absence may tell another tale—one of invitation to experience life and see life from another perspective. Despite the challenges and struggles, flashes of glory glimmer like starlight, leading us toward the possibility of grieving losses, finding healing, and allowing ourselves to be changed.
I wish Patrice the very best with the release of Autumn Song, and I am looking forward to reading the essays in her new collection. Patrice has a gift for writing personal essays that deal with her unique experiences but at the same time, speak to universal themes. As I see it, Patrice is one of Storied Charlotte premiere essayists.