The Difficult Journey to You

Click the image to download or play the audio clip.

In China there is a wisdom that states if you feel there urge for revenge sit by a river, and eventually your enemy’s body will float by. I find the same happens with people you admire. If you keep living, every now and then, someone familiar, or whom you admire, passes…and it’s cool.

Mary Karr

In 1995, I interviewed then-Syracuse University professor Mary Karr and reviewed her memoir, The Liar’s Club, which became a nonfiction classic. I noted the publication  of Cherry and Lit, her other memoirs, but did not get as deeply into them, mostly because life moved on. 

Nonetheless, the native Texan stayed lodged in my memory. I noted the depth of her reflections on her path, when I gave a quick read to  Sinners Welcome, her first book of poetry, but always looked for her to share more of the personality I briefly came to know.  That happens in The Art of Memoir. The link shares an audio clip.


My best choices for books on the writing craft are still Stephen King’s On Writing,  and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. That said, the audio clip linked above, shows me Karr could supplant Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, as third on my short list of book about how to best write your story. 

Fiction is no easier to craft than the truth. As Chilean author Isabel Allende once stated: “There’s basically an element of fiction in everything you remember. Imagination and memory are almost the same brain processes. When I write fiction, I know that I’m using a bunch of lies that I’ve made up to create some form of truth. When I write a memoir, I’m using true elements to create something that will always be somehow fictionalized.”

Memoir takes a different level of courage and spirit. “I don’t know where the idea originated that memoir writing is cathartic,” says U.S. writer Koren Zailcks, whose 2005 debut memoir, Smashed, is considered another landmark work. “For me, it’s always felt like playing my own neurosurgeon, sans anesthesia. As a memoirist, you have to crack your head open and examine every uncomfortable thing in there.”


Karr, who is the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University, takes readers into the classroom as she shares a spirit and technique for getting into the dark depths of one’s being that is as direct, unvarnished and as true to the heart as the advice and instruction she gave in courses on writing memoir years ago.