Karen Karbo

Karen Karbo is an American novelist, non-fiction writer and journalist.[1][2][3] Her writing is known for its wit, eye for detail and human shortcomings, broad interests and ability to cross genres including fiction, biography, self-help, essay, journalism and children's mysteries.[4][5][6] It combines tragicomic humor and feminist social commentary to explore her own and other women's experiences with work, relationships, family, aging and social pressure.[7][8][9][10]

Karen Karbo
BornDetroit, Michigan, United States
NationalityAmerican
EducationUniversity of Southern California
GenreNon-fiction, fiction, biography, journalism, children's books
Notable awardsNational Endowment for the Arts, Oregon Book Award, General Electric Younger Writer Award
Website
Karen Karbo

Karbo's three comic novels, Trespassers Welcome Here (1990),[4] The Diamond Lane (1993),[11] and Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me (2001),[5] were each named New York Times Notable Books.[3] She may be best known for her "Kick Ass Women" series (2007–13)—biographical self-help guidebooks on Katharine Hepburn[12] Coco Chanel,[13] Georgia O'Keeffe,[8] and Julia Child.[14] Her other non-fiction works are Generation Ex: Tales From The Second Wives Club (2001),[15] The Stuff of Life: A Daughter's Memoir (2004),[16] In Praise of Difficult Women (2018),[10] and Yeah, No. Not Happening (2020).[17] She has also written the three-book Minerva Clark children's mystery series (2005–7).[18][19][20]

Karbo has received an Oregon Book Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, among other recognition.[21][22] She has written essays, articles and reviews for Elle, Esquire, The New York Times,[23][24] O, Outside,[25] Salon.com,[26] Vogue,[27] and other magazines.[21][28] New York Times critic Janet Burroway described her books as "praised for their laugh-aloud, zinging, elbow-in-the-side wit," and her magazine work as in the tradition of participatory journalism writers such as George Plimpton or Bob Shacochis.[2] Karbo lives in the south of France after previously residing in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles.[29]

Fiction worksEdit

NovelsEdit

Karbo's novels often draw on personal experiences—in college and the film industry, and with marriage, mortality and motherhood.[30][31][32] Her first, Trespassers Welcome Here (1990, Village Voice Top Ten Book of the Year), tapped into her work in the USC Russian department to explore life in the West for a group of Russian emigres in a university Slavic languages department: a quartet of unrelated teaching assistants dubbed the "Lenin Sisters" and a famed author and teacher.[4][30] The New York Times noted its abundant humor ranging from near-slapstick to wry wit, ear for the Russian accent, and deep sense of the transplanted Soviet psyche, describing it as "a novel about the pursuit of possibilities," whose unfolding first-person chapters both harmonize and generate surprising plots.[4]

Her second novel, The Diamond Lane (1991), centers on two sisters juggling troubled but comical love lives and contrasting dreams of success.[33][11][31] Library Journal called it "a deft, tragicomic social satire … noteworthy for the complexity of its characters, crisp prose, and loopy comic style";[34][35] Los Angeles Times critic Judith Freeman wrote that it tackles two "notoriously fickle institutions requiring blind hope to sustain life"—Hollywood and marriage—with astringent humor.[1] In 2014, librarian Nancy Pearl named the book as a favorite and one of her "under-the-radar reads" on National Public Radio.[33]

Karbo's third novel, Motherhood Made a Man Out Of Me (2000), takes on the contradictory and heightened emotional states of new motherhood, through intertwined plots involving a married couple with a newborn and the woman's best friend, a pregnant gardener engaged to marry a man she finds out is already married.[5][32] New York Times reviewer Ann Hodgman called it "peevishly hilarious," with thick layers of domestic detail, plot and characters portraying "the squalor and hatred that bubble under the surface of every marriage with a new baby."[5]

Minerva Clark booksEdit

In the 2000s, Karbo ventured into children's books seeking to entertain her fifth-grade daughter, Fiona, with something exciting and modern after she grew tired of Harry Potter.[3][29] She created a Portland-based, technology-savvy, 13-year-old sleuth, Minerva Clark, who survives an electrocution accident, leaving her purged of self-consciousness and with a fearlessness suited to crime-solving.[3][29][18] Described in Kirkus Reviews as a "cross between Nancy Drew and Adrian Monk," she is joined by three older brothers—one a computer genius—and a sidekick ferret.[18][29]

Karbo wrote three books in the series: Minerva Clark Gets a Clue (2005), which involves identity development and identity theft;[18] Minerva Clark Goes To The Dogs (2006), in which she helps a classmate locate a rare red diamond stolen from her ring;[19] and Minerva Clark Gives Up The Ghost (2007), in which she looks for the missing ghost of a haunted grocery store victimized by arson.[36]

Non-fiction worksEdit

Like her novels, Karbo's non-fiction works draw on personal experience and phases of life. The New York Times called her first, Generation Ex: Tales From The Second Wives Club (2001), a "smart and ruefully funny examination of divorced life" peppered with solid statistics, anecdotes and hard-earned insight.[15][37] Publishers Weekly wrote that "Karbo makes ample use of her narrative instinct and canny eye for human foibles," evoking scenes between ex-spouses that achieve "an unerring blend of screwball comedy, tragic drama, feel-good fantasy and stalker flicks."[6] Her The Stuff of Life: A Daughter’s Memoir (2008) was a departure, detailing Karbo's experience caring for her stoic, out-of-state father in his final year, while juggling work, her blended-family responsibilities, and conflicting emotions regarding caregiving, uncommunicative doctors, decline and loss.[2][38][39] Reviews described the memoir—a New York Times Notable Book, People Magazine Critic’s Choice, and Oregon Book Award winner—as unembellished, wrenchingly sad and remarkably funny.[2][16][40][41]

Karbo's other, earlier non-fiction work includes Big Girl in the Middle (1997), co-written with volleyball star and model Gabrielle Reece, and essay contributions to anthologies such as The Bitch in the House (2003) and The Best American Sports Writing 1996, among others.[3][42][28]

"Kick Ass Women" seriesEdit

In her "Kick Ass Women" series, Karbo developed what reviews collectively describe as a new form of biography mixing life story, philosophical treatise, self-help guide and autobiography.[12][43][41] Intended as neither scholarly nor comprehensive, the series explores iconic women in short, researched volumes written in a humorous, conversational and occasionally rueful tone.[43][44][12] Karbo sought life-lessons from her subjects—in her words, early "self-branders" committed to successfully cultivating singular, unconventional, often eccentric personalities, paths and beliefs despite the heavy gender constraints of their eras.[8][45][46]

The first book, How to Hepburn (2007), chronicles key points and anecdotes in Katharine Hepburn's life and career, alongside analysis, diverse lists of her habits, pastimes, rule-breaking and opinions (e.g., "A Primer on How to Be a Class Act"), and a quiz scoring a reader's capacity to be a "Hepburnian Stoic."[12][38] Karbo attracted more notice for The Gospel According to Coco Chanel (2009), which the Los Angeles Times described as a chatty, fun and insightful look at Chanel's self-invention, relationship to work, money, love and glamour, and impact on women’s fashion and modern life.[13][9][8][3]

In How Georgia Became O’Keeffe (2011), Karbo organized chapters around themes ("Defy," "Adopt") derived from different parts of the artist's life, work and complex relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz;[44][47] Publishers Weekly wrote, "this intimate, quirky, and sassy essay makes its iconic subject into an accessible, relevant figure with whom readers, particularly women, can identify."[48] Julia Child Rules (2013) parses aspects of Child’s personality and early struggles, finding lessons in her work ethic, passion and "immutable aptitude for being herself ... with self-assuredness and joy."[49][50][51][52]

Later non-fiction worksEdit

Following her "Kick Ass Women" series, Karbo came out with the bestselling In Praise of Difficult Women (2018),[53] which Los Angeles Review of Books described as a creative mash-up of biographical essay, self-help book and feminist polemic, "snatching a weaponized word out of the trigger-happy hands of the patriarchy."[10] Its twenty-nine profiles feature women who have resisted convention, oppression and other expectations in favor of self-determination, each one defined by a trait that labeled them "difficult" (e.g., ambitious, brainy, unrestrained, competitive).[54][55][10] Many are icons that Karbo mustered after losing her mother; they include well-known (Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Jane Goodall) as well as underappreciated and unconventional choices, such as writer and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, comedian Margaret Cho, author Vita Sackville-West, and Hollywood choreographer and writer Kay Thompson.[56][57][58]

Karbo's Yeah, No. Not Happening (2020) shares with its predecessor a focus on the exhausting demands of American womanhood, weaving her own story of on-and-off-again dieting and struggles with anxiety into a feminist empowerment guide that advocates self-care and the embrace of imperfection, while railing against "the great female self-improvement bamboozlement."[17][57]

Personal life and careerEdit

Karbo was born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in Whittier, California.[3][41] Her mother was a homemaker and her father an industrial designer whose work included the original Lincoln Continental hood ornament and toys for Mattel.[59][2] Her grandmother, Emilia Karbowski, was an Independent Hollywood couturiere known as "Luna of California," who designed clothes for the wives of movie moguls in the 1950s.[9] Karbo attended University of Southern California (USC), initially studying journalism and physical therapy; during freshman year, she lost her mother, who died at age 47 soon after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.[3][60][41] Karbo ultimately earned a degree in English, then turned to graduate film studies—at the time an overwhelmingly male province—after a screenwriting class revealed her flair for comedy.[31][3][60] Following graduation, she co-wrote eight screenplays (none produced), while holding down odd jobs as a papergirl, dog groomer and agent's assistant, before she shifted to writing fiction, publishing her first two novels in the early 1990s.[3][31]

After her second novel's success, Karbo began receiving journalistic work from magazines such as Outside and Women’s Sports and Fitness.[3] She has characterized many of these assignments as "Professional Guinea Pig" stories—terrifying, humiliating or intensive initiations in wreck-diving in Micronesia, handgun training, surf, boxing or professional baseball camps, the art of trapeze, rollercoaster testing, and PADI-certified shark handling.[2][3] During this time, her daughter, Fiona, was born.[3][29]

Karbo moved to Portland in the late 1990s, and over the next decade, completed her third novel and Minerva Clark series while venturing into non-fiction writing and teaching classes and workshops.[3][29] In 2015, after publishing her "Kick Ass Women" series, Karbo was among the first class of writers in the Amtrak Writing Residency, one of 24 selected to ride its long-distance routes over the following year.[61] In 2019, she and her husband relocated to the south of France.

RecognitionEdit

Karbo has won an Oregon Book Award for creative non-fiction (2005) and a General Electric Younger Writer Award (1989), received National Endowment for the Arts and Oregon Literary Arts fellowships in fiction (both 1992), and been selected for an Amtrak Writing Residency in 2015.[21][22][61]

BooksEdit

Non-fictionEdit

  • Yeah, No. Not Happening (2020)[62]
  • In Praise of Difficult Women (2018)[63]
  • Julia Child Rules (2013)[64]
  • How Georgia Became O’Keeffe (2011)[65]
  • The Gospel According to Coco Chanel (2009)[66]
  • The Stuff of Life: A Daughter’s Memoir (2008)[67]
  • How to Hepburn (2007)[68]
  • Generation Ex: Tales From The Second Wives Club (2001)[69]

NovelsEdit

  • Motherhood Made a Man Out Of Me (2000)[70]
  • The Diamond Lane (1991)[71]
  • Trespassers Welcome Here (1990)[72]

Children'sEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Freeman, Judith. "Book Review: Two Ripe Subjects: Hollywood, Marriage: The Diamond Lane by Karen Karbo," Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1991. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Burroway, Janet. "The Pistol in Dad's Bed," The New York Times, November 2, 2003. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Baker, Jeff. "Where I write: Karen Karbo kills zombies, keeps a pet ferret, writes witty books," The Oregonian, December 24, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Brockman, Elin Schoen. "Life With the Lenin Sisters," The New York Times, May 21, 1989, Sect. 7, p. 11. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Hodgman, Ann. "Please Baby, Please Baby," The New York Times, June 18, 2000, Sect. 7, p. 27. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Publishers Weekly. "Generation Ex: Tales from the Second Wives Club," April 2001. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  7. ^ Schappell, Elissa. "Here’s to Living Well in 2012," Vanity Fair, January 3, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d Larsen, Peter. "French women and Coco Chanel: what’s their secret?" Orange County Register, September 18, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Kornbluth, Jesse. "The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman," Head Butler, September 30, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Edelman, Judith. "Come Hell, Come Husbands," Los Angeles Review of Books, March 14, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  11. ^ a b Ward, Robert. "When Mouse and Tony Got Married," The New York Times, May 19, 1991, Sect. 7, p. 9. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d Cohen, Paula Marantz. "How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo," The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 6, 2007. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  13. ^ a b Kellogg, Carolyn. "'The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From the World’s Most Elegant Woman’ by Karen Karbo," Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  14. ^ Cornelius, Trista. "Julia Child's savory life lessons inspire Portland writer Karen Karbo," The Oregonian, November 25, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Jamison, Laura. "Divorce Is for Life," The New York Times, April 8, 2001, Sect. 7, p. 21. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  16. ^ a b Kirkus Reviews. "The Stuff of Life," August 2003. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Publishers Weekly. "Yeah, No. Not Happening.: How I Found Happiness Swearing Off Self-Improvement and Saying F*ck It All—And How You Can Too," June 2020. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d Kirkus Reviews. "Minerva Clark Gets a Clue," August 15, 2005. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Kirkus Reviews. "Minerva Clark Goes to the Dogs," October 15, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  20. ^ a b Karbo, Karen. Minerva Clark Gives Up the Ghost, New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  21. ^ a b c Los Angeles Review of Books. "Karen Karbo," Contributors. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  22. ^ a b National Endowment for the Arts. Literature Fellowships. Grants. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  23. ^ Karbo, Karen. "Goodbye Moon," The New York Times, December 4, 2005, Sect. A, p. 25. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  24. ^ Karbo, Karen. "Fear of Failing," The New York Times, July 20, 1997, Sect. 7, p. 17. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  25. ^ Outside. Karen Karbo, Published. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  26. ^ Salon.com Karen Karbo, Writers. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  27. ^ Karbo, Karen and Sallie Tisdall. "Fair Game," Vogue, March 1994. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  28. ^ a b Feinstein, John (ed). The Best American Sports Writing 1996, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Starr, Karla. "Karen Karbo: Local author gives teen girls a novel to investigate—ferrets included," Willamette Week, October 24, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  30. ^ a b Kennedy, Elliott. "Coffee with Karen Karbo," Flux, March 6, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  31. ^ a b c d Graeber, Laurel. "Let's Do Lunch," The New York Times, May 19, 1991, Sect. 7, p. 9. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  32. ^ a b Bradford, Robin. "Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me: A Novel," The Austin Chronicle, August 18, 2000. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  33. ^ a b NPR. "5 Under-The-Radar Reads From Librarian Nancy Pearl," NCPR, December 19, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  34. ^ Hawthorn Books. "Largehearted Boy has the playlist for Karen Karbo’s novel The Diamond Lane in Book Notes," News, October 6, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  35. ^ Strayed, Cheryl. "Introduction" in Trespassers Welcome Here by Karen Karbo, Portland, OR: Hawthorn Books, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  36. ^ Bloomsbury. "Minerva Clark Gives Up the Ghost". Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  37. ^ Kirkus Reviews. "Generation Ex: Tales From The Second Wives Club," February 2001. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  38. ^ a b Welker, DeAnn. "Wordstock kicks off with 'Women & Words'", The Oregonian, November 9, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  39. ^ Karbo, Karen. The Stuff of Life,", The New York Times, November 2, 2003. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  40. ^ Publishers Weekly. "The Stuff of Life," October 2003. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  41. ^ a b c d Keegan, Peachy. "Movers and Shakers: Karen Karbo, Author," Whom You Know, May 10, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  42. ^ Hanauer, Cathi (ed). The Bitch In the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, New York: Harper, 2003. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  43. ^ a b Siano, Maria. "Julia Child Rules," Foreword Reviews, Fall 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  44. ^ a b Kornbluth, Jesse. "How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living," Head Butler, November 22, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  45. ^ Publishers Weekly. "How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great," May 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  46. ^ Karbo, Karen. "Excerpt from 'How to Hepburn'", USA Today, April 23, 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  47. ^ Larsen, Peter. "Author of Georgia O’Keeffe book comes to O.C.," Orange County Register, November 12, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  48. ^ Publishers Weekly. "How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living," November 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  49. ^ Muhlke, Christine. "Bon Appétit," The New York Times, December 13, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  50. ^ Frochtzwajg, Jonathan. "Q&A: Karen Karbo on Julia Child," Portland Monthly, September 23, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  51. ^ Kirkus Reviews. "Julia Child-Rules," August 12, 2013. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  52. ^ Publishers Weekly. "Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life," October 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  53. ^ Los Angeles Times. Bestsellers, April 15, 2018.. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  54. ^ Nola, Meg. "Women Writers Making Waves," Foreword Reviews, December 27, 2017. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  55. ^ Conroy, Catherine. "Are we all difficult women now?" The Irish Times, June 9, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  56. ^ Juenemann, Brian. "Portland author Karen Karbo brings her smart style to short bios," The Register-Guard, March 25, 2018, p. E1. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  57. ^ a b Worrall, Simon. "Meet the 'Difficult' Women Who Wrote Their Own Rules," National Geographic, May 12, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  58. ^ Baker, Jeff. "New book ‘In Praise of Difficult Women’ presents 29 modern-day heroines," The Seattle Times, March 3, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  59. ^ Larsen, Peter. "'Difficult Women' from Frida Kahlo to J.K. Rowling are praised in new book," Orange County Register, March 15, 2018. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  60. ^ a b Karbo, Karen. "The Accidental Breadwinner," The New York Times, December 12, 2008, Sect. A, p. 25. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  61. ^ a b Kellogg, Carolyn. "Amtrak announces its first class of writers in residence," Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  62. ^ Karbo, Karen. Yeah, No. Not Happening: How I Found Happiness Swearing Off Self-Improvement and Saying F*ck It All—And How You Can Too, New York: Harper Wave, 2020. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  63. ^ Karbo, Karen. In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules, Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2018. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  64. ^ Karbo, Karen. Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  65. ^ Karbo, Karen. How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living, Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  66. ^ Karbo, Karen. The Gospel According to Coco Chanel : Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman, Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  67. ^ Karbo, Karen. The Stuff of Life, New York: Bloomsbury, 2003. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  68. ^ Karbo, Karen. How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great , New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  69. ^ Karbo, Karen. Generation Ex: Tales From The Second Wives Club, New York: Bloomsbury, 2001. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  70. ^ Karbo, Karen. Motherhood Made a Man Out Of Me, New York: Bloomsbury, 2000. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  71. ^ Karbo, Karen. The Diamond Lane, New York: Putnam, 1991. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  72. ^ Karbo, Karen. Trespassers Welcome Here, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  73. ^ Karbo, Karen. Minerva Clark Gets a Clue, New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2005. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  74. ^ Karbo, Karen. Minerva Clark Goes to the Dogs, New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2021.

External linksEdit