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Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

4.1 14
by Alysia Abbott

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A beautiful, vibrant memoir about growing up motherless in 1970s and ’80s San Francisco with an openly gay father.
With a new foreword
After his wife dies in a car accident, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott moves with his two-year-old daughter to San Francisco. There they discover a city in the midst of revolution, bustling with gay men in


A beautiful, vibrant memoir about growing up motherless in 1970s and ’80s San Francisco with an openly gay father.
With a new foreword
After his wife dies in a car accident, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott moves with his two-year-old daughter to San Francisco. There they discover a city in the midst of revolution, bustling with gay men in search of liberation—few of whom are raising a child.Steve throws himself into San Francisco’s vibrant cultural scene. He takes Alysia to raucous parties, pushes her in front of the microphone at poetry readings, and introduces her to a world of artists, thinkers, and writers. But the pair live like nomads, moving from apartment to apartment, with a revolving cast of roommates and little structure. As a child Alysia views her father as a loving playmate who can transform the ordinary into magic, but as she gets older Alysia wants more than anything to fit in. The world, she learns, is hostile to difference.In Alysia’s teens, Steve’s friends—several of whom she has befriended—fall ill as AIDS starts its rampage through their community. While Alysia is studying in New York and then in France, her father tells her it’s time to come home; he’s sick with AIDS. Alysia must choose whether to take on the responsibility of caring for her father or continue the independent life she has worked so hard to create.Reconstructing their life together from a remarkable cache of her father’s journals, letters, and writings, Alysia Abbott gives us an unforgettable portrait of a tumultuous, historic time in San Francisco as well as an exquisitely moving account of a father’s legacy and a daughter’s love.

Editorial Reviews

Honor Moore
“Gorgeous. . . . As a chronicle of the moment when the San Francisco of Armistad Maupin became the city of Harvey Milk, when gay and experimental poetry flourished in California, Fairyland is vivid and indelible. As the portrait of a conspiracy of love between a father and a daughter, it is heartrending, a brilliant addition to the literature of American memoir.”
Dani Shapiro
“A beautiful, haunting book that instructs, even as it breaks our hearts.”
Alison Bechdel
“Generous, precise, and deeply moving, Fairyland is a love story that not only brings a new generational perspective to a history we’re in danger of forgetting, but irrevocably shifts the way we think about family itself.”
Andrew McCarthy
“Clear-eyed and heartrending, Fairyland captures a singular time and place in American history. It also captures something much more important: what it means to be truly loved—and to love truly. A beautiful book.”
New Yorker
“Doubles as a portrait of a city and a community at a crucial point in history. . . . funny, strange, and sweet.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Alysia beautifully remembers the innocence of the age between the disappearance of the Beats and the onset of AIDS.”
Terry Gross
“I’m so glad you wrote this book.”
The New York Times Book Review - Alexandra Styron
Through it all, Alysia clung fast to her origin story: perfect love, a happy family and the random accident that rent the cozy unit. As for her father's homosexuality, she told herself that this too was an accident, a kind of conversion through grief. In 1992, when Steve Abbott died of AIDS-related complications, his voluminous journals told a rather less convenient truth. Fairyland is his daughter's compassionate, cleareyed reckoning with this truth and many others that defined her singular girlhood at the dawn of the gay liberation movement.
Publishers Weekly
In her memoir of growing in San Francisco during the 1970's and '80s, Abbott, the only child of poet, editor, and activist Steve Abbott, ruminates on a pivotal slice of American social and cultural history, drawing on her father's poems, journals, and letters to relate her painful personal history. At two-years-old, Abbott's mother died, sparking Steve's homosexual awakening. Relocating from Atlanta to the West Coast soon after, the two formed a tenacious bond: "a traveling father-daughter act pulling schemes, subsisting on our charm, and always sticking together." But by her teenage years, the bohe-mian fantasy they shared and his efforts to beat depression and drug addiction wore thin and she moved away, first emotionally and then physically, to attend college in New York City and study in Paris. When Steve was diagnosed with AIDS and asked her to come home, Abbott openly rebeled against the responsibility. Colored with quirky, picturesque details of Bay Area counter culture, in-cluding its famous cafes, personalities, and periodicals, Abbott's narrative balances idiosyncratic flourishes with universal emotions of anger, resentment, jealousy, and guilt. Decades after the fact, it is clear she continues to struggle with her failures as daughter and caregiver. Yet, her fragile resolution is more honest than a tidy, suggesting that the most "outlandish" parts of our stories—our own inade-quacies—prove difficult to fully accept. (June)
Edmund White
“A vivid, sensitively written account of a complex but always loving relationship. This is not only a painfully honest autobiography but also a tribute to old-fashioned bohemian values in a world that is increasingly conformist and materialistic. I couldn't put it down!”
Jeff Calder - Chicago Tribune
Sofia Coppola
“I love the book Fairyland; it's a sweet and unique love story.”
Boston Globe
“As a chronicle of American culture, Abbott's story matters.”
“Starred review. She writes up to a standard that would do any writer-parent proud. If there's plenty of emotion in her recollections, they lack all sentimentality, sensationalism, and special pleading. Like Ira Wagner's, Growing Up Amish (2011), a tale of another radically different, unusual upbringing, Fairyland is written in shiningly clear, precise prose that gives it literary as well as testimonial distinction.”
Kasia Hopkins - News Gazette
“Beautifully written… a powerful portrait of a love between a father and his daughter, but also of San Francisco in the 1970s and ‘80s and the power of community, art, and love in the face of discrimination and death.”
Alexandra Styron - New York Times Book Review
“Fairyland is [a] daughter's compassionate, clear-eyed reckoning with [the] truths that defined her singular girlhood at the dawn of the gay liberation movement.”
Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
Abbott's moving memoir of growing up with her gay activist-poet father, Steve Abbott, begins with her parents' unconventional marriage in Atlanta. When Abbott's mother was killed in the early Seventies, father and daughter moved to San Francisco, where he lived as an out gay man. Referencing his diaries and letters, the author re-creates their lives and presents a history of a vibrant gay community, the AIDS crisis, and her return to the United States at 21 to care for him in his last illness. (LJ 5/15/13)
Kirkus Reviews
A writer and former WNYC radio producer's lovingly crafted memoir about growing up with her gay poet dad in San Francisco during the 1970s and '80s. Abbott, her mother, Barbara, and her father, Steve, lived an unconventional but happy life in Atlanta until the night when Barbara was killed in a car accident. The author, 3, was inconsolable, and her bisexual father was "so distraught over [Barbara's] death that he turned gay" and never had a relationship with another woman again. With nothing left in Atlanta, Steve took his daughter to San Francisco to begin a new life. The pair moved into the bohemian, gay-friendly Haight-Ashbury district. In between doing odd jobs to support himself and his daughter and falling in and out of love with the wrong men, Steve became editor at the influential poetry journal, Poetry Flash. He also turned to Zen Buddhism to help him recover from drug and alcohol dependence. Meanwhile, the increasingly self-conscious author struggled to come to terms with being the child of a gay parent whose queerness "became my weakness, my Achilles heel." Then, just as Steve began to find recognition as a poet and peace in the troubled relationship he had with his now-collegiate daughter, he developed AIDS. Deeply conflicted, Abbott returned to San Francisco from New York to take care of her father, who died a year later. What makes this story especially successful is the meticulous way the author uses letters and her father's cartoons and journals to reconstruct the world she and her father inhabited. As she depicts the dynamics of a unique, occasionally fraught, gay parent–straight child relationship, Abbott offers unforgettable glimpses into a community that has since left an indelible mark on both the literary and social histories of one of America's most colorful cities. A sympathetic and deeply moving story.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Alysia Abbott's work has appeared in Real Simple, Salon, and TheAtlantic.com. She is a graduate of the New School's MFA program and was a contributing producer at WNYC radio. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children.

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Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
SakeGuy More than 1 year ago
A brilliant and stunning new memoir from Alysia Abbott. Gripping, honest, funny heartfelt and real, you will be drawn completely in to Abbott's world in San Francisco. A wonderful rendering of a time and place and also a relationship between father and daughter. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an intriguing read that depicts the loving, caring and sometimes frustrating relationship between a single father and daughter in San Francisco. It also relates the horrors of the AIDS epidemic during its height in the 80s and early 90s. Abbott is a gifted writer and tells an honest story. Well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alysia Abbott has created a compelling memoir documenting her life with a gay single parent in 1970s and 1980s San Francisco. The emotions are intense; both good and bad feelings abound. Even with their ups and downs, Alysia Abbot and her father have a true bond with each other. The book is candid and raw. Abbott is very well written, her father would be proud. The setting and father-daughter relationship are highly intriguing. I'm disappointed to see that several people's negative reviews on here have pretty much nothing to do with the book, but rather contain their own moral objections to homosexuality. Not only is that a misuse of this website, but really, the main point of the story is not "homosexuality." I would argue that the purpose of the story is to document a specific interesting time period and place, a young woman's thoughts and feelings, and a heartfelt father-daughter relationship, which it does exceptionally well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Fairyland" is a remarkable story in which Alysia Abbott takes us into her childhood as a young girl growing up with a gay father. The father-daught relationship is as loving as it is unique. The story includes a different perspective of the 1970's gay rights movement and the AIDS epidemic.  Abbott is a true storyteller, grabbing readers with intimate details about the life of an artist and the struggle to be accepted. In the writing, we see Alysia's love for her father. The book also contains Steve Abbott's poems, journal entries, and drawings, which let us see his strength in coming out and raising a daughter alone during such a challenging time. Alysia holds nothing back, sharing her resentments and embarrassments, her love and her shame. Upon finishing the book, every reader will feel an emotional connection to the author and her story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But slow reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
perfect_sorrow More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. Alysia had a childhood unlike anything that I could've imagined: being raised by her single, gay father in 1970s and 1980s San Francisco. I thought she did a good job bringing to life a world that most people are unaware of. One thing I had a problem with was that her father wasn't really a character I could sympathize with; in fact I felt annoyed with him at times, but I do understand that there really wasn't a guidebook for them to go on at the time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Issie More than 1 year ago
I loved the daughter/father relationship, writing and insights into the period of time in our history that many seem to have forgotten. This would be a great book club selection, I think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book