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.
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
Appendix Required Reading-Mostly Memoirs and Some Hybrids 221
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