posted March 1, 2011

Memoir by Heather Sellers to Receive Adult Literature Award

The memoir "You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face Blindness, and Forgiveness" by Dr. Heather Sellers of the Hope College English faculty is one of only two books by emerging authors in the Midwest chosen for recognition by the Friends of American Writers (FAW).

The Chicago, Ill.-based FAW will present Sellers with a 2011 "Adult Literature Award" on Wednesday, April 13, during the group's awards luncheon.  The award is a second major honor for Sellers's memoir, which was named a 2011 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan in December.

The FAW award is for authors who are residents or previous residents of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin, or for books set in the same region.  The books can be fiction or non-fiction of literary quality, as opposed to a collection of poetry, and the author must not have published more than three such books under his or her own pen name.  The other author being honored this year is Christie Hodgen, who wrote "Elegies of the Brokenhearted," a book of linked short stories.

Published in October by Riverhead Books, Sellers's memoir has been highlighted in publications ranging from the "New York Times," to "Psychology Today," "Elle" and "People."  Since the book's release, she has been featured on NPR's "All Things Considered," ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Rachel Ray," among others.

Sellers, who has taught at Hope since 1995, has a highly unusual neurological condition known as face blindness, or prosopagnosia.  The disorder, which is believed to affect about two percent of the population to some degree, prevents the brain from interpreting the information that it receives from the eyes, with the effect specific to the section or process that deals with face recognition.  The eyes function correctly, but the brain can't store any image of the human face.

In the memoir, she describes her childhood in Florida, and how the strange circumstances of that upbringing made it impossible for anyone to realize she had the bizarre, troubling condition.  She was working on a memoir about her family when she discovered she had the condition after coming across the term "face recognition" in an article about five years ago.  She eventually connected with the Prosopagnosia Research Center at Harvard University, where researchers confirmed that she had a severe degree of face blindness.

The book is about her experiences coming to terms with the disorder and explores how the apparent handicap turned out to be a remarkable gift that allowed her to "see" people as they truly were and gave her unexpected insights into the nature of family, forgiveness and love.

Copies of "You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face Blindness, and Forgiveness" are available through the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore as well as through other area book sellers and online.

Sellers's other publications include three volumes of poetry, three books on the writing process, a children's book and a collection of linked short stories titled "Georgia Under Water."  Her poems, short fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals, anthologies and magazines, including "O," Oprah's magazine, and "Best of the South."  She was one of only 41 writers nationally to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant for 2000-02 to create original work or translate work, through which she completed "Georgia Under Water," which was named a Barnes and Noble Discover pick.

The FAW was established in 1922 to study American literature, to encourage high standards and to promote literary ideals among American writers.  Among the emerging adult authors that the association has honored since 1928 are Sara Paretsky, Jane Smiley, Toni Morrison, Harry Mark Petrakis and Carl Sandburg; the 2010 awardees were Nick Reding and Bich Minh Nguyen.  Since 1960, FAW has also presented awards for juvenile fiction.