Writing as Therapy
July 23, 2022
When Trent Preszler’s father died, his only inheritance was a box of tools. He brought them home to New York and was inspired to build a canoe, not only to create something tangible and useful with his father’s hammer and tape measure, but to try to reconcile their long-strained relationship.
A reporter for Newsday heard about Preszler’s project and created a short documentary that won a local Emmy award. “She was the first person to help me tell my story, and the first to believe that there was a story here that might resonate with people,” Preszler recalls.
Soon a literary agent reached out, urging Preszler to write a book. His resulting memoir, Little and Often, was published by Harper Collins in 2021 and became a USA Today Best Book of the Year.
Preszler grew up on a ranch near Faith, where he struggled with self-identity, self-worth and even his own sexuality. He felt out of place in the rough and tumble cowboy culture of West River and became increasingly estranged from his father, a former rodeo champion and Vietnam War veteran. After Preszler left home, the two rarely spoke until his father’s cancer diagnosis began to remove the chill from their relationship. Building a boat using his father’s tools helped him start to heal, a process that continued through writing.
“It’s fair to say that writing the book was therapy for me,” Preszler says. “You can talk until you’re blue in the face about life, death, grief and your maturation as a human, but writing those things down makes them more concrete and measurable and alleviates some of the fear.”
Preszler is the CEO of Bedell Cellars, a winery on the North Fork of Long Island. He lives just steps away from the Atlantic Ocean, but he sat down daily for nearly two years and thought and wrote about South Dakota, a process both comforting and excruciating. “It was easy to write about the physical place because I find it so beautiful and so haunting, but it was very hard to write about my family,” he says. “It was a deeply personal book, and obviously there’s a lot of death and trauma in my childhood. South Dakota itself was kind of a healing balm because it was this place of flat calm and quiet contemplation that was like a refuge for me, both in growing up but also in processing grief.”
Publication brought relief and the chance that he might reach someone who finds reassurance in his words. “I was really proud that I put this out there and hoped that someone else with a similar experience might be inspired or might change their life as a result,” he says. “People often thank me for sharing my story, but writing a memoir is so much different than that because you’re really interrogating your own memory to find some common thread to weave through and create a narrative that will inspire people. It’s so much more specific and complicated than simply sharing your story.”
Editor’s Note: A version of this feature story will appear in our 2022 South Dakota Festival of Books guide, produced by South Dakota Magazine. Watch SDBookFest.com for more information about authors coming to our 20th annual Festival, September 23-25 in Brookings!
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