Interview: Maxine Hong Kingston, author of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life

March 1st, 2011 by Koa Beck

“As long as I have stories to write, surely I won’t die. That’s a superstition that comforts me.”

Maxine Hong Kingston is a Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley and has written three novels as well as several nonfiction works. Her memoir, The Woman Warrior, was hailed as a major contribution to the feminist movement for its meditation on gender and identity. Her novel, China Men, won the National Book Award in 1981 and she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian American Literary Awards in 2006.

The title of her latest book, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, alludes to a Henry David Thoreau poem, and is styled in a loving tribute to Walt Whitman, one of Hong Kingston’s admitted influences. Read more »

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Interview: Johanna Adorján, author of An Exclusive Love

February 25th, 2011 by Sari Botton

“The motivation was I wanted to be able to imagine, in the most accurate way, the last day in their life. I put myself in it–I had the feeling I had to–because it’s not really fiction. It’s nonfiction. It’s imagination based in facts. I had to explain where I am in the story.”

From the very first sentence of Johanna Adorján’s memoir An Exclusive Love (translated by Anthea Bell), you know the outcome. “On October 13, 1991, my grandparents killed themselves,” she writes, before embarking on a 185-page exploration of what that day and the ones leading up to it were like for her father’s parents. She imagines them undertaking tasks monumental and mundane, conversing with one another both impatiently and lovingly as they might do on any day, as they prepare to take their lives by overdosing on sleeping pills. Read more »

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Interview: Angela Balcita, author of Moonface: A True Romance

February 10th, 2011 by Whitney Joiner

“It’s about a relationship and how two people got through something that was way bigger than they were. I could have unloaded and talked about medical statistics and every procedure I went through, but I wanted to keep it a story about love.”

Angela Balcita had a plan. The Baltimore-based magazine editor and survivor of two kidney transplants (first from her brother, shortly after her diagnosis with kidney disease at 18; the other from her husband, Chris) had sold her first memoir, Moonface, under the assumption that it would end with the successful transplant of Chris’s kidney. Their love story–boy meets girl; boy gives girl his kidney when her first transplant fails–would be at the heart of Moonface, titled after Chris’s good-natured nickname for her sometimes-puffy skin, a side effect of her disease. Moonface would wrap up neatly with Balcita soldiering on, Chris’s kidney keeping her healthy and alive. Read more »

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Interview: Dave Itzkoff, author of Cocaine’s Son

February 7th, 2011 by Lisa Qiu

“It’s still a very fraught thing. There are people who haven’t read the book and fear that it’s an attack on my father. It’s still difficult for him to have this out there. It’s extremely brave of him to have trusted me to write it.”

Dave Itzkoff, author of Cocaine’s Son, laughs heartily when called a memoir vet. Itzkoff, writer at the culture desk of the New York Times and the lead contributor of ArtsBeat blog, recently published his second memoir, but the recondite writer still feels like he’s testing his voice. Read more »

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Interview: Mira Bartók, author of The Memory Palace

January 31st, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“I accept that this is who I am. I’m not going to be the person I was before. I’m here now and this is how I am now. What am I going to do, not make art? I’d rather jump off a bridge.”

To read Mira Bartók’s memoir, The Memory Palace, is to lose yourself in the labyrinth of her dreamlike recollections. Like Alice’s Wonderland, Bartók’s palace houses a store of fantastical creatures, surreal landscapes, and, of course, a jabberwocky. The jabberwocky lurking at the edge of Bartók’s enchanted artist’s life is her schizophrenic mother, a talented young pianist given over to madness, whom Bartók and her sister eventually elude by legally changing their names. Read more »

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Interview: Allen Shawn, author of Twin: A Memoir

January 4th, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“It takes an enormous amount of effort to try to fashion a clean and legible narrative out of the sheer chaos that is personal experience.”

Allen Shawn feels more acutely than most that writing a memoir takes certain tact. As the son of former editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, and the younger brother of actor Wallace Shawn, Allen Shawn was all too aware that a memoir about his family could be received as the stuff of gossip. So it was with great care and reserve that Shawn approached the subject of his twin sister, Mary. Read more »

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Exclusive: “Snow Crew” from Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black

December 30th, 2010 by Piper Kerman

“Kerman, what do you think about being on the snow crew this winter, drive one of the plows? Pays forty cents an hour!”

Thinking of all the thousands of people out clearing snow up and down the East Coast this week, I wanted to share an “outtake” from my memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison, which was cut from the manuscript in the final pass. Because work was so vital to maintaining my sanity in prison (and because I love the snow), this passage, “Snow Crew,” has always been close to my heart.

Read Whitney Joiner’s interview with Piper Kerman on SMITH.

Snow Crew
I had one great diversion to take my mind off of pervasive going-home anxiety and my personal worries about Chicago: the weather. Specifically, snow. Read more »

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Interview: Heather Havrilesky, author of Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir

December 28th, 2010 by Koa Beck

“I found myself really wanting to push my boundaries and push how far I was willing to dig in order to present a scraped up vulnerable person to the imaginary reader. Without doing that, there is no point to writing your story.”

Heather Havrilesky is best-known as’s former TV critic and pop culture enthusiast. A co-creator of the cartoon Filler on, she also maintains her popular website, rabbit blog, documenting adventures in parenting, relationships, and grammar. Her debut book and memoir, Disaster Preparedness, covers darker terrain as Havrilesky and her two siblings endure the volatile marriage of their twentysomething parents in Durham, North Carolina. Read more »

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Interview: Aaron Eske, author of My Family, A Symphony: A Memoir of Global Adoption

December 21st, 2010 by Lisa Qiu

“I think there’s a need to go there and reveal those layers because it makes internationally adoptive families more real–in both a beautiful and ugly sense.”

In his memoir, My Family, A Symphony: A Memoir of Global Adoption, Aaron Eske tackles some sticky family issues. He grew up among siblings with illnesses and disabilities and, in addition, his brother and sisters are all internationally adopted. Eske writes of their tumultuous coming of age in rural Nebraska that leads to the eventual disintegration of the family. After leaving Nebraska to go to school, Eske grew tired of being disconnected from his family and tried to reach out in his own way—by traveling to each of his siblings’ country of origin. He absorbed their original surroundings and even met their very first caregivers. Read more »

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Interview: Julie Klam, author of You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness

December 14th, 2010 by Molly Ditmore

I write nonfiction, so that’s a different set of choices to make. Unlike fiction, a memoir has not been written before you try to sell it. Once you’re in this process of writing, you’re already in the marketing.

Sometimes life doesn’t give us what we want, it gives us who we need. Julie Klam’s second book, You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, charts her path from Otto–a funny-faced Boston Terrier who showed her the realities of true love–to a motley crew of rescue dogs. With humor and tireless affection, Klam relates life’s lessons as taught by a ragtag group of four-legged friends. Read more »

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