Alexandra Fuller has spent her entire life deconstructing everything she thought she knew.
She grew up moving around southern Africa and lived through the Rhodesian Bush War, which was deadly and racially fraught.
She wrote about her childhood, famously, in her breakthrough memoir, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” and has not shied away from recounting her life in several subsequent memoirs.
Her most recent, “Travel Light, Move Fast,” is about her late father, Tim Fuller. On Tuesday evening at Jackson Hole Book Trader she will give a reading and sign copies.
Despite the unflinching honesty and vulnerability in her writing, Fuller said it took her almost five decades to come to terms with death.
“I am helpless over death,” Fuller said. “Wow. What a thing to accept. It seems like a really basic acceptance. It seems like you would come to that a lot earlier than 49. But for me it took my son dying.”
Two and a half years after Fuller lost her father, her son, Fuller Ross, unexpectedly died in his sleep at the age of 21.
In the time she has spent grieving her son’s death Fuller has given a lot of thought to motherhood, ego, the rituals of grief and the complicated role they play in her mourning.
Grief is never simple.
Fuller said having lived in a white settler culture that prioritized individual grief over the collective was not helpful either.
“The dominant narrative around death as white settlers is very amputating, it’s very frozen, and it’s very frightened,” she said. “It’s a very individual process, but it should be a community process.”
Fuller rejected the notion that grief should exclusively be dealt with, quietly, by taking the right pills and moving on within the appropriate amount of time as allocated by polite society.
After Fuller’s father died, nothing on her shelves spoke to her experience of grief. She took matters into her own hands.
“I look around on the shelves, and I look for the book that I need for the moment that I’m in. And if I don’t see it I write it,” Fuller said. “Every one of my books has been that.”
Some of her books have tackled those gaps from a more political perspective. “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant” investigated the harsh conditions on Wyoming oil rigs. In “Quiet Until the Thaw,” her first work of fiction, she wrote about the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The rest have been told from a more personal perspective. She writes unsparingly about her childhood, her parents’ lives, her divorce. One day she plans to also write about her son.
Fuller said her grieving process as a mother has involved a close examination and deconstruction of her ego. She has struggled to reconcile her personal, visceral grief with its larger significance in the world.
“On a physical level, no, of course, I’ll never get over it,” she said. “Little, physical Alexandra Fuller, mother of Fuller Ross — no, I’ll never get over it. On a metaphysical level the Alexandra Fuller who doesn’t count at all was already over it. I was born over it. We’re born with the ability to grieve and be absorbed back into the universe.”
As a memoirist, Fuller said, she tends to go through life as somewhat of a “voyeur.” Her propensity to look at every aspect of her personal life through a critical, reflective eye is what makes her a vivid, poignant storyteller, but it also prevents her from being received too warmly at dinner parties.
When Fuller moved to Wyoming in 1994 she was taken aback by the community’s overwhelming whiteness. She found it bizarre to hear many in the United States preach about a melting pot or a society beyond its struggle with civil rights. That narrative did not fit with what she saw.
Fuller has spent her life dealing with the fallout of the white supremacist philosophies she was taught in childhood and trying to unlearn them, so the demographics of her new community in Wyoming were not something she could easily ignore.
“I think the one thing about being raised white supremacist is that it’s been a very slow process,” she said. “It’s not like I woke up when I was 14 and went, ‘Oh, God, this was the wrong way.’ It’s taken me 50 years, and it’ll be the labor of my life.”
That is why she continues to poke and prod at the dominant narratives of whichever community she finds herself in.
If writers and artists are doing their job right, she said, they should never be fully comfortable. They should always look out for glaring signals of inequality and question dominant narratives.
She said Jacksonites especially could use some more self-reflection. Most people are hesitant to acknowledge the privileges they have because they are so afraid of losing them.
“But if you get there you will want to begin to dismantle your privilege, and that goes against everything that Jackson Hole now stands for,” Fuller said, “which is rocketing real estate and the brutality of affluence that is very excluding.” ￼