Christine Ristaino – Overcoming Violence

In September 2007, Christine Ristaino was attacked in a store parking lot while her three- and five-year-old children watched. In her upcoming memoir, All the Silent Spaces (She Writes Press, July 9, 2019), Ristaino shares what it felt like to be an ordinary person confronted with an extraordinary event―a woman trying to deal with acute trauma even as she went on with her everyday life, working at a university and parenting two children with her husband.

All the silent spaces book coverIn her book, Ristaino not only narrates how this event changed her but also tells how looking at the event through both the reactions of her community and her own sensibility allowed her to finally face two other violent episodes she had previously experienced. As new memories surfaced after the attack, it took everything in Ristaino’s power to not let catastrophe unravel the precarious threads holding everything together.  Moving between the greater issues associated with violence and the personal voyage of overcoming grief, All the Silent Spaces is about letting go of what you think you know in order to rebuild.

Here are some questions I had for Christine about her book, her process, and what is important to her.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I would tell my younger self to listen to my body, my heart, my head, all of them, and see what my internal voice is telling me. So many times I focused outwardly on what others wanted. Now that I hear my own voice, everything is different. I speak from a place of power and I say what I feel, not what others want me to say. I would tell my younger self to ask herself what is important to her. I would tell my younger self that her story is important, that it is worth telling.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

Yes, I have always loved writing. I realized I could write well when a teacher told me to send a story into a competition in High School. Something clicked for me then. I began writing stories and poems in my teens and twenties, a dissertation and an academic publication in my thirties, OpEds and All the Silent Spaces in my 40s and early 50s.

Who is your favorite character in your book?

Since my book is a memoir, I would have to say that the older me, at the end of my book, is my favorite character. The book is about trying to find one’s voice after sexual assault. The experience of finding it through writing was the most powerful experience I’ve ever had in my life and I enjoy seeing a much more settled, imperfect but self-aware woman, ready to change the world, at the end of my book.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing at my kitchen table in the middle of the night or in my car on the side of the road in random places.

What inspires you?

Other people’s stories about overcoming obstacles inspire me.

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

Christine Ristaino author photoIn addition to raising socially-conscious children, it has become my life’s goal to make sure survivors of violence don’t lose their voices.  Since I began writing my book, I have published articles in the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Pacific Standard, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution about different aspects of my experience with violence and difficult conversations. Last January, I told my story to more than 6,000 people at the women’s march in Roanoke, VA.  Modeling how to have these conversations through my book will help more women gain the courage to say #MeToo, as well as inspire people to bear witness to the stories of those who have survived traumatic events. I would like to be a strong voice in the fight to change the discourse around violence.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I’m a pantser.  I let whatever needs to come out, come out. When I was writing my book, I felt this incredible need to write it. I just went where it took me. Ultimately, through writing, I was able to look at two experiences with sexual violence that had happened to me as a child and young adult. Writing about these two events liberated me, helped me figure out who I really was.

What are you reading right now?

I’m teaching an Italian memoir class right now and I am reading my students’ short memoir pieces. They are powerful, honest, stunning! My favorite pieces arise from the prompts “This is who I am” and “Immigrant Story”.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

I would visit my younger self and help out with the kids—allow her to have some down time and tell her how much I loved her. I would give her space to face the hidden realities that are preventing her from owning her voice. Of course, it would be fun to see my children at younger ages again, but I would miss their older selves if I spent too much time away from them.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

I would like Julianna Margulies to play me.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Usually I think of something and write it down as soon as I can pull over the car or get out of bed. Mostly I think of things to write about in the middle of the night or when I’m in the car. These two times of the day are the only moments where life quiets down for a spell and I feel creative and relaxed.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I teach Italian, advise three super-empowered student groups at Emory, write OpEds, nonfiction, articles, spend time with my husband and children, have coffee or meals with family, students and friends, laugh, connect, exchange stories, love.

More about Christine:

Christine Ristaino teaches Italian classes at Emory University. She has co-authored an academic publication entitled Lucrezia Marinella and the “Querelle des Femmes” in Seventeenth-Century Italy through Farleigh Dickinson Press as well as the first edition of a book series called The Italian Virtual Class, which teaches language through cultural acquisition. She writes and publishes articles, essays, OpEds, and non-fiction, and presents her work in various forums throughout the U.S. and abroad. Ristaino recently completed her memoir entitled All the Silent Spaces, which confronts the topics of violence and discrimination.

Ristaino specializes in Italian pedagogy, languages, teacher training, service learning, and education.  She serves on various boards and committees and participates in efforts around social justice, race, class, education reform, and violence prevention.  Ristaino is an award-winning advisor and teacher and has experience organizing powerful symposiums, seminars, conferences and events. She leads workshops on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics, and creating a public voice.

Ristaino mentors and advises three student groups and is a well-known, beloved faculty member. She is currently teaching a course about Italian memoir where her students share powerful memoir pieces about identity and overcoming obstacles.

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