Anne-Marie Oomen launches “The Mom Book”


By Norm Wheeler

Sun editor

The next event in local writer Anne-Marie Oomen’s prolific career of creating history plays, poems, essays, and creative nonfiction will be the launch of her new memoir As Long As I Know You, The Mom Book on Oct. 6 at Kirkbride Hall in Traverse City at Building 50 from 5:30-7:30 pm. It is also a fundraiser for Michigan Writers Scholarships, and “Everyone’s invited!”

The book is dedicated “To my mother, Ruth Jean Oomen, April 28, 1921–November 16, 2020, and to all of those ‘in the homes’.” It completes several years of energy and effort as Oomen explores the emotional depths of her relationship with her mother. “This was super important to me and also feels timely as we face an elder care crisis in this country,” she explains. “That stands out ahead of the personal story.”

I asked Anne-Marie what led her to writing memoir. “Part of it is the process of growing older, of looking for spiritual guidance by moving from exterior to interior explorations. My writing has always been related to place, but more deeply how place shaped my being. When you explore the past, you’re also filtering it through the lens of a personal narrative that flows back out into the world. When the reader gets involved it creates a new meaning.”

Her writing process has morphed over the years. “It started with the short columns I wrote for Traverse Magazine years ago. I had to hone in on a single moment to make a 700-800-word column, and that’s hard for me, because my biggest challenge is not to over-write! This led me to think about the transformative moments of meaning and purpose when the psyche changed or shifted. My first memoir, Pulling Down the Barn, focuses on those transformative moments in my early childhood. Those moments give you something to write toward and away from. As I have grown older, those moments have become more complex, nuanced, and elevated. In As Long As I Know You, The Mom Book, I think the relationship with my mother becomes more universal, less related to place, more related to the soul shaping that happened between us. The process has become more interior.”

“The hardest chapters to write were the ones where I had to acknowledge my own immaturity and shortcomings. It’s always hard to look at those. But then I took joy in writing the chapters where I could finally acknowledge that we were finding each other, coming to an understanding. The title comes from when I finally found the courage to ask her what gave her life meaning. This was during the time when we were trying to discover when we should not pursue extended care. She said, ‘As long as I know you.’ That changed everything for me.”

After several years of working on As Long As I Know You, Oomen hit a wall. “I was really blocked. How was I going to finish this? Then Covid hit, and I couldn’t see her anymore. I saw her three times in eight months through the windows at the medical care facility. It was heartbreaking. And then she died, likely of Covid, although we’ll never know for sure. The grief ironically catapulted me into finishing the memoir. Writing gave me a way to navigate through the grief, a way to make grief more companionable.”

In February 2021, Oomen sent her manuscript to the biggest writing organization in the country, the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) competition. “I submitted it and forgot about it, wanting to move into a different phase of grief.” She got a call in August 2021 from someone in Athens, Ga., and thinking she just needed to renew her membership, she got out her credit card. Instead, the caller asked if she would accept the Sue William Silverman Award for Creative Nonfiction, including a $2000 prize and publication by the University of Georgia Press! “I burst into tears! I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe it. It is a huge affirmation that the years of work, anxiety, and making narrative out of inadequate memories has value and is a way of communing with the world about the universal things that trouble us all.”

A compilation of Oomen’s short pieces, including columns she wrote for Traverse Magazine as well as pieces from the Glen Arbor Sun and pieces she wrote for the Michigan Humanities Council, “short pieces that needed a nest, a home,” will be published by Cornerstone Press from Wisconsin in the fall of 2024. But the big launch of As Long As I Know You, The Mom Book, is Oct. 6 in Traverse City at Kirkbride Hall, 5:30-7:30 pm.

Click here to order your own copy.

Here’s a list of Anne-Marie Oomen’s publications:

2022:       As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book. University of Georgia Press, AWP nonfiction prize, Sept. 2022

2024:       The Long Roads. Forthcoming, Cornerstone Press, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. 2023

2019:       Lake Michigan Mermaid: A Tale in Poems (with Linda Nemec Foster), Michigan Notable Book Award, WSUP, Michigan Notable Book Award.

2019:       ELEMENTAL: A Collection of Michigan Nonfiction, Editor. Michigan Notable Book Award, WSUP

2015:       Love, Sex and 4-H. Next Generation Indie Book Award for Memoir. WSUP.

2010:       An American Map. Essays. WSUP.

2008:       House of Fields. Memoir.  Michigan Notable Book Award. WSUP.

2008:       Uncoded Woman. Poems inspired by the International Code of Signals. Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN

2004:       Pulling Down the Barn.   Memoir.  Michigan Notable Book Award, WSUP.

2000:        Looking Over my Shoulder-Reflections on the Twentieth Century. Editor. Funded by a grant from Michigan Humanities Council.

1996:       Seasons of the Sleeping Bear, poetry chapbook, Cottage Bookstore and Beach Bards, special edition.