You know what’s fun about following the media deluge for Mary Karr’s new
book The Art of Memoir? Yes, learning more about the craft is crucial to writers. And hey, she covers a lot of territory in an interview: Be kind writing about people who are still alive. Be intentional about mining the truth. Deets on a Hollywood mash-up film of The Liar’s Club and Lit. And tolerance for the world’s obsession about her dating David Foster Wallace.
Yes, I enjoy reading Karr’s comments on life and craft, but what I really love is her fire. It’s her wit, of course, but it’s mostly her being fearless. (If I were fearless, I would have modified fearless with the f-bomb.)
I’ve stopped reading for the tips. (Ahem, read the book.) And I’ve started scanning for fearlessness.
Here’s one of my favorite examples of Karr’s wit from an interview in The New York Times:
As someone who reveals so much, is there a time that an interviewer has gone too far with you? Oh, yeah, but I have no problem saying, ‘‘I’m not going to discuss that.’’ I would never talk about anybody’s penis. You can ask me about my relationship with David Wallace all you like; I’m not going to talk about his penis.
That’s one of the least interesting things about any man, really. If only they knew that.
That’s what I’m talking about. In the NYT interview (see below), Karr manages to say “boobs” and “St. Augustine” in the same comment and make it work. As a Catholic myself, I am mentally fist-bumping her from the next pew.
Below are my top five (relatively) recent quotes from Karr in interviews. We call her the boss of memoir in our feature in The Writer. But I find myself whispering: “Damn, girl. Tell it.” Wit, fearlessness, expressiveness, belief. And some badass boots. She’s the boss of more than memoir.
Five fear-free comments from Mary Karr
From Nicki Porter’s interview with Mary Karr in The Writer magazine:
“If I had to go back to my junior high school cafeteria and face the stares of those girls who wouldn’t let me sit with them, I would throw myself off a bridge.”
In conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air on NPR:
“I pray. I pray a lot. I’m somebody who has a big inner life, and for most of my life it had a lot of darkness in it, and for me prayer is a way of standing in a light.”
At the Syracuse University commencement ceremony:
“Almost every time I was super afraid, it was of the wrong thing. And stuff that first looked like the worst, most humiliating thing that could ever happen almost always led me to something extraordinary and very fine.”
In the Los Angeles Times Q&A:
“I missed 87 days of school in the sixth grade. I essentially didn’t get a high school degree because I just didn’t go to school on Monday or Friday. I just didn’t. In a way, that’s a more interesting story than if I had been a genius kid.”
Talking with Ana Marie Cox in the New York Times, on social media and memoir:
“Memoirs are not ‘Look at my boobs at the party.’ The ones that I read are works of art meant to last millenniums. I still read St. Augustine. It’s not the difference between apples and oranges, it’s the difference between a sunflower seed and a steak.”