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My First Time...with Tara Westover

Tara Westover is an American author living in the UK. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. She spent her days working in her father's junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom.

After that first encounter with education, she pursued learning for a decade, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and subsequently winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.

Tara is reading at The Riff Raff on Thursday 25th January and you won't want to miss her – get your tickets right here.

Tara Westover, The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for Educated...

'Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

There was no single moment. It was something someone told me I should do, then it occurred to me I could. It lived in my head for a lot time like that—as something I could do, maybe, but I thought probably I couldn’t do it. Then I did.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before writing your first book?

That it would work. That it would all mean something eventually.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

As in, how not to procrastinate? Or how to procrastinate? I never want to write. Then I walk the dog, and while I’m walking some thought occurs to me; then I want to write.

Go-to writing snacks?

Tea. Or wine if it’s late.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Reading – novels, philosophy. Lectures also make me want to write. Conversations, too. And walks outside.

Educated by Tara Westover, The Riff Raff

The book that changed you?

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.

Your pump up song?

I begin every work session with the same song. It is my pavlovian whistle. When I hear the opening bar, I think, Ah, time to work. Right now it’s 'Butterfly Waltz'.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

I’m convinced that the best of most writers is probably on the page. For all we know they are terribly dull at parties.

Sometimes I wonder if some people who live rich lives on the inside [are] just not good external entertainers, and I have some reason to wonder. It certainly seems to be true with me. The deeper I am into my work, the worse company I am.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?

You can learn anything better than someone can teach it to you. Learn to write; don’t be taught to write.


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