About Barbara

My Story

I’ve received many labels through the years, some unwanted: ”Best Body” in the ninth grade and ex-wife twice. In mid-life I was told by a mailperson that I held the local record for the most forwarding labels of someone not fleeing the law—three. And most recently I was given one I treasure—earned in a class developing a forthcoming memoir—“Most likely to start a forgiveness movement.”

If you grow up in the Midwest and have never seen either coast, you are stunned by the vastness of the ocean and surprised that not everyone puts catsup on their eggs.

I lived in and departed from “one of the M states.” And, having been born on Easter I left the nickname of Bunny behind. Growing up I lived for the bookmobile to come to our neighborhood and to be as brave and adventuresome as Caddie Woodlawn—my idol. Instead, I became the keeper of family secrets. In order to cope, I became a keen observer, filing my stories away—both good and bad—for later.

Living in an all-white village outside of St. Louis, my first exposure to injustice and racism occurred on a visit to my father’s relatives in Mississippi. I learned about slavery, “whites only” signs, and fell in love with the black maid, Ophelia.

John Ciardi sums up my adolescence and maybe yours: “You don’t have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.” At nineteen I left college with one short-term goal and several long-term regrets. While I had planned on becoming a writer, the era demanded marriage, and a long-delayed return to college and graduate school.

Being a wife and then a mother in the 1960s without academic cred, a war raging, and the women’s movement stirring up my small world, I became a crucible of conflict. There had to be more to my life and a place for me outside the home. When I was suddenly forced to make my own way after a divorce, the search began. I tried, failed, and tried again while earning the reputation with friends of being a bit of a smart-ass who kept her sense of humor intact.

Since I had never asked myself what I wanted, I had my first answer working in a remote village in Kenya earning credit toward a master’s degree. I returned a changed, unsettled woman who had finally come-of-age.

My goal thereafter was to find the possible in the imagined impossible. And, to be a person who encourages others to do the same, helping my mother come-of-age in her mid-70s. After more than sixty moves during my life, in 2000 I moved to the Pacific Northwest and am happy to call Bellingham, Washington home.

In the past I have written extensively for corporate clients, trade magazines, worked under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, non-profit organizations as a grant writer, and for local and alternative newspapers on a variety of topics.

In 2009 I indie published a memoir, Getting to Home: Sojourn in a Perfect House, about the process of building a house as a single woman. Other publications followed: “How Many Writing Books Does It Take?” appeared in the 2010 debut issue of Line Zero, a literary-arts magazine; a personal essay, “Good Vibrations,” was published in Full Grown People, an online magazine in 2015. “Thank you, Grace Paley” was published in Memory into Memoir: An Anthology in 2016; “Tis the Season” in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers’ anthology So Much Depends Upon…” in 2018; “In the Red Kitchen” in True Stories: The Narrative Project in 2019; and “It Isn’t Watching” appeared in For the Love of Orcas, an anthology dedicated to saving our endangered orcas.

Literary membership organizations include: from 2007 – 2015 co-chair of Field’s End (a program of the Bainbridge Public Library—founded by David Guterson) dedicated to fostering the art and craft of local writers, the Red Wheelbarrow Writers serving Whatcom County writers, located in Bellingham, Washington, and the National Association of Memoir Writers.


The Red Kitchen: A Memoir

What was it like growing up in your family? Mine was impeccable in public but behind closed doors—deeply flawed.

An unhappy mother and a secretive father turned me into a poignant and observant narrator for the family. I remember almost everything—save for one event that changed my life forever.

Like many women of my generation, no one asked me what dreams I had for the future. No one asked my mother either making this the story of two women who come-of-age—me at age forty, and my mother at age seventy-four.

Getting to Home

After more than 40 moves in her lifetime, Barbara Clarke settled in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. There she collaborated with an architect and a contractor to build a house. Getting to Home is a memoir that began as a saga of construction and became the basis for self-discovery.

Tracing her experience of building a house became not solely about the mechanics of construction, but about the mechanics of her mind and heart and where it took her. She was stripped down to her foundation and reconstructed. The result is the story of how a woman embarked on a journey and arrived at a new meaning of home.

Line Zero

“How Many Writing Books Does it Take?” was my first published print essay. I’m not sure the magazine survived hard times in the print world but it was a great collection of writers while it lasted.

In the debut print copy of Line Zero I considered the usual books that writers have stashed here and there. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird seems to be like the bible for many writers, me included. But then I discovered Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. What a gem!

I almost never read a book without thinking about Carolyn’s chapter “Charming Notes.” Is this book a candidate for a charming note to send to the author? I often do. And when all else fails on any given writing day I “fake it until I can make it” ala Carolyn’s laugh-out-loud advice in “Pretend to Be a Writer.”

While some writers dreamed about being on Oprah, I dreamed about having Carolyn review my book in The Washington Post where she was a reviewer for 27 years. Since she was not one to suffer fools or mince words, I hoped that she would love it.

There was no one like her—funny, acerbic, kind, an acquaintance by email, encouraging, sooo smart—and one-of-a-kind, even old school in the best sense of the word for writers and book lovers. To honor Carolyn and to keep her work alive since her death in 2016 I chose Carolyn’s stunning quote for my website. I miss her.

Full Grown People

For my first online publication I couldn’t have been luckier than to appear in Full Grown People: The Other Awkward Age. I wrote a memoir piece about my mother. Here’s a bit from “Good Vibrations.”

When I was nine, the Big Talk with my mother consisted of her buying me the book On Being Born, which contained not one mention of how people “did it.” Ten years later, my mother’s second attempt at instruction came shortly before I walked down the aisle. She offered this as my sendoff: “Sex can be beautiful.”

With the advent of the women’s movement and the freedom to have intimate talks with women and men, I enjoyed a good lover or two. Unlike the women of my mother’s era, I knew how to take care of my sexual needs with or without a partner. A bonus was frequenting, without the slightest embarrassment, the paraphernalia treasure house in Berkeley called Good Vibrations.

You’ll be able to read the entire “Good Vibrations” adapted for the memoir as Chapter 22 in The Red KitchenEnjoy!

Memory into Memoir ~
An Anthology

The Red Wheelbarrow Writers give voice to the 2013 award from Flavorwire as one of the top 20 “Great American Cities for Writers.” Through classes and workshops and book-loving events, the first anthology emerged. My chapter in Memory into Memoir is an homage to Grace Paley. Over a cup of tea she encouraged me to keep on writing my family stories. “Thank you, Grace Paley” describes this life-changing chance encounter.

So Much Depends Upon…

In 2018, the Red Wheelbarrow Writers publish their second anthology—So Much Depends Upon…. Thirty-two local writers are chosen for the memoir and short fiction. I was honored to have “Tis the Season” selected. It describes the on-again-off-again nature of the Christmas holidays of my childhood. “This is how we do it—like the weatherman on the radio—storm approaching, it could be a big one, and then it passes.”

True Stories – The Narrative Project
Volume I

The 25 authors in the Volume One came to the “Narrative Project” with stories burning to be told. During the course of the nine months of classes, and working with critique partners, we received the help to bring our stories–and for many their memoirs–into the world. My story, “In the Red Kitchen,” opens my forthcoming memoir The Opposite of Hate. You can find out more by clicking on Publications on this website.


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Barbara L. Clarke