I’m writing a memoir, so when I attended The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October I jumped at the chance to listen to a panel of engaging memoirists, including Rayya Elias and Kate Holden. Both former drug addicts, one an ex-prostitute, the other a lesbian from a conservative Syrian family, I have since read their books, two fascinating stories that draw the reader into the lowest moments of the authors’ existences. There are graphic details of lesbian sex, prostitution, and drug-taking, accounts that their parents would no doubt find hard to read. There are raw moments of self-doubt and desperation, prison, rehab and homelessness, but also of enlightened self-reckoning.
Elias and Holden are not only eloquent and humorous on the page, they proved to be engaging speakers at the Ubud festival. They were honest, brave, and generous in sharing their intimate stories with the audience, all great signs of a strong memoirist. In fact, I almost enjoyed hearing these women speak more than I enjoyed their books, which is saying a lot for an avid bookworm. Perhaps it was because I could see them in the flesh, see for myself their successes, the results of their redemption.