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Betty Bell Brown, Pretty Much: A Memoir

Sunday, September 1   |   2:00 pm

Pretty Much: A Memoir is the story of a girl named Clara, born when little girls wore white ruffled dresses, though she preferred handmade brown jodhpurs she stitched in pink. Clara, of necessity, grew into a woman who made her own way in the world. No obstacle she encountered deterred her from having her own way, “pretty much.” Her daughter, Betty, grew up in Clara’s shadow and then had to find her way out from under it to realize her own dreams.

With a mother who went faster than she could catch up, Brown’s mother kept her in place with, “I wish I was as cute as some people think they are.”  She walked a narrow path between her father’s temper and her mother’s quirkiness before her parents betrayed her brother’s trust, and her father revealed his imperfection.

The story covers more than a century from Clara’s birth to Betty’s life today. Clara’s boundless energy wasted into frivolity in an era when expectations hemmed her into a life too small to hold her. The prospects for women and what it means to exercise independence have changed a lot over one hundred years, but the struggle between mother and daughter are timeless.

Author Judy Goldman writes, “Betty Bell Brown has written my favorite kind of book:  an utterly gripping memoir about family, it’s the story of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary psychologically challenging situations. This is truly a memorable book.” Goldman is author of Together:  A Memory of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap.

In his review of Pretty Much: A Memoir Michael White, poet and professor of creative writing at UNC-Wilmington write that “Betty Brown is an esteemed painter, who with an artist’s eye for detail and truth-telling, has written a memoir about her prototypically Southern family. It’s an astonishing book. She has skillfully interwoven excerpts of her mother’s diary (whose “voice” melds uncannily well with the author’s own), as well as exquisite old photos that lend an almost mythological resonance to a story with more than its share of tragedy. Against all odds, with courage and compassion, Betty Bell Brown has gathered all of these pieces, and much more, in one pitch-perfect, heart rendering book to savor.” 

Betty Bell Brown is a widely published writer, an award-winning artist and teacher based in Wilmington, NC. Pretty Much: A Memoir is her first full length book.