August 26th, 2010 by M. Milam
Today is Women’s Equality Day, so named for the anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote. In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of memoirs written by awesome women: writers, activists, artists, and other women I admire. This is by no means a comprehensive list—rather, simply ten memoirs I have read and loved (or, in a few cases, are waiting to be read). Here’s my list-in-progress. I’d love to hear what’s on yours.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Living My Life by Emma Goldman
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts Maxine Hong Kingston
Memoirs from the Women’s Prison by Nawal El Saadawi
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea
August 24th, 2010 by Cathy Alter
“This book is the furthest thing from a diet book. It’s a memoir and it’s a story about one guy trying to grow up and say ‘no’ to himself for the first time in a long time.”
There’s nothing funny about being overweight, but even if there were, Edward Ugel would beat you to the paunch. I mean punch. In his new memoir, I’m With Fatty: Losing Fifty Pounds in Fifty Miserable Weeks, Ugel, a native of Bethesda, Maryland and self-proclaimed foodie, confronts his many nemeses in the form of Korean barbecue, walnut Danish rings, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s Mission to Marzipan in an often rocky attempt to lose enough poundage to rid himself of the scuba-like mask he is forced to wear due to weight-related sleep apnea. He’s losing it for his stunningly patient wife, Brooke (who’s actually tape recorded her husband’s elephantine snoring as evidence), his two young daughters (who refuse to let him sit in their plastic kiddy pool after he attempts to join them and ends up spilling half of the water out onto the deck), and a cast of other characters including a humorless nutritionist and a high-on-life personal trainer who actually joins him on a putrid five-day juice cleanse. Read more »
August 19th, 2010 by M. Milam
Memoirville recommends… an interview with Tom Grimes on Bookslut.
Tom Grimes writes a portrait of one of his teachers, Frank Conroy, author of the great memoir Stop-Time and director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for many years. His new book, Mentor: A Memoir, is Grimes’ memoir told through his relationship to Conroy. Grimes began with the intention of writing about Conroy’s work, but through writing he realized he was writing his own story. He notes, “If Frank hadn’t been my subject, I never could have written about myself.”
In this interview, Grimes discusses what it was like to be close to Conroy, the validation that the vast majority of young writers seek from their teachers, and, of course, memoir. It’s an inspiring look at the student-teacher relationship, the passion of writing, and friendship.
August 17th, 2010 by Sari Botton
“That’s the whole stigma-of-eating-disorders thing. The more you keep the secret the more you keep the stigma attached to it.”
In the spring of 2005, writer Harriet Brown’s then 14-year-old daughter, nicknamed “Kitty,” became anorexic. It marked the beginning of a horrific year for Brown and her family, in which they battled what she calls “the demon” that took over her child’s mind and body, threatening to starve the girl to death. Read more »
August 12th, 2010 by M. Milam
Memoirville recommends… an interview with Vivian Gornick on The Rumpus.
How does an author write about real events and real people in an honest, poignant way without hurting people’s feelings along the way? That’s the heart and soul of this interview with Gornick, in which she talks with interviewer Sari Botton about how she approaches the issue, specifically how she wrote about her mother in her 1987 memoir, Fierce Attachments. Gornick attributes Joan Didion with one compelling answer: “A writer sells everybody out.”
Whether it’s fear of betrayal, incriminating claims, or just plain hurt feelings, authors of first-person non-fiction must grapple with a commitment to their stories and pressures from the people they are writing about. Gornick’s advice? “You have to believe in the story that you are telling more than anything else.”
August 10th, 2010 by M. Milam
Photo by Margaretta Mitchell
On August 10th, 1953, Mark Doty was born in Maryville, Tennesee. A celebrated poet and memoirist, Doty has contributed beauty and insights to the forms since his first publication in 1987.
Doty’s work is vast and varying in theme and form, including multiple memoirs: the poignant and emotional book, Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir
, about losing his partner to AIDS; Firebird
, a memoir detailing his early years, growing up with an alcoholic and homophobic mother; and Dog Years
, his most recent memoir about his canine support during his almost unbearable times of loss and pain.
Today, we celebrate his life and his work and offer these six simple words: Happy birthday to you, Mark Doty!
August 5th, 2010 by M. Milam
Memoirville recommends… an interview with Mac McClelland on The Rumpus.
McClelland is author of the memoir For Us Surrender is Out of the Question, a story about her time spent abroad in Thailand. Her book moves outside of a personal journey story, where most memoirs remain, and into the history and current atrocities committed by the junta in Burma, specifically against the Karen, an ethnic minority living in Burma and fighting for autonomy since 1948.
In this interview with Jeremy Hatch, McClelland talks about how she learned about the Karen and the refugees along the Burma border, a bit of history about the conflict, and how she ultimately decided to write a memoir detailing her short stay in a distraught community.
August 3rd, 2010 by Edward Lovett
“We need to start reinventing the memoir, like the novel, so that it’s its own medium, not just something novelists write when they don’t have an idea for a novel. We need to interrogate the form, as pretentious as that sounds. It’ll no longer be the dentistry of the literary world!”
There are tens of thousands of young, hip, dirty-mouthed, pop-culture-saturated writers out there (meaning in Brooklyn). Many of you are even named Rachel. Rachel Shukert’s Everything is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour is the book you want to write. Just recount all the crazy shit that happened after college, when you were poor, drunk, and horny, then throw in the year you traveled and lived in Europe. Comedy, cross-cultural insights, and wise life lessons will flow from your fingers. Before you know it, Diablo Cody and Gary Shteyngart (”If you read only one memoir by a disaffected, urban, 20-something Jewish girl this year, make it this one”) are blurbing you. Read more »
July 29th, 2010 by Meghan Milam
This week Hephzibah Anderson spoke with Stephen Colbert about her recent memoir, Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex.
Anderson’s memoir tells the story of her self-assigned year without sex, with the intention of gaining insight into the increasingly emotionally frustrating world of dating, love, and intimacy. Read more »
July 27th, 2010 by Vivian Chum
“When you’re a writer you have to keep producing. When you’re a gambler you have to keep winning. You have to be comfortable with the uncertainty.”
“Every gambler is a neurotic with an unconscious wish to lose,” writes Beth Raymer, author of the new gambling memoir Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling . “And as for the rare professionals who are talented enough to beat the house, rest assured they will go to whatever lengths necessary to surround themselves with people who will lose their money for them.” Read more »