From Category: Memoir
By Amanda Leduc. A hybrid of memoir and literary criticism, this important and engaging book challenges us, as writers, readers, and myth-makers, to resist the habitual misuse of disability as a symbol of tragedy or villainy. Canadian novelist Leduc interweaves her thesis with personal memories of growing up with cerebral palsy and interviews with modern disability activists.
By Charles M. Blow. The New York Times op-ed columnist's gorgeously written and introspective memoir is a case study in overcoming patriarchy and healing from abuse. Brought up in rural Louisiana by a devoted but stern and overworked single mother and their extended family, young Charles yearned for more tenderness and attention than a boy was supposed to need. An older male cousin preyed on his isolation, giving him a new secret to add to his fears of being not-quite-straight in a culture where this was taboo. Channeling his need for connection into school achievement and community leadership, Blow found himself on both the giving and the receiving end of violent hyper-masculinity as a fraternity brother. In the end, he recognized that self-acceptance, not repression, was the best way to become an honorable man. Blow writes like a poet, in witty, image-rich, sensitive lines that flow like a mighty river.
This outstanding memoir, written as a graphic novel, intertwines the author's coming of age as a lesbian with her memories of her brilliant, enigmatic, repressed father, who died in an accident that she suspects was suicide. Drawing parallels to sources as diverse as Joyce, Colette, Proust, classical mythology, and The Wind in the Willows, she shows how their shared love of literature substituted for the intimacy they could never express in more personal terms. Bechdel is the author of the long-running "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic strip.
By Maia Kobabe. Playful, emotionally vulnerable, and even cozy, this graphic narrative is a coming-of-age memoir centered on Kobabe's discovery of eir nonbinary and asexual identity. Gentle, accessible artwork with a sophisticated color palette gives the story an intimate feel, as if a friend or family member was sharing confidences with you. As well as being entertaining, this book is a good educational resource for teens and adult allies as well as queer folks looking to understand themselves.
By Jarrett Krosoczka. This graphic narrative memoir intertwines the author's tumultuous relationship with his heroin-addicted mother and his discovery of his vocation as a professional cartoonist. The result is a lovingly detailed scrapbook of working-class family life in Worcester, MA, with sepia-tinted artwork supplemented by original documents and childhood drawings. Krosoczka was raised by his maternal grandparents, who come across as well-rounded and beloved characters, often gruff and no stranger to alcohol indulgence, but with steady devotion and an unglamorous and patient work ethic that he learns to emulate. Krosoczka's popular graphic novels for kids include the Lunch Lady and Star Wars: Jedi Academy series.
By Roxane Gay. In this starkly honest and courageous memoir, the bestselling fiction writer and feminist commentator shares her complex and ongoing story of childhood trauma, eating disorders, and navigating prejudice against fat bodies. After being gang-raped at age 12, Gay self-medicated her emotional pain with food and became obese as armor against the world. She offers no easy answers or tales of miracle diets, but rather something more valuable: a role model for learning to cherish and nourish yourself in a genuine way despite society's cruelty toward "unruly" bodies.
When her first daughter was born deaf, memories of feeling unheard by her own mother led Rosner to trace the history of deafness in her family and imagine how love might bridge the communications gap between parents and children. This beautifully constructed memoir from Feminist Press touches on themes of assimilation, identity formation, and healing. Interwoven with Rosner's tender and humorous memories of her children's early years are vivid fictionalized scenes of her Jewish immigrant ancestors, whom she imagines wrestling with the same challenges in a very different cultural setting. The technology and politics of deafness may keep changing, this book suggests, but the need to connect with the ones we love is universal.
This insightful, compassionate memoir tells of growing up within a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon sect that considered plural marriage a holy obligation. A theology of eternal family bonds, combined with the need to hide from persecution, drew her father's many wives and children closer together but also stifled their self-development. Amid the upheaval of social roles in the 1960s and '70s, the author strives to discover her own connection to God without rejecting her people. Personal narrative is well-balanced with historical background. First written in 1984, this book was reissued in 2009 by Texas Tech University Press.
By Joseph Osmundson. This daring flash memoir, which can also be classified as a prose-poem collection, looks from multiple angles at the arc of an emotionally abusive relationship between the white author and his African-American ex-lover. Like a mosaic of broken mirror fragments, each sliver of memory reflects larger themes of exclusion, power exchange, personal and collective trauma, and the nature of intimacy, raising as many questions as it answers.
Part memoir, part religious history, this compelling, controversial book by a Harvard-educated sociologist describes the fallout from her recovered memories of sexual abuse by her father, a leading Mormon scholar. Her anger is leavened by compassion as she delves into the complicity of a secretive church culture in creating and shielding abusers with split personalities. Though the topic is a dark one, readers who accompany Beck on her healing journey will be rewarded with her account of her strengthened connection to God's love and her own inner truth.
In this profound, witty memoir of spiritual transformation, an intense, high-achieving, activist intellectual goes to Thailand to research the unequal status of women in Buddhist religious life, but unexpectedly finds inner peace during her stint as a member of an ascetic order of nuns. The elegantly designed book pairs her current reminiscences with excerpts from her journals, side by side on the page like a Talmudic commentary.
There's more to this teen memoir than meets the eye. Beautiful, blonde Cheryl has a wise old head on her shoulders, which helps her survive encounters with all sorts of human predators as she tenaciously builds a career as a fashion model in New York City. She's also a sharp, funny writer.
This anthology of oral histories by senior citizens in British Columbia, Canada, paints a collective portrait of resourceful working-class women who survived poverty, sexism, and the failure of their illusions about marriage and family security.
By Darnell L. Moore. This passionate, eye-opening memoir chronicles the author's coming of age as a black gay man in Camden, NJ, his activism with the Movement for Black Lives, and his maturing understanding of his parents' troubled marriage. Moore places his personal story in the context of structural oppression in Camden's history, and shows the extraordinary resilience and devotion of black families under pressure.
By John Ollom. Part artists' self-help guide, part memoir of overcoming attachment wounds from his homophobic and alcoholic family, Rocks in the River is an invitation to enjoy our own creative powers without self-judgment or comparison to others. As a classically trained dancer and then an innovative choreographer, Ollom understands how the rate of a movement affects the emotions it manifests. He encourages readers not to push ourselves in a punishing way, either to heal or to make "better" art, whatever that means. Instead, we can explore towards the next stepping-stone, and the next after that, with curiosity and patience. The book is illustrated with his intuitive drawings that express the flow of pain and joy within the healing body/mind.
This memoir of mental illness stands out for its lyricism, humility, tenderness, and deeply sane sense of humor about how the author and his family have romanticized their affliction. Lovelace is a poet and the son of a notable evangelical theologian. Both of his parents are bipolar, as are the author and his brother. With refreshing honesty, he traces mania's connection to spiritual and artistic creativity, yet concludes that the private ecstasies of madness lead to incoherence, not a deeper truth.
This witty and eye-opening memoir describes one person's experience of being transgender. James Finney Boylan was a published novelist and English professor who had tried all his life to suppress his feeling that he was female inside. Finally, at age 40, he began the process of transition, leading to an upheaval and rearrangement of his family life, depicted here in anecdotes both comical and sad. Some will feel that the real hero of the tale is the author's wife, who lovingly supported Boylan's transition despite her pain and anger at losing the man she married. Boylan's hilarious narrative voice is the book's chief strength; its weakness is an absence of in-depth reflection on where our ideas of "male" and "female" identity come from.
By Don Mitchell. In this compelling hybrid memoir and true-crime account, Mitchell recounts how the cold-case murder of his friend Jane Britton, a fellow graduate student in the Harvard anthropology department, was solved after 49 years. Shibai, a Japanese word for a stage play, also means "gaslighting" or "bullshit" in the slang of Mitchell's native Hawai'i. As an anthropologist among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville, Mitchell learned early that truth is always filtered through the stories we tell ourselves and the roles in which our culture casts us. When Becky Cooper, a journalist for the New Yorker, contacts him for a book she is writing about Jane's case, he discovers, in retelling the story to a stranger, that his long-held assumptions about the murder don't hold up. With him, the reader relives the Kafka-esque terror of being suspected by the police, the frustration when the investigation is stonewalled or misled by people he once loved, and the sorrow and relief of finally filling in the gaps about Jane's last moments. The resulting saga is a profound and subtle meditation on memory, aging, and our responsibility to the dead. Like a shadow that provides contrast in a photograph, Jane's unlived life stands as a counterpart to Mitchell's honest and self-aware journey through the milestones of his 77 years, from the triumphs and disappointments of his academic career to his deep relationship with the Hawaiian landscape and people.
Provocative, elegant memoir explores gay male desire, the mythic allure of doomed love, and the creative tensions of a life divided between incompatible worlds. Mendelsohn is a classics professor at Princeton, and some of his most interesting reflections involve the application of Greek myths to modern homosexual culture, and the contrast with his family-oriented Jewish heritage.
This hard-hitting memoir by a young veteran of the 2003 Iraq war portrays a failed system of military leadership that exposed infantrymen to pointless risks as their mission became increasingly unclear. Crawford joined the Florida National Guard before 9/11 for the tuition benefits, then found himself unexpectedly shipped to Kuwait. Scarcity of men and materials meant that his unit's tour of duty was continually being extended, yet they were not given the tools to do the job. Crawford's writing captures the brusque camaraderie and profanity-laced talk of soldiers, while his literary prose brings these harsh scenes to life.
By Joy Ladin. Lyrically written, introspective, and mystical, this soul-searching and honest memoir explores the freedom, costs, and responsibilities of becoming your true self. Poet and English professor Joy Ladin describes how she became the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish college, Yeshiva University in New York City. Through the silent suffering of growing up as the wrong gender, and the breakup of her marriage and family when she came out, Ladin drew strength from her deep connection to the enigmatic but ever-present God of the Torah, and she developed creative interpretations of Jewish tradition to make space for queer flourishing.
Contributors to this profound and heartfelt anthology of spiritual memoirs include Mark Doty, Andrew Holleran, Alfred Corn, Fenton Johnson, and Lev Raphael. The authors touch on such topics as the connection between spiritual and erotic ecstasy, family secrets and reconciliations, and AIDS as a modern crucible of faith.