Shannon Gibney is an award-winning author of books of all kinds — from novels to anthologies to essays to picture books. She writes for adults, children, and everyone in-between. The through-line in all her work is stories that may have previously gone untold. What God Is Honored Here: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color, an anthology published by the University of Minnesota Press, exemplifies this approach, as does Gibney’s most recent novel, Dream Country, which was published by Dutton in 2018. Her newest book, released by Dutton this month, is billed as a speculative memoir, the provocative title is THE GIRL I AM, WAS, AND NEVER WILL BE, A SPECULATIVE MEMOIR OF TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION.
Gibney writes that the only way for an adoptee to tell her story, is to embrace that there are no singular truths. There are, she says, no stories without holes. For Gibney, there were many holes. Adopted by a white family at birth, Gibney’s birth mother was Irish-American and she’d had a brief and tumultuous relationship with her African American birth father. As a mixed-Black transracial adoptee, Gibney decided that the best vehicle to tell her story was with two different timelines bridged by a mysterious portal. In one timeline, she is Erin Powers, the name her birth mother gave her. In another, she is Shannon Gibney, a transracial adoptee in search of information about her birth parents and her identity. The portal between these two lives is where Gibney meets her birth father, who passed away before she could meet him, when she was six years old.
The memoir is interspersed with letters, documents, photographs, medical records, and interviews. The facts of these are juxtaposed against a time-traveling Erin/Shannon who meets her father in the portal, if every so briefly. It is a longing made more real through facts provided by family members and her own ingenious imagination.
Along the way, Gibney reads books, listens to podcasts, watches films, and discovers websites and organizations that support adoptees and she shares these in a list of resources at the end of the book.
Transracial adoption is never tidy, and cannot be encapsulated in an individual story, but Gibney does a masterful job of helping the reader understand the complexities of identity and the machinations of the adoption industrial complex. A writer with courage and heart, Gibney lays bare her experience for the benefit of us all.
Listen to my interview with Shannon Gibney on January 26 at 7:00 pm and January 28 at 6:00 am on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at www.wtip.org.