Author to talk about her time overseas

Published 5:13 pm Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Friends of the Austin Public Library are excited about an upcoming event that will highlight a former Austin resident’s experiences halfway around the world. That former resident is excited, too, as she will be back in Austin after a long time.

Peggy Keener will visit the Austin Public Library 7 p.m. this Thursday, and she has plenty of stories to share from her memoir, “Potato in a Rice Bowl.” The title sums up Keener’s life, a Midwestern housewife with three kids and a husband who lived for 30 years in various parts of southeast Asia, Australia and Japan.

Readers who pick up Keener’s book may find something in common, Keener said, as she’s received many letters from people who felt somehow connected with her.

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“I’m trying to figure out why so many people are writing me letters,” Keener said. “It seems like after they finish reading the book, we’re friends,”

And Keener is drawing attention from readers and critics in a different way. Her book won three awards since it was released last summer, including finalist awards for non-fiction humor and non-fiction cultural history, and a top international award for non-fiction memoir. Though Keener hasn’t been a longtime author or writer, she’s always enjoyed English and writing. Her success stems from the richness of her stories. According to Keener, she has a lot of them. While following her husband’s military career from country to country and raising young kids, Keener was the only one who could document the significance of her own experiences, she said.

Upon returning to the U.S. years ago, Keener took a writing class.

“Two days into the class I thought, ‘Wow, if I write the way the teacher wants me to write, it’s going to be her book and not my book,’” Keener said.

And if one asks how Keener writes, she’d tell them it reflects the way she always is.

“The tone of my book is my voice,” she said. “I write in my voice, or I don’t write at all.”

The Friends of the Austin Public Library are interested to hear that voice. They lucked out and heard Keener was going to visit for her 55th class reunion of Austin High School. According to President of the Friends Sue Grove, member Dorothy Krob made the effort to coordinate Keener’s visit at the library.

“She did the whole thing,” Grove said about Krob’s efforts. “She got her, she contacted her, she’s done the publicity. It’s just been amazing.”

However, nobody had to push Keener too hard to share her experiences, either. In her book, the former Austinite recalls her ties to the area and relates them with her experiences in Japan.

“The only life reference I had at 22 was Austin, Minn.,” she said. “It was the hub of my universe.”

Now living near the Twin Cities, Keener is happy to return to Austin; and she still remembers those ties.

“I love Austin — it’s still the hub of my universe,” she said.