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 Christmas Memory

joe maiolo

English Professor Joseph Maiolo


"... a beautiful story, at once powerful, poignant, funny, and sad." Joseph Maiolo

A UMD Holiday Tradition

English Professor Joseph Maiolo has presented a public reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” almost every year since arriving at UMD over 30 years ago. This year he will present the holiday classic at 4 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 11 in the Weber Music Hall.

"A Christmas Memory" was the first of the Buddy and Miss Sook tales Truman Capote wrote as a tribute to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk. Capote was raised during the Great Depression, and lived with his aging relatives while his parents battled over his custody. During this time, he became good friends with his elderly cousin, Miss Sook. Capote honors their friendship in two autobiographical stories, "A Christmas Memory" and "A Thanksgiving Visitor."

Born in West Virignia, Maiolo read the story in the late 1960s in a reprint of the story. It was first published in 1956 and the first on-air television presentation was produced by ABC in 1966, narrated by Capote himself.

As a child, Maiolo was raised by his grandmother, recalled to him by the picture of Miss Sook. He was so moved by the story that in February 1976, he published it in an anthology he edited, From Three Sides: Reading for Writers.

In "A Christmas Memory," Miss Sook and Buddy worked all year to save money for the holidays in order to share a tradition with friends that was rooted in hard work, happiness, and generosity. "A Christmas Memory" recounts the ritual of "fruitcake season" and the adventures of Miss Sook and Buddy to secure all of the necessary ingredients to create this sign of friendship and love.

Maiolo said he is "touched by the human spirit" evident in the story. "It's not religious but it's definitely spiritual. The young boy and the old woman complete each other; without each other they may be defeated, and they feed each other's dreams."

Maiolo's appreciation for Capote's masterpiece has not gone unnoticed. Before arriving at UMD, he taught in Virginia and used “A Christmas Memory” occasionally in his creative-writing classes. Eventually, he began to invite other classes to listen.

When he came to UMD, he read the story to his fiction-writing classes. Later, after his reading caught the ears of the Duluth community, he was moved to give readings in the Marshall Performing Arts Center and also the Kirby Rafters. He was even asked to give the reading on public radio stations.

Maiolo has found a home for the popular reading in the UMD Weber Music Hall and it's become a popular event for the campus as well as the community. "Capote's writing is fantastic; the details in the story are brilliant,” Maiolo said. “It's a beautiful story, at once powerful, poignant, funny, and sad. I have no doubt that Capote wrote that story out of the marrow in his bones."

Duluth community members like Terry Roberts have a tradition in Maiolo’s reading. “It helps me realize the important things of Christmas. I like the relationship between the boy and his cousin, it is so heartwarming,” Roberts said. She first read the story years ago, and she has attended the reading for over 10 years. “I just love hearing Joe read the story.”

Maiolo will read Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at 4 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 11 in the Weber Music Hall. This traditional event is free and open to the public. For info contact the English Department, 726-8228.

Written by English major Donna O'Neill, editing by Cheryl Reitan



UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
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