Mary Karr's Secret–Humility and Confidence–Interview in the Paris Review

Shirley H. Showalter and Mary Karr at Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing

Mary Karr has done it again. Maybe I should say that Amanda Fortini has done it–meaning that the interview Fortini published in The Paris Review with Karr as a subject is wonderful. If you haven’t read any of Karr’s poetry or her three memoirs, you will want to do so after reading the interview. If you have read lots of Karr, you will find the interview doubly gratifying. It will fill in some cracks for you in her published memories.

Karr comes across as both totally honest in her colorfully Texan way and also as a bit reticent. Her new-found faith in God has transformed the way she writes. She prays before she writes each day. Ironically, this submission to God’s will in writing also strengthens her joy as she reports on her latest triumphs in the literary world. She would sound like a braggart online if she were only speaking from the ego. Instead, she is cheerleading for the “team”–God the Author, herself as author, and her readers as community.

On Facebook (you can sign up to be a fan here) she loves to share her triumphs with her fans. On Twitter (you can follow here) her inimitable voice comes through as well (check out her August tweets).

One of the most frequently visited posts among the 215 archived here is the Top Ten List (it’s really eleven) from another interview Mary gave on NPR. My review of her latest memoir Lit is here. If you aspire to greatness in memoir, you will want to read all these books plus Mary’s own. I’m still working on the list myself.

What do you find most attractive about Mary, the Paris Review interview, the Facebook and Twitter pages, or the Top Ten List? Fans and critics are both welcome here!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Richard Gilbert on October 31, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Thanks, Shirley! That whole Paris Review interview is a gold mine! I found her long discussion of prayer fascinating and compelling. And: ” Amazing what power there is in surrender to suffering.” She seems like one who has suffered terribly, and things got better when she admitted it. But she always seems to have fought it; and still does, it’s just that she admits she’s fighting. Her latest memoir, Lit, is a testament to that. Of course, I also resonate to her statements about the difficulty of writing. I’m sometimes embarrassed to admit what a struggle it can be for me, a daily struggle with self. When I’ve written about that on my blog, sometimes readers have chastised me: “Lighten up,” basically. But she struggles, too, and her work ultimately transcends. She inspires me.

  2. shirleyhs on October 31, 2010 at 1:25 am

    I agree, Richard. I found the URL on Twitter and posted it on Facebook. Did you notice that the interview was conducted in stages? Not just the usual, nab the author after a book signing encounter! Really good research and penetrating questions. As for writing’s difficulty–we struggle together.

  3. doradueck on November 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    I enjoyed this interview a lot; having read “Lit” I’m definitely a fan. She talks the way she writes — such wonderful metaphors. I was also pleased to see her mention of the online place, “Sacred Space,” which has been significant for me for many years.

    • shirleyhs on November 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm

      I’ll have to check out “Sacred Space” now that two people I respect have recommended it! Glad you also have enjoyed Lit. I haven’t read her poetry and am sure I would enjoy Sinners Welcome. Her top ten memoir list has become my own reading list, though I am having trouble getting to them. Lots of other tasks/assignments between me and that shelf right now.

  4. […] humility. I stand in awe of the richness of other life stories, and of other storytellers, like Mary Karr, who are so much more gifted than I, and of the Creator who, day after day, pours forth speech, […]

Leave a Comment