Memoirs, Heroines and Education: Talk by Sally Bayley & Tara Westover

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Gladys Jubane, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

An interesting summation of BookFest in honouring powerful women came from Memoirs: Educated and Girl with Dove by Tara Westover and Sally Bayley respectively, chaired by another inspiring woman in television, journalist and BBC World presenter Razia Iqbal. Her delivery of the talk was a student journalist’s how-to Tutorial. Imbued with techniques and a questioning style that gets the best out of two very opposing writings. An aesthetic presentation with something to take away. Memoirs are a very complicated genre to write and more so to read, but by the end of the talk you just had to take a copy of their books with you.

Growing up under survivalist Mormonism to extraordinary expansive personalities, the lives of Tara and Sally could have not been more different. But their extremist childhood settings paved the way for bold women and authors with celebrated memoirs.

Sally reflected on the tension between the neglect from her dictator-worshipping aunt and the three literary heroines that saved her sanity: “Imagination radically changes the mood of things” she pronounced. Similarly, Tara explained that candidly writing to her mother was a “paradigm shift without a clutch”. Her letter addressed the abuse suffered at the hands of her brother and became a defining moment of her childhood.

Reading helped develop a sense of self and provided an escape and source of self-preservation for these inspiring women. As Razia put it, “a comfort and consolation in two very challenging and opposing upbringings”. For Sally, finding heroines like Jane Eyre, provided more therapy and solace than any medicalised, psychological treatment. This emphasises the power of books in countering mental conflicts.

Catching up with literature and education for Tara fulfilled her sense of curiosity, heightened from a childhood with major constraints from an extreme Mormon background with no schooling until late in her teenage years. Wanting to define herself and catching up to conventional education she read a lot of academic books before she discovered the world of short story writing. Her introduction to short stories became a deliverance of her memoir. Tara prioritised the “[r]eliability of memory in the absence of getting back to what is true.” “Fallibility is a given and I am aware that I might be wrong” she clarified.

Whatever their individual inspirations, the talk provided a relatable experience to an enthusiastic audience concluding a memorable festival which promoted many inspiring women.