Kate Walter’s recent book, Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing, is a deep examination of despair and recovery from a relationship that ended after 25 years. Not legally married at the time, she found herself single again, dealing with bewilderment and uncertainty, and ultimately on a road to healing. The memoir is her journey through that experience and her emergence on the other side. Following are Kate’s answers to ‘6 Questions’ about the book, her life and her plans for the future. – Mark McNease/Editor
MM: It was nice to meet you in person at the Rainbow Book Fair. You’re a fellow New Yorker (I’ve been here since 1993). Can you talk about your journey from there to here, wherever there was?
KW: I was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. As a teenager, I was influenced by Allen Ginsberg, home town celebrity, who used to return to read at the local public library. I graduated from a conservative Catholic women’s college in New Jersey, one of the few hippies on campus.
I came out in 1975, a few years after I graduated and decided I had to move to the Village to be openly gay. I always loved the Village and used to drive in on weekends with my friends to go to concerts at the Fillmore East. I started out as music writer during the 70s and 80s and then shifted into personal essays and opinion pieces, which is what I write now.
MM: Your recent book, Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing, is dedicated to “women who have been dumped after 25 years.” Why did you decide to write a book about your relationship ending?
KW: My memoir, Looking for a Kiss, took many years to write. It went through numerous drafts to find the arc and the best way to organize the material. The subject matter- about a long term lesbian relationship- evolved and changed as I was writing the book. Actually, when I first started writing the memoir, we were still together. After we broke up, I realized it would be most interesting to frame the book around my recovery from the break up.
My goal was to be universal. I expect most of my readers will be women but my book is for everyone, not just gay women. I was really happy when straight women told me how much they could relate to my memoir. Gay men told me they could relate to my bad date stories and my old high school boy friend, (a minor character), a straight man and an author, said he loved it.
The message of my memoir is that you can go through a horrible breakup emotionally and financially and you can come out on the other side. You can survive and thrive. You can emerge happier and a better person, more in touch with yourself. Looking for a Kiss provides a road map as to how I healed myself from a traumatic event. Of course, writing itself was very cathartic.
MM: Can you talk some about the healing process you write about? You sought out a gay-positive church, you chanted, threw yourself into yoga, and started dating again. I know it’s in the book, but what are some major points about this?
KW: You will have to read the book to find out more specifics about my journey, but there are scenes at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, the Omega Institute in upstate New York, Integral Yoga in the West Village. My approach to healing my life was to be active and do things that made me feel better and that made me feel whole.
MM: You’ve been writing for many years about topics from religion and dating to neighborhood gentrification. I’m curious to know why and how your writing took this shape (as opposed to, say, fiction or some other form of writing).
KW: The book took this form (memoir) because I write creative non-fiction. That is my genre. For decades I have been a journalist, reviewer, columnist, essayist, so writing a memoir was the next evolution in my writing career.
MM: You’re a teacher as well, teaching Personal Essay Writing at NYU and offering private workshops. Can you talk some about both of those? What are some things you find most challenging and most rewarding about teaching?
KW: I enjoy helping students shape their material through editing and writing comments and having them do rewrites and helping them find places to publish. I recently saw a one woman show written by a former NYU student and she told me the title “Why So Much Shame” was a comment I had written on her paper!
Teaching is a rewarding profession because you really have the chance to help people become better writers and to grow as human beings. But you have to know how to critique in a way that is constructive.
MM: What are some of the things you see ahead for yourself, creatively, professionally and personally?
KW: I’m always working on new personal essays and I write short columns for AM-NY, a free daily paper in New York City that is distributed on the subway and in boxes. That is really great exposure because everyone reads it.
I’m trying to nail down my next book idea. I’m a Capricorn so I climb slowly but steadily. After my memoir came out, I tried fiction- wrote 25 pages of a novel- but I believe my forte is creative nonfiction. I’m thinking of writing a memoir about my ultra Catholic upbringing in the 1950 and 1960s. It was very repressive and hard to break away from a religious family. I think being different, being gay (even before I came out to myself) saved me and propelled me forward. Now I need to find the container for that storyline and a thread to stitch my past to the present.
For fun, I enjoy doing yoga and have taken classes for decades. I love swimming in the ocean and spend lots of time at the Jersey Shore during the summer and fall. The Jersey Shore appears in my memoir, including a scene at gay bar in Asbury Park in the 70s. I enjoy bike riding on the boardwalk along the ocean or along the Hudson River in NYC.
I love living in New York City. I like seeing art in galleries or museums. I like hearing live music whether in a small jazz club in the Village or an outdoor concert in Central Park. I’m an avid reader who tries to read a book a week, mixing up nonfiction and fiction.
In a few years, I will retire from my full-time day job at CUNY. I plan to develop workshops, teach part-time in an MFA program, spend more time at the shore. I will always be reading and writing. And I hope to fall in love again.
More about Kate Walter
Kate Walter has been living in downtown Manhattan since 1975 when she escaped across the river from New Jersey. Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing (Heliotrope Books, 2015) is her debut memoir.
Walter’s personal essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the NY Times, Newsday, NY Daily News, AM-NY, The Advocate and many other outlets She teaches writing at CUNY and NYU and lives in the West Village.