Like You’re Not Afraid

November 13, 2015

The author of three New York Times best-selling memoirs, Mary Karr encourages her students to “write what’s true; write like you’re not afraid.”  In an event co-sponsored by the Raymond Carver Reading Series and the Nonfiction Reading Series, Karr offered a number of insights into her own writing and read from her work. 

With Gifford Auditorium packed, dozens of students asked Karr questions about her influences, the process of writing her memoirs, and specific details about the books.  Karr responded to student questions in a frank, no-holds barred style, engaging directly with the questions and also telling stories along the way. After the question and answer session, Karr read some of her poetry before reading an excerpt from her most recent memoir, Lit.  Karr described memoir as an act of memory, not an act of history.  “The line between memory and imagination is fluid,” Karr explained as she talked about the ways in which her childhood memories played a role in her books. 

Noting that she has been influenced by writers that range from Shakespeare to Eliot, Karr described herself as a child who was obsessed with books and writing; when she was ten years old she jotted a line in her journal about how she would write poetry and autobiography as an adult.  But Karr has found it more difficult to write memoir than poetry—memoir, she says, is “longer, bigger, and requires that you spend more time in your head.” 

Ivy Kleinbart, creative nonfiction teacher and co-chair of the Nonfiction Reading Series, said of the reading, "Part of Mary's gift as a writer (and particularly in her most recent book, Lit) is that she manages to transform nightmarish situations . . . into hilarious narratives that expose the absurdity of her family dynamics. It takes an enormous amount of courage to see one's own traumatic past through the lens of humor."

The Nonfiction Reading Series features local, national, and international writers of all types of nonfiction: memoir and autobiography, the personal essay, political essays, and historical narrative, among others. The series launched officially in spring 2008 with the signature event "What is Nonfiction?" headlined by Judith Kitchen and Minnie Bruce Pratt. In addition to sponsoring local, regional, national, and international writers, the series features undergraduate, graduate, and faculty writers from the SU campus presenting their works in-progress.

—story by Emily Dressing