As Amy Dickinson's new memoir says, strangers tend to tell her things. Wednesday, an Auburn audience will be able to hear her tell them a few things of her own.
The nationally syndicated author of the Ask Amy advice column and frequent guest on NPR's "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" game show will come to Auburn Public Theater Wednesday, July 26. "An Evening With Amy Dickinson" will see her share a story from the March-released memoir, "Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home." The evening will also feature music by duo Nate & Kate, audience trivia games modeled after "Wait Wait," two stories from Dickinson that have yet to be published anywhere, and a Q&A session.
In a phone interview Wednesday from the village of Freeville — where Dickinson was born and returned to reside in 2007 — she said she performed a similar show at Ithaca's Hangar Theatre as a "thank you" to her hometown audience. She added that some of the show's attendees compared it to Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."
"It has a very sweet, small-town variety show feel to it," she said. "It's good entertainment for the whole family."
Dickinson's first memoir, 2009's "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them," focused on 20 years of her life as a single mother. "Strangers" picks up where it left off: Her move from Chicago back to Freeville. The new book includes a chapter about growing up on a dairy farm in the village, a subject untouched by the first memoir. It also recounts Dickinson falling in love with fellow Freeville native Bruno Schickel, whom she first met in high school, and becoming a step-mother when she married him in 2008.
The heart of the book, however, is Dickinson taking care of her mother toward the end of her life in 2011. From the caregiving to clearing out her mother's house, the experience has resonated with readers of "Strangers," Dickinson said. She recalled a recent Pew survey that found four in 10 U.S. adults are caring for a sick or elderly family member.
"I dove into that experience and describe it," she said. "It ends with a loved one's death and the aftermath of that, which for me was incredibly challenging."
As its title suggests, "Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things" also touches on Dickinson's Ask Amy advice column. She's been writing the column for 14 years, succeeding Ann Landers at The Chicago Tribune and the 1,000-plus publications in the Tribune Media Services syndication network. She previously penned a column on family issues for Time, and worked as a producer for NBC News.
Thousands of columns later, Dickinson said, she's still surprised by some of the letters she fields. She noted that topics like gay marriage and gender nonconformity were seldom discussed in mainstream media when she started Ask Amy. And while the internet has given people more resources to address dilemmas, she continued, it has also created them. She sketched a hypothetical in which a Facebook friend turns down a social invitation because they're "sick," only to post a photo of themselves out having fun elsewhere.
"As our society changes and evolves, the advice you offer has to evolve, too," she said.
With that in mind, Dickinson sometimes re-evaluates past columns to weigh whether she was off the mark. She also makes a point of publishing voices of disagreement. One thing remains constant, though: She prefers giving advice in writing, and not in person. Though she's not bothered by people asking, and though she can often answer them promptly, she'd rather do so behind a keyboard.
"I've been doing this a long time and can think pretty quickly," she said, "but sometimes I want to pick up my quart of milk and go home like anyone else."