Mary Karr (born January 16, 1955) is an American poet, essayist and memoirist from East Texas.[1] She is widely noted for her 1995 bestselling memoir The Liars' Club. Karr is the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.[2][3]

Mary Karr
Karr speaking at the St. Louis County Library on September 8, 2016
Born (1955-01-16) January 16, 1955 (age 69)
East Texas
Years active1987–present
Notable workThe Liars' Club

Early life and education edit

Karr was born in Groves, Texas, on January 16, 1955, and lived there until she relocated to Los Angeles in 1972.[4] Her parents, Charlie Marie Moore and Pete Karr, were alcoholics, and she was a frequent partaker of drug abuse growing up.[5][6] Karr attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota for two years and met poet Etheridge Knight, one of her mentors, during her time there.[7] After a respite from school to participate in the anti-apartheid movement,[8] Karr attended Goddard College and graduated with a terminal degree in fine arts.[9][10]

Career edit

Memoirs edit

Karr's memoir The Liars' Club, published in 1995, was a New York Times bestseller for over a year, and was named one of the year's best books. It explores her deeply troubled childhood, most of which was spent in a gritty industrial section of Southeast Texas in the 1960s. Karr was encouraged to write her personal history by her friend Tobias Wolff, but has said she only took up the project when her marriage fell apart.[11]

She followed the book with a second memoir, Cherry (2000), about her late adolescence and early womanhood.[12]

A third memoir, Lit: A Memoir, which she says details "my journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic,"[13] came out in November 2009. The memoir describes Karr's time as an alcoholic and the salvation she found in her conversion to Catholicism. She describes herself as a cafeteria Catholic.[14]

Poetry edit

Karr won a 1989 Whiting Award for her poetry. She was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry in 2005 and has won Pushcart prizes for both her poetry and essays. Karr has published five volumes of poetry: Abacus (Wesleyan University Press, CT, 1987, in its New Poets series), The Devil's Tour (New Directions NY, 1993, an original TPB), Viper Rum (New Directions NY, 1998, an original TPB), Sinners Welcome (HarperCollins, NY, 2006), and Tropic of Squalor (HarperCollins, NY, 2018). Her poems have appeared in major literary magazines such as Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.[15][16][17]

Karr's Pushcart Award-winning essay, "Against Decoration", was originally published in the quarterly review Parnassus (1991) and later reprinted in Viper Rum. In "Against Decoration", Karr took a stand in favor of content over poetic style. She argued emotions need to be directly expressed and clarity should be a watch-word: characters are too obscure, the presented physical world is often "foggy" (that is imprecise), references are "showy" (both non-germane and overused), metaphors overshadow expected meaning, and techniques of language (polysyllables, archaic words, intricate syntax, "yards of adjectives") only "slow a reader's understanding".

Another essay, "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer", was originally published in Poetry (2005). Karr tells of moving from agnostic alcoholic to baptized Catholic of the decidedly "cafeteria" kind, yet one who prays twice daily with loud fervor from her "foxhole". In this essay, Karr argues that poetry and prayer arise from the same sources within us.[18]

Other edit

In May 2015, Karr served as the commencement speaker at the 161st commencement for Syracuse University.[19][20][21]

Personal life edit

Karr was married to poet Michael Milburn for thirteen years.[22][23] Some time after their divorce, she had begun dating author David Foster Wallace. Karr spoke out about Wallace's abusive behaviour, which included obsessive stalking, throwing a coffee table at her, and harassing her five-year-old son.[24]

Although she has converted to Catholicism, Karr supports views that are at odds with the Catholic Church such as abortion (to which she is pro-choice), and has advocated for women's ordination to the priesthood. Karr has described herself as a feminist since the age of twelve.[14]

Awards and honors edit

Works edit

  • The Liars' Club, Viking Adult; (1995) ISBN 0-670-85053-5
  • Cherry: A Memoir, Penguin Books; Reissue edition (2001) ISBN 0-14-100207-7
  • Lit: A Memoir, HarperCollins; (2009) ISBN 0-060-596996

References edit

  1. ^ "Mary Karr". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ Dunham, Lena (January 13, 2017). "The All-American Menstrual Hut: Lena Dunham and the memoirist Mary Karr talk bullying, Jesus, and bra technology". Lenny Letter. Archived from the original on December 7, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  3. ^ "A Conversation with Mary Karr". Image Journal. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  4. ^ "Mary Karr". Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  5. ^ "Mary Karr on The Art of Memoir and This Weekend's Texas Road Trip". Vogue. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  6. ^ "The Liars' Club". Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  7. ^ Almon, Bert. "Karr, Mary 1955–." American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, Supplement 11, edited by Jay Parini, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002, pp. 239-256. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 28 Jan. 2017.
  8. ^ "Mary Karr". Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  9. ^ "CANISIUS COLLEGE CONTEMPORARY WRITERS SERIES WELCOMES AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR MARY KARR". Canisius College. September 16, 2021. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  10. ^ Smith, Wendy. "Mary Karr: A Life Saved by Stories". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  11. ^ Salon Magazine Interview, May, 1997 Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Cherry : a Memoir by the Author of The Liars' Club. The Penguin Group, Penguin Putnam Inc. 2000. ISBN 9780670892747. OCLC 779617706.
  13. ^ Times, The New York. "Stray Questions for: Mary Karr". ArtsBeat. Archived from the original on May 7, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Edelstein, Wendy (2006-02-15). "An Improbable Catholic". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2010-2-08.
  15. ^ "Mary Karr". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. March 13, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ "Mary Karr". The New Yorker. The New Yorker. March 13, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ "Mary Karr". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. March 13, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ Karr, Mary (2005). "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer". Poetry. 187 (2): 125–136. JSTOR 20607202.
  19. ^ "All the Facts You Need to Know about Commencement 2015". SU News. May 8, 2015. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  20. ^ "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever". Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  21. ^ "Commencement Address by Poet Mary Karr". SU News. May 10, 2015. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  22. ^ "Mary Karr: A Life Saved By Stories". Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  23. ^ "Mary Karr on The Art of Memoir and This Weekend's Texas Road Trip". Vogue. Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  24. ^ "David Foster Wallace and the Dangerous Romance of Male Genius". The Atlantic. May 9, 2018.

External links edit