The Art of Memoir: Mary Karr

Think One

While writing Babybytes, I was both preoccupied and self-conscious about how to be as truthful as possible. The way I tell my story would have to be subjective- after all, I am telling it. How do I ensure it’s as true as I can? What pieces do I choose that create a whole? How do I write about others in my life, when anyone else who knows them may have other perspective on them?

The goal is to speak not with objective authority but with subjective curiosity.

Karr writes with authority on truth, using her own examples from books Cherry and Lit, but also comments on other authors who were accused of fabrication in memoir. I was relieved to read the contexts and analysis of the drama surrounding some ‘called out’ memoirists, and in painstaking detail. I came to see how there is simply no need to exaggerate a circumstance: our interior experiences are enough. The physical details and circumstance raise the stakes for the story, but most important is for the reader to identify with the inner struggle. That is where the human truths lie. They need to go back to their story from other points of view, and to find the blind spots. Self-awareness serves voice, but also truth.

Quote One

“[I feel awe] … for the rest of us, too, for the great courage all of us show in trying to wring some truth from the godawful mess of a single life. To bring oneself to others makes the whole planet less lonely.”

(Art of Memoir, Mary Karr, p. 218)

Do One

Mary suggests using cue cards to write down quotes, with name/source/page number. Then, later on you have a stack of wisdom for motivation, for speeches, for inspiration, for writing.

Rhyme One

Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker reminds me of this book. This song reminds me of when Karr says that you have to beam headlights onto a story and see what isn’t there at first glance. I also love the details – or as Karr says, the carnal details – these lyrics choose: dogwood flowers. A strong voice, and deeply moving. Two reasons I will seek to pick up one of Mary Karr’s memoirs, and revisit this song on my guitar.

Darius Rucker: Wagon Wheel
Heading down south to the land of the pines
I’m thumbing my way into North Carolina
Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Picking me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I’m a-hopin’ for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight

So rock me momma like a wagon wheel
Rock me momma any way you feel
Hey momma rock me

Previous Post
Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder
Next Post
The Art of Possibility

Related Posts


The Art of Possibility

Book Reviews
The practice of giving an A transports your relationship from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility… This A is not an expectation to live up to, but…
Read More