Author to Watch: Kate Sweeney

‘The concrete illuminates the abstractions we can’t quite touch’

Author to Watch: Kate Sweeney, Photo by Joeff Davis, 2012
Photo credit: Joeff Davis/CL File
Author to Watch: Kate Sweeney

Kate Sweeney’s name might sound familiar. In addition to being a producer at local NPR affiliate WABE (90.1-FM), she’s also the co-founder with Dionne Irving of True Story, a bimonthly reading series at Kavarna in Oakhurst. At True Story, presenters, typically authors and journalists, are asked to bring an artifact from their past and share the real stories behind them. The series has been known to evoke rivaling amounts of laughter and tears.

Sweeney’s drawn to nonfiction for her own writing as well. UGA Press will publish her book American Afterlife in the coming year. The book focuses on our nation’s death customs, a subject that piqued Sweeney’s interest when she read an article about a green burial cemetery by Tad Friend in the New Yorker. After doing some independent research on the subject, and then writing an article on it for Oxford American, more stories unfolded. “I ended up writing about the stories of folks personally involved with death: the woman who sets up the roadside memorial for her 19-year-old daughter, the fourth-generation small-town funeral director, even the Civil War widow who fashions memorial jewelry from her dead husband’s hair,” she says. “There were these amazing commonalities in the reasons people give for remembering their dead the way they do. It’s sad and odd, but also poignant and, at times, really funny.”

No matter the medium — radio production, writing, speaking — the truth remains Sweeney’s muse: “I would hope, someday, to arrive at a larger truth or two through my work. I think that’s what draws poets, writers — any artist — to obsess over the concrete subjects they’re drawn to. The concrete illuminates the abstractions we can’t quite touch, and that’s what drives us.”