100 memoirs project #7: Love and Trouble, by Claire Dederer


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dedererI haven’t done a memoir post in a bit, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading memoir.

I’ve been reading a lot, actually. Since I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ two books, I’ve completed my fifth re-read of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (someday I will be courageous enough to write a post about what Lidia’s memoir means to me). Based on her recommendation, I then bought and blazed through Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos (another forthcoming post), almost immediately after I finished Dederer. I’m reading essays by Hanif Abdurraqib and poems by Danez Smith and Greek mythology by Robert Graves. I’m reading Carl Jung. I’m reading tarot and headlines.

There is so much to take in, so much to keep us up at night, that I might as well stay up late reading instead of worrying. Most days, this works out.

I worried a lot while reading Dederer. Love and Trouble comes with a subtitle: “A Midlife Reckoning.” At first I thought, I’m not going to relate to this. Silly me. I am almost 37. I’m unafraid of being 37, but it should be noted that while I am approaching what we think of as middle age, I don’t feel like I am. I am often mistaken for a college student on the campus where I work. I still get carded more often than not. I climb mountains and blast the same music I blasted 20 years ago—and I dress like it’s 20 years ago, too. I don’t feel 37.  Take that for what it’s worth to you, even hate me for it, if you will.

For so many women, being hated is nothing new. Continue reading


100 memoirs project #6: The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates


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coatesTa-Nehisi Coates is a writer I’ve followed for some time but who I am thoroughly intimidated to write about. He is superlatively intelligent when it comes to the violent racism of American history, a history I am glimpsing and uncovering more and more every day. I will never, can never, know a fraction of what Coates knows, but I swear I will read everything he writes from now on.

The Beautiful Struggle is a beautiful book. (Shit, see? I can barely write this.) Continue reading

100 memoirs project #5: The Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod


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CW: molestation, incest, child abuse, domestic violence

About a month ago, I took a vacation day from work, checked into a hotel for seven hours, and wrote 6,000 words of truth that I’ve never told anyone before. At least, not in so many words.

I had just started reading Zoe Zolbrod’s memoir The Telling, and it was clearly affecting me. I have some stuff to tell. This entire undertaking of reading 100 memoirs is about informing how I will tell it.

But the telling itself is important. It is power reclaimed, transformation, revolution. It is survival. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #4: Rise, by Cara Brookins


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Rise cover


CW: Domestic violence

In my few and precious windows of down time, when I’m not reading memoir, I’m watching HGTV.

Tiny House Hunters. Fixer Upper. Property Brothers. Love It or List It. I love me some Love It or List It.

I’m saving for a house, see, and I know I won’t be buying a turn-key, move-in ready, ultra-modern sanctuary. There’s gonna be demo. Mudding. Sanding. Scraping. Replacing. Upgrading.

This TV viewing is research. If I’m having a bad day, I turn it into a drinking game: one sip of red wine every time someone says “open concept,” asks for a large kitchen island, or muses “this space has a lot of potential.” Two sips for every mention of shiplap or subway tile. Three sips if they find asbestos or want a wall blown out but can’t understand that it’s load-bearing and they’ll need to pay out the ass to install a steel beam.

I first heard about Cara Brookins’ memoir Rise from TV, in fact. In January, Brookins was on The Today Show after her book was released, filmed in her 3,500-square-foot labor of love.

The amazing thing to me is that she did the grueling, round-the-clock, self-directed work of building a house based solely on watching youTube videos and then pulled off writing a great book about it. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #3: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, by Jennifer Steil


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Steil coverI have the pleasure of working with five amazing women through the Center for Creative Writing, which I now direct, and one of them is prose writer and journalist Jennifer Steil. I’ve had her memoir The Woman Who Fell from the Sky on my bedside table for a while now and committed to reading it when I arranged for Jennifer to give a reading at the college where I work.

See, Jennifer was planning to fly in to attend a retreat I was hosting for all my Center teachers. But she currently lives in London and, well…Is there anything else you want me to do, if I’m already making the trip? she asked me when the retreat was in its planning stages.

Writers need work. I knew her memoir was about editing a newspaper in a war-torn country, so she and I collaborated on a pitch to have her read and talk about peacebuilding through art, peace efforts in Yemen, and her experiences witnessing peace and conflict as a Westerner in a Muslim city in 2006, for which she would earn an honorarium from my department at the college (peace studies).

Jennifer flew in last week in the middle of a Stacia hurricane. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #2: Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away, by Alice Anderson


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anderson coverCW: Domestic violence, rape

Alice Anderson’s Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away nearly undid me.

One thing I’m learning about memoir is that the good ones are supposed to do that. They are so real, they cut like a butcher knife on the throat and chest…

When I got to the passage in Anderson’s book about her then-husband’s most brutal assault, and her sweet small boy toddled onto the page and my consciousness to take that knife away, how could I not see my own son’s face over my ex’s shoulder when ______?

No really, I’m asking. How?

(I’m a little frustrated with myself for being still so vulnerable to these stories that simultaneously and quite literally saved me, continue to save me. I’m working on it.)

I heard Anderson speak on a memoir panel at this year’s AWP conference. I took lots of notes, but what I most remember is what she said about expected narratives: Could she take her story of abuse and “make it a love story?”

Well damn if she didn’t. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #1: The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr


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karr cover

I wanted The Art of Memoir to be the first book I read and posted about for my 100 memoirs project. It’s not a memoir, but it’s about memoir, and Karr is an expert who frequently delves into autobiography while dispensing her brilliant advice, so it counts.

It took me a long time to finish this book because I was underlining so much. Then I stopped underlining and just started writing things down. Then my hand got tired so I started taking pics of whole passages so I could carry them with me.

The Art of Memoir made me think two conflicting thoughts, sometimes both at once: I can/can’t do this.

“Writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist,” you see.

Here are some actual notes-to-self I made in my journal, and some of the most impactful quotes or tips I absorbed, while reading The Art of Memoir: Continue reading

100 memoirs


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I was looking at this big stack of books in my home office, books I’m dying to read, and rhetorically asking myself how to make time for them. I thought, I need someone to hold me accountable.

Book club? Omg if I schedule one more thing to have to go to…

Some kind of email book club? Still probably a deadline, and I want this to be fun and loose so I actually do it.

Goodreads? No more social media.

So I’m gonna use this space to hold myself accountable. I’m going to read memoirs and blog about them. Not really reviews, just informal responses, maybe with a little real life splashed in. No rules. Some of the memoirs I read will be second or third reads. Sometimes I will link to posts I’ve done on these books elsewhere. Sometimes I will write a lot, sometimes only a little. I might read three in a month and then none for three months.

But I’m going to read 100 of them. Continue reading

Third birthday of my after-me


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Content warning: domestic violence


Three years today.

Last year on this day, I wrote about getting stronger. Two years ago on this day, I wrote about my proclivity for leaving.

This year, I want to claim this day not as an anniversary like I have previously, but as another birthday, a rebirthday, because despite this ongoing healing process, I still feel—I am, I was—ripped into two halves: me before domestic violence and me after. Continue reading

A Response to Jia Tolentino’s “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over”

“…to say that the personal is no longer political seems like just a new way of telling women to shut up about themselves because there are more important things in the world to talk about.” All the yes. Don’t shut up. ❤

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zoeBy Zoë Bossiere

A couple of weeks ago, a piece by Jia Tolentino came out in The New Yorker called “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over.” The title alone was enough to deluge social media feeds with writers stepping forward to defend the vitality of the personal essay in spite of the article’s assertions, or otherwise agreeing with Tolentino that the personal essay is, in fact, “dead.” The only problem is, the article isn’t actually about what we writers know as the personal essay at all, but rather a separate subgenre of nonfiction called the “confessional essay.” If we want to get even more specific, Tolentino’s article is talking specifically of the confessional essays typically printed in online “women’s” publications such as xoJane, Jezebel, Salon, and others. To compare the personal and the confessional is a common false equivalence, and a great underestimation of all that first-person nonfiction writing encompasses.

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