The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

by Mary Karr
The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

by Mary Karr


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“Karr is a national treasure—that rare genius who’s also a brilliant teacher. This joyful celebration of memoir packs transcendent insights with trademark hilarity. Anyone yearning to write will be inspired, and anyone passionate to live an examined life will fall in love with language and literature all over again. ” — George Saunders

Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well.

For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and “black belt sinner,” providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

Joining such classics as Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, The Art of Memoir is an elegant and accessible exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062223074
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 118,248
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Mary Karr is the author of three award-winning, bestselling memoirs: The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit, as well as The Art of Memoir, also a New York Times bestseller. She received Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships for poetry and is the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.

Table of Contents

Caveat Emptor xi

Preface: Welcome to My Chew Toy xiii

1 The Past's Vigor 1

2 The Truth Contract Twixt Writer and Reader 9

3 Why Not to Write a Memoir: Plus a Pop Quiz to Protect the Bleeding & Box Out the Rigid 27

4 A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It 35

5 Don't Try This at Home: The Seductive, Narcissistic Count 55

6 Sacred Carnality 71

7 How to Choose a Detail 79

8 Hucksters, the Deluded, and Big Fat Liars 81

9 Interiority and Inner Enemy-Private Agonies Read Deeper Than External Whammies 91

10 On Finding the Nature of Your Talent 101

11 The Visionary Maxine Hong Kingston 103

12 Dealing with Beloveds (On and Off the Page) 111

13 On Information, Facts, and Data 123

14 Personal Run-ins with Fake Voices 129

15 On Book Structure and the Order of Information 147

16 The Road to Hell Is Paved with Exaggeration 149

17 Blind Spots and False Selves 151

18 Truth Hunger: The Public and Private Burning of Kathryn Harrison 163

19 Old-School Technologies for the Stalled Novice 171

20 Major Reversals in Cherry and Lit 173

21 Why Memoirs Fail 181

22 An Incomplete Checklist to Stave Off Dread 189

23 Michael Herr: Start in Kansas, End in Oz 193

24 Against Vanity: In Praise of Revision 211

Acknowledgments 219

Appendix Required Reading-Mostly Memoirs and Some Hybrids 221

Permissions 227

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