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Mary Karr
Mary Karr, HQ 9.8.16.jpg
Karr speaking at the St. Louis County Library on September 8, 2016
Born (1955-01-16) January 16, 1955 (age 63)
East Texas
Nationality American
Years active 1987–present
Notable work The Liars' Club

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

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Her 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. She 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.[3]

She followed the book with another memoir, Cherry (2000), about her late adolescence and early womanhood.[4]

A third memoir, Lit: A Memoir, which she says details "my journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic,"[5] came out in November 2009. The memoir describes her time as an alcoholic and the salvation she found in her conversion to Catholicism. She describes herself as a cafeteria Catholic.[6]


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 her essays. Karr has published four 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), and Sinners Welcome (HarperCollins, NY 2006). Her poems have appeared in major literary magazines such as Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.[7][8][9]

Karr's Pushcart Award-winning essay, "Against Decoration", was originally published in the quarterly review Parnassus (1991) and later reprinted in Viper Rum. In this essay 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 over-shadow expected meaning, and techniques of language (polysyllables, archaic words, intricate syntax, "yards of adjectives") only "slow a reader's understanding".

Karr directly criticized well-known, well-connected, and award-winning poets including James Merrill, Amy Clampitt, Vijay Seshadri, and Rosanna Warren. Karr favors controlled elegance to create transcendent poetic meaning out of not-quite-ordinary moments, presenting James Merrill's "Charles on Fire" as a successful example.[citation needed]

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.[10]

Personal life

Karr was born in Groves, Texas, on January 16, 1955, and lived there until she moved to Los Angeles in 1972. That same year, she started at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she studied for two years and met poet Etheridge Knight, one of her first mentors.[11] She attended and graduated from Goddard College, where she studied with the poets Robert Hass and Stephen Dobyns.[12]

Karr was married to poet Michael Milburn for 13 years. In the 1990s, she had a relationship with David Foster Wallace, and was the emotional inspiration for a character in Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.[13]

Although a convert to Catholicism, Karr supports views that are at odds with Catholic Church teaching: on abortion she is pro-choice, and she has spoken in favor of women's ordination to the priesthood. Karr has been a feminist since she was 12.[6]

Awards and honors


  • 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, Harper Collins; (2009) ISBN 0-060-596996


  1. ^ "Mary Karr". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  2. ^ Dunham, Lena (13 January 2017). "The All-American Menstrual Hut: Lena Dunham and the memoirist Mary Karr talk bullying, Jesus, and bra technology". Lenny Letter.
  3. ^ Salon Magazine Interview, May, 1997 Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Cherry : a Memoir by the Author of The Liars' Club. The Penguin Group, Penguin Putnam Inc. 2000. ISBN 9780670892747. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  5. ^ Times, The New York. "Stray Questions for: Mary Karr". ArtsBeat. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  6. ^ a b Edelstein, Wendy (2006-02-15). "An Improbable Catholic". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2010-2-08.
  7. ^ "Mary Karr". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  8. ^ "Mary Karr". The New Yorker. The New Yorker. 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  9. ^ "Mary Karr". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  10. ^ "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer". Poetry. 187 (2): 125–136. 2005. JSTOR 20607202.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Smith, Wendy. "Mary Karr: A Life Saved by Stories". Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  13. ^ Max, D.T. (March 9, 2009). "The Unfinished". The New Yorker. March 9, 2009

External links

This page was last edited on 25 October 2018, at 02:24
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