The Hippo


Apr 19, 2019








Robert Begiebing. Courtesy photo.

Meet Robert Begiebing

Where: Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord
When: Thursday, June 12, at 7 p.m.
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Begiebing and the Berkshires
SNHU teacher explores childhood in new memoir

By Kelly Sennott

Robert Begiebing has been a writer most of his life.

He has eight published books to his name, and he’s the author of numerous short stories, articles and a play called Ernest and Norman: A Dialogue in Two Acts. He also founded the Low-Residency MFA writing programs at SNHU, where he won three awards for excellence in teaching.
But never before had he enjoyed writing so much as he did with A Berkshire Boyhood: Confessions and Reflections of a Baby Boomer, his memoir that was released in April.
The book chronicles Begiebing’s childhood growing up from working-class roots in western Massachusetts, and it explores the relationships between the “Greatest Generation” (those who grew up during the Depression and went on to fight in World War II) and their children, the baby boomers.
The idea to write the memoir occurred years back.
“I think it has to do with this stage of life. You reach a certain point of maturity and seniority, and you start to think more about your past. … When you get into your 60s, you think about things you didn’t always think about in your teens and 20s.”
The subjects of some of those thoughts: Your childhood home. The drastic move that prompted your career. The relationship you had with your parents.
He also wanted something to leave behind.
“I have grandchildren. I would have really loved for my grandfather, or for any of my grandparents, to have written something down about what it was like for them growing up. I didn’t know if it’d be a publishable book or not, but I knew I’d have something to pass on,” Begiebing said.
Writing the memoir, though enjoyable, was also difficult at times. That the stories are your own can blind you from seeing which narratives are the most engaging or the most relatable.
So he reached out to some of his writer friends — Merle Drown, Diane Les Becquets, Katie Towler and Wesley McNair, to name a few — with whom he often trades manuscripts with during the artistic process. As it so happened, many of them were working on autobiographical projects as well. He sent writing to family and friends to help him determine the structure of the narrative, which, he said, was incredibly difficult. 
He also spent hours and hours reading, not just his family’s old documents, but old issues of Time magazine and Harper’s, to better understand the period. At times, piecing together his past became cathartic. 
“I began to understand the relationship between me and my father, and the role he played in my life,” Begiebing said. “He affected the decisions I made, not because he was giving me advice, but because he gave me example.”
It also became clear why he looks back so fondly at the Berkshires: They led him to becoming a writer.
“The Berkshires are such a beautiful, mysterious landscape,” Begiebing said. “When I was 15, about to turn 16, I was transplanted from there to Los Angeles. My father wanted to go to L.A. to search for an engineering job. … Once I was out there, in the L.A. landscape, I was acutely aware of what I had lost.”
It was there that he started writing. He wrote small poems and snippets describing the landscapes he missed in New England. They were the first scraps of writing independent from schoolwork.
Many readers, he said, expressed similar experiences.
“That childhood, youthful period, is such a powerful time. You’re so open, emotionally, so uncivilized, and it’s amazing how many people have had very similar experiences of what it’s like to go back to childhood landscape,” Begiebing said. 
As seen in the May 22, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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