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August 31, 2022

Hillary Leftwich's Playlist for Her Memoir "Aura"

Aura by Hillary Leftwich

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Hillary Leftwich's memoir Aura is both profound and powerful, a book written to her son but necessary reading for all of us.

In her own words, here is Hillary Leftwich's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Aura:

“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul

This song was a huge hit in elementary school and set a lot of the mood for the petty, ridiculous swooning over crushes that occupied a large part of my adolescent and early junior high years. Relationships back then maybe lasted a month—which was the equivalent of a year—and often went down with rumors, gossip, and lots of drama. This song represents the innocence of that time when it was about crushing hard.

“I Want Your Sex” by George Michael

This was the first video on MTV I watched as a child with what was considered really explicit images and lyrics. This was one of the first popular videos that really talked about sex in an in-your-face way, and at the time, I was far too young to understand this, but I couldn’t stop watching it. I was captivated in ways I couldn’t make sense of until my teenage years.

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone

Nina Simone was a significant presence in my teenage and early adult years, and I found an escape in her voice and lyrics that couldn’t be matched or come close by any other musicians at the time (and still to this day). There’s a dark, melancholy undertone to her lyrics and voice that resonates with me, and much of the writing in my memoir reflects her tone.

“Cult of Personality” by Living Colour

As a kid, this was the beginning of political music that started to become prevalent during the early 90s and 2000s. Living Colour brought to light many issues with capitalism and society, especially in America, during this time that hadn’t been shown in music videos (at least on a global level in the late 80s) before. This spotlights many of the obstacles as a kid I faced that I couldn’t quite find words for, but if you’ve ever seen the video, you’ll know what I mean.

“Crucify” by Tori Amos

The album Little Earthquakes came out while I was attending a Christian school in junior high, which is described in detail early on in my memoir. I remember many kids in my class relating to Tori’s lyrics, despite the school’s teachings, and I found Tori’s messages about God and sexuality a lot like jumping into a void filled with lust and sex and freedom all at once. As a newly anointed teenager, her sexuality laced with religious undertones was a high I couldn’t come down from.

“Me and the Devil” Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron is someone who I will never stop listening to, even well into my later years in life (knock on wood). As an overall undertone to my memoir, this song, in particular, holds a special touchstone to all of what can be considered envelops The Tower card in Tarot. I felt this presence during many moments in the memoir about my son’s epilepsy and death. The feeling of having no control and being bound to the darker temptations and aspects of life.

“What Kind of Man” by Florence + The Machine

This song forms a body that holds all of the emotions I gathered during my abusive relationship with my son’s biological father. It’s such a powerful reminder every time I listen to the push and pull, give and take of manipulated love and how much my mind suffered (and still does). I love that this song exists, even though it still hurts to listen.

“Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

This has been my comfort song since I was very little, and it didn’t change status as I grew older. Throughout my life, I would listen to this song to find solace and peace, imagining the same image in my head (even now) every time: a dock and a chair and the Pacific Ocean, such a tremendous theme and influence in my memoir and my life. This is the song I want to leave this earth to.

Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019). Her hybrid poetry and CNF collection, Saint Dymphna's Playbook, is forthcoming from PANK Books in 2023. She is the founder and owner of Alchemy Author Services & Workshop, teaches at Lighthouse Writers, and is a creative writing professor at the University of Denver and an assistant creative writing professor at Colorado College. She focuses her writing on class struggle, single motherhood, trauma, mental illness, the supernatural, ritual, and the impact of neurological disease. She is an intuitive Tarologist and has been reading Tarot for over 25 years coupled with her clair abilities and studies under several well-known psychic medium mentors. She teaches Tarot and Tarot writing workshops focusing on strengthening divination abilities as well as writing. She lives in Denver with her partner, son, and a cat named Larry.

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