These two writers have something in common: they were each born into humble backgrounds, even into poverty. Smarsh grew up on a farm in Mid-West Kansas; Hudson in any number of deprived areas as her family moved from one town to another in search of employment. Each has written a book about returning her roots. In this 'comparison event', chaired by Creative Scotland's Jenny Niven, the two traded childhood and adolescent experiences.
They weren't nice, of course; poverty is ugly. They talked of the extent to which they felt poor (not always totally aware, but usually), how their peers perceived them and how they felt about their peers and, almost inevitably, about the sexual violence that young women in poverty often experience.
Each felt they'd been lucky but were reluctant to use the word 'escaped'. They both had, though, even though they might like to admit it. Smarsh, for instance, is a former professor of nonfiction writing and Hudson seems to be a flourishing writer now.
I'm not sure the format of the event entirely worked. Each of the writers deserved an event of her own, and I felt Smarsh – who at times underestimated her audience's understanding of American politics – took too long to give her answers, interesting as they were. Hudson was funnier, and I could even see her in standup with the right material. And Jenny Niven allowed the pair to speak for so long that there was next to no time at the end for questions from the audience.
It wouldn't stop me from reading either of their books, though. Each was interesting enough in her own right to make me look out for them in the future. And their event gave me food for thought about my own childhood and teenage years... but that's another story.