Amy Julia Becker, MDiv ’10, writes faith-based narrative nonfiction that digs into the simple and profound. In her latest book, White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege, Becker explores race, class, disability, and the concept of privilege.
“As I set about writing what became White Picket Fences, I had to write in a way that maintained my own Christian convictions,” Becker says. “It needed to make sense to my friends who don’t have faith, to the women in my writing group, including two who are Jewish, to people who haven’t had conversations about privilege. Even if I didn’t win them over, I had to have a lot of integrity to my beliefs.”
Becker’s first book, Penelope Ayers, is a memoir about her mother-in-law’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and death. The memoir covers Ayers’ struggles with depression, divorce, and single motherhood of two young boys. Through her mother-in-law’s story, Becker asks questions both of God and about God.
Her second book, A Good and Perfect Gift, focused on the birth and early life of her daughter Penny, now a ballet dancer, swimmer, and sleepover host who also has Down syndrome.
“My husband and I were both Type A oldest children and our first child has a disability,” she says. “There’s a very different sense of freedom that we experience, because we’re Penny’s parents. We’ve figured out so quickly that we’re not in charge of shaping our kids. We know that our goal is to help our kids become who they were created to be.”
In looking across her life, Becker is clear in the ways in which she was a beneficiary of privilege. She’s also clear that, “Penny gave me another lens. I’ve gotten these tiny tastes or glimpses of what it is to live outside of privilege. When Penny was little, I called a preschool ..and when I mentioned she had Down syndrome, they said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate her. It was just like, ‘How can this be?’ That’s an experience people who have different backgrounds from mine have experienced many times in their lives. I’d never experienced it before.”
Becker describes White Picket Fences as the most difficult writing process she’s undertaken to date. Describing her struggle to put together an ending for the book, Becker notes, “There’s a sense that, especially with a story about privilege in the United States, it’s not resolved. No one story can come to a point of resolution. It was challenging for me to write, and I think the book will be challenging for readers, too. What does it mean to live with intention? That’s my hope for the book, that it’s an invitation.”
“I write about topics that people are hesitant to discuss…I write the books that I believe God gives me. The best writing that I do and the best stories I tell,” says Becker, “are certainly in that category of, ‘This was given to me by God.’”