University Press Week: Speaking Up with Timothy Hillegonds

Happy University Press Week! Today the UP Week Blog Tour’s theme is “How to Speak Up and Speak Out.” The following is a guest post from Timothy J. Hillegonds, author of the recently-released memoir, The Distance Between (Nebraska, 2019).


Small truths, Big truths, and Memoir as Reckoning


hillegondsIn a 2010 interview published in the Paris Review, the late novelist Ray Bradbury, referring to novel writing, said, “If you get the big truth, the small truths will accumulate around it.”

I generally agree with Bradbury on this point, but when I apply Bradbury’s assertion to writing memoir, I believe it’s actually the opposite: If you get the small truths, the big truth will eventually emerge.

When I began writing The Distance Between, the small truths were abundant: as an adolescent I was deeply hurt by the abandonment I felt from my biological father; I grew into an angry young man unable to process emotion in ways that didn’t involve anger, violence, or alcohol; I was an addict and alcoholic hellbent on using substances to blunt the sharp edges of my life.

The emotions inside me, which sat just below the surface of my skin like an I.V. needle, were all-consuming, and they weaved a narrative of risk through my life designed to keep my mind distracted and my body pulsing with adrenaline. I skated and snowboarded and fought and drank and leaned hard into danger, into uncertainty, into anything that could make me feel something other than what I was consistently feeling: hurt, confused, lost.

Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, I was arrested somewhere close to a dozen times and charged with at least nineteen misdemeanors and one felony. I was rebellious and disobedient and I despised authority, especially the police, and said as much to anyone who would listen. I was wild and untamed and irreverent—but I was also something else, something that both defined and protected me in ways I didn’t begin to understand until years after I had started putting the broken pieces of my life back together, years after I had gotten sober and taken a long and seemingly endless personal inventory: I was born a heterosexual white male.

…the understanding I’ve come to realize is tethered to a personal responsibility I feel to continue learning about and confronting my privilege.

Hillegonds_cvr.inddThe big truth, as Bradbury put it, that I learned while writing The Distance Between, was that I was the benefactor of a privilege I didn’t earn or deserve, and it was one that quite literally—at least in one very real situation— saved my life. The big truth I uncovered as I unpacked my past, which is a truth I’m aware many women and people of color don’t have the option of not knowing, was that in myriad invisible ways my white male privilege was constantly working on my behalf. I wasn’t shot when I crashed a car trying to outrun the police. I wasn’t locked away indefinitely after I couldn’t post bond. I didn’t return home to a neighborhood in Chicago torn apart from gun violence. For all intents and purposes, even with a felony and a G.E.D, I was given a chance to recover, to become someone else, to learn and grow and change.

I now understand the story I was trying to tell from a very different perspective—a much more truthful, realistic perspective—and the understanding I’ve come to realize is tethered to a personal responsibility I feel to continue learning about and confronting my privilege. Because now that I understand the big truth of The Distance Between, I can open myself up to all the small truths that are still to come.


Explore what other University Presses are discussing on their blogs today:

Syracuse University PressKelly Belanger, the author of Invisible Seasons: Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports, discusses the theme speaking up and speaking out.

Fordham University PressA post from Joan Marans Dim, writer, historian, and co-author of Lady Liberty: An Illustrated History of America’s Most Storied Woman, focused on engaging readers to speak up and speak out.

Harvard Education PressBlog post by Tracey Benson, co-author of Unconcscious Bias in Schools, about speaking out about racism and US education.

University of South Carolina PressWill Gravely, author of They Stole Him Out of Jail, talks about how to call out racism.

University of Arizona PressBlog post about a newly-released book by Mexican American Studies Associate Professor Roberto Rodriguez, inspired by his own experience with police violence when he nearly lost his life working as a journalist in Los Angeles.

University of British Columbia PressAn excerpt from From Where I Stand by Jody Wilson-Raybould, a politician and Indigenous Canadian speaking on Indigenous Reconciliation and self-determination.

Northwestern University Press: Today’s post discusses Lee Bey’s Southern Exposure, a beautiful look at Chicago South Side architecture that also illuminates and raises awareness of the caustic effects of disinvestment in the area.

University of Toronto PressIn this post, University of Toronto Press’s Journals division shares its approach to the current and future challenges of peer review and why we chose Publons to help us support the peer review community and ensure peer reviewers are publicly recognized for their work.

University of Regina PressA post highlighting recent publications that show resistance against power in action.



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