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Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer

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Voice Lessons is a book about writing from a woman with a remarkable story to tell and an utterly distinctive voice in which to tell it. Nancy Mairs's essays have been called "triumphs... of will, style, candor, thought and even form" (Los Angeles Times). She has won acclaim for her autobiographical writing on themes from living with depression to renewing a marriage, from sex to religion. In Voice Lessons, Mairs's subjects are literary, but as always her approach is personal, revealing, and inspiring. Mairs ...
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Overview

Voice Lessons is a book about writing from a woman with a remarkable story to tell and an utterly distinctive voice in which to tell it. Nancy Mairs's essays have been called "triumphs... of will, style, candor, thought and even form" (Los Angeles Times). She has won acclaim for her autobiographical writing on themes from living with depression to renewing a marriage, from sex to religion. In Voice Lessons, Mairs's subjects are literary, but as always her approach is personal, revealing, and inspiring. Mairs first shares her sharply drawn story on how "finding a voice" as an essayist transformed her life when she was a graduate student, wife, and mother in her late thirties. In a tribute to the liberating power of literature and feminist ideas, she shows how the words of other writers made possible a new career, a new life in difficult times. Voice Lessons goes on to explore other women's writing and to outline a singular kind of literary life. Always grounding her writing in personal experience, always making ideas concrete, Mairs gives us essays on writing and the body, the challenges of autobiography, the revelatory power of Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker, the literature of personal disaster, and the art of dealing with rejection. Articulate, witty, incisive, and inspirational, Voice Lessons is a book for writers and aspiring writers, and for everyone who loves women's writing.

Nancy Mairs--author of the acclaimed Ordinary Time--shares the sharp, distinctive story of how "finding a voice" as a writer transformed her life when she was a graduate student, wife, and mother in her late thirties. A tribute to the liberating power of feminist ideas and literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Critically acclaimed essayist Mairs ( Ordinary Times ) recounts the history of her development as a writer in a memoir that even those who are weary of the ``what being a writer means to me'' genre will find stimulating and insightful. Mairs's use of metaphor is dazzling, her self-scrutiny almost painfully candid. She reminds us that every writer's perspective is to a large extent shaped by circumstances, that one's ``voice'' is a product of his or her gender, social class, education, etc. Mairs's rigorous attention to the origins and growth of her voice is thus offered not so much as a ``portrait of the artist'' or a universally applicable guide to becoming a writer but as a meditation on the relationship between author and culture. Her contextual awareness leads Mairs to question many of the ``rules'' of the literary profession--the tradition, for example, of maintaining clear-cut distinctions between academic and creative writing--and to insist on breaking these rules. Mairs is an iconoclastic thinker; hers is an unusually original book and a great pleasure to read. (June)
Library Journal
In her distinctive way, Mairs Carnal Acts, LJ 9/1/90; Ordinary Time, LJ 4/1/93 tells her story on becoming a writer by intertwining theory, writing, life, intellect, and wit. She shares her experiences as a woman bound for 20 years by her ingrained repression and a patriarchal culture, and her liberation from these. She explores such dichotomies as writing by men and women, creative and critical writing, and writers in and out of the academy. Mairs devotes a substantial part of this book to the impact of reading on her life as a writer-of discovering Virginia Woolf in her teens and rediscovering her in her mid-thirties. Author of several autobiographical prose works, Mairs addresses the connectedness of feminine autobiographical writing to others than the self and of the importance of what she refers to as ``literature of personal disaster.'' This is a provocative, honest, and revealing portrayal of how one writer deals with rejection and who is determined to fully despite multiple sclerosis.-Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Booknews
Mairs' sharp, revealing essays are concerned with the process of women becoming writers. Her first essay describes how her experience of "finding her voice" as an essayist transformed her life when she was a graduate student, wife, and mother in her late 30s. In a tribute to the liberating power of literature and feminist ideas, she explores other women's writing, showing how their work helped ground her own love of literature and writing; other essay subjects include writing and the body, the challenges of autobiography, the "literature of personal disaster," and the art of dealing with rejection. Not indexed. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
Alice Joyce
Mairs is a remarkable writer who offers far more than just inspiration to other women aspiring to write. In these autobiographical essays she is attentive to her own creative process, sharing with readers the influences that led to her development as a writer. Yet these musings are devoid of pretensions. Even as Mairs acknowledges the particular melding of "creative" and "critical" genres revealed in her work, she quietly (by example) blows apart the academic notions of "forms" or categories of writing. Bouts with depression and the reality of living with multiple sclerosis figure among the conditions of this writer's life, but for her readers, candor and generosity of spirit coupled with an incisive feminist consciousness add up to an exhilarating foray into uncharted waters.
Faye Moskowitz
[A] rich and wise collection about becoming a writer (and a woman)…grounded in a wry and candid account of a life that would have most others hanging on the ropes…hers is a singular voice we can all attend to.
The Washington Post Book World
Francine Prose
A small miracle of honesty mediated by dignity and humor.
New York Newsday
From the Publisher
"Mairs is an iconoclastic thinker; hers is an unusually original book and a great pleasure to read." —Publishers Weekly

"This is a provocative, honest, and revealing portrayal of how one writer deals with rejection and who is determined to fully despite multiple sclerosis." —Library Journal

"A small miracle of honesty mediated by dignity and humor." —Francine Prose, New York Newsday

" [A] rich and wise collection about becoming a writer (and a woman)…grounded in a wry and candid account of a life that would have most others hanging on the ropes…hers is a singular voice we can all attend to." —Faye Moskowitz, Washington Post Book World

"It is fascinating to watch Nancy Mairs grappling with theoretical issues in a way that makes them personal and immediate. As in her previous work, Mairs shows the courage and tenacity and honesty of a true personal essayist." —Philip Lopate, author of Two Marriages

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807060063
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 5/1/1994
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.55 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prelude: Loving the Other 1
Voice Lessons 15
Body at Work 34
Writing Into Life: Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing 53
Essaying the Feminine: From Montaigne to Kristeva 71
In Search of "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens": Alice Walker 88
Reading Houses, Writing Lives: The French Connection 100
The Literature of Personal Disaster 123
The Writer's Thin Skin and Faint Heart 136
Notes 151
Works Cited 162
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