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the story behind the book | kate tuttle

‘Body Leaping Backward’ required a long look into her past

david wilson for the boston globe

“I had been writing this literally since college, so we’re talking decades,” said Maureen Stanton. “But it wasn’t until my father died that I really felt like I could tell this story.”

Stanton, who teaches creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, was talking about “Body Leaping Backward,” her newly published memoir of growing up in the shadow of Walpole Prison in the 1960s and ’70s. In it, she recalls her own youthful crimes, from smoking angel dust to vandalism to breaking and entering.

Key to helping her recreate those years, Stanton said, were the diaries she kept as a teen, which her mother returned to her after the family home was sold. “I was really transported back to that time, and it was an incredibly uncomfortable feeling,” Stanton said. “They were fresh with details that I could never have remembered after all this time, of that awkward 15-year-old girl. That was hard to face, and hard to look at.”

Writing about those painful, often dangerous times, has made her more sympathetic, Stanton said. “I’m very sensitive to stories now of teenagers who make one bad mistake and just wreck the trajectory of their lives. Because I, just by luck, by pure luck, escaped that,” she said. “I do know people who weren’t as lucky.”


She hopes that readers will come away with more understanding “about teenagers’ interior lives, especially girls.”

I wanted to give voice to that teenaged girl, in the most honest way that I could. Teenagers want thrills, they take risks, they’re hard wired to do that,” Stanton added. “I just want people to see how young — how naïve and young — teenagers are, really. So we can do a better job helping them through this passage.”

Maureen Stanton will read Thursday at 7 p.m.  at Porter Square Books.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at