New Book by Dr. Kristin Czarnecki Explores Naming and Legacy
Submitted on February 24, 2020
For Professor of English, Dr. Kristin Czarnecki, whose new book The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming will be released soon, it all started with a piece of mail from her brother. In that piece of mail was a flash drive with about fifteen minutes of video on it, video Czarnecki had never seen before that her parents had filmed about fifty years prior.
Czarnecki’s brother found the footage, raw film stock that looked as if it had never been touched, in their parents’ basement, as they were preparing to move. He then got it developed by a specialist, who was able to salvage fifteen minutes of video, and sent it in the mail.
“The last eight minutes of the video was footage of the first Kristin,” says Czarnecki. “She’s opening Christmas presents, blowing out candles on a cake, riding a tricycle up and down the sidewalk, and up until that point, I had only ever seen old photographs of her. Now, here she was in technicolor. It was incredibly moving and devastating.”
Dr. Kristin Czarnecki refers to her as the first Kristin, both in the book and in conversation. The first Kristin, her parents' first child, died when she was three years old, before Czarnecki or any of her other siblings were alive. The first Kristin existed only in photographs, artifacts from what seemed like a different life altogether for her parents. Of course, Dr. Kristin Czarnecki would subsequently be named after the first Kristin. Her new book explores the act of naming, legacy, and this spectral sister.
Along with the discovery of the video footage, Czarnecki’s literary leanings also influenced her to start writing the book. “Another influence was Heid Erdrich. In her book of poetry, Cell Traffic, she has what she calls her DNA poems, and one of those poems, Microchimerism, was a big influence as well.” In the poem, Erdrich’s speaker examines the passing down of cells from previous miscarriages, stillborns, and her parents’ children before her.
From these early influences, the book began to take on a life of its own. “I thought it would be an essay, and it just kept growing and growing and growing,” says Czarnecki. “I knew from the start that I wanted to weave together the chronology of her (the first Kristin) life and death and aftermath, but also, I’m an English professor, so there’s a lot of literary criticism in there as well.”
Now that the book is available to the masses, Czarnecki is excited but still a bit trepidatious. “It still feels quite personal and private, but it’s exciting to have other people read it and find something to take in and take with them and enjoy.”
The First Kristin: The Story of a Naming is available for preorder via the Mint Hill Books label of Main Street Rag Publishing Company and can be purchased at https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/product/the-first-kristin-the-story-of-a-naming-kristin-czarnecki/.
(Photo by Paul Czarnecki)