Tara, 32, is the author of bestselling memoir, Educated, about her Mormon survivalist upbringing in Idaho, which Barack Obama named as one of his books of the year. She lives in New York
I was taught to read very young so I could read the scriptures. Each morning my family gathered around our large, square table, my mother making grain pancakes, while my father opened the scriptures and we each read in turn.
My father didn’t believe
in public education so I didn’t go to school. When I was 10 or 11 I asked my father if I could go and was told that I could not. My brother, who is 11 years older than me, had chosen to go to school when he was my age, but by the time I came along my father had decided not to allow any more of his children to go.
The first time I set foot in a classroom I was 17.
I remember feeling anxious and confused. I had never taken notes before. I tried to write every word the teacher said, and couldn’t, so ended up with nonsense. Everyone else took notes so calmly, the movement seemed thoughtless, like breathing. I went on to complete a PhD in history and intellectual thought. My PhD is something of a blur in my memory, possibly because that time is defined so entirely by conflict with my family – they were becoming more radical while I was moving toward the mainstream. The conflict would ultimately end in estrangement.
I remember the first time a professor suggested I should write a memoir.
I couldn’t imagine what use it could be to anyone. Later, as I pondered what education had meant to me – what it had done for me, what it had taken from me – I began to think there might be some value in it, so I started to write.
It took me a year to write and a year to revise Educated .My writing routine was simple: I woke up each morning, walked my dog, then sat down to write. I played a specific song, La Méditation de Thaïs ,and when I heard that opening phrase, I knew it was time to write.
I had just had lunch with a friend, and was checking my phone after, when I saw the email telling me Barack Obama had included Educated on his Books of the Year list. He called me a few days later, which was a tad surreal. We talked about rural education, why rural kids struggle to make it through college, and why, even when they do graduate, it takes them twice as long on average to earn a degree. He was very knowledgeable.
Educated by Tara Westover, published by Windmill Books, £8.99, is out now