Literary Arts Series

Authors visit Bergen Community College

Mary Karr


Mary Karr is the 2013 Literary Arts Series spring speaker. Most recently, Karr is author of a memoir, Lit, which HBO is adapting. She wrote two earlier memoirs, The Liar’s Club and Cherry, and several collections of poetry, including The Devil’s Tour, Sinners Welcome, Abacus and Viper Rum. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, and Parnassus.

She will be speaking April 11, 2013, 1:40 p.m., in TEC 128. The event will be co-hosted by the Judith K. Winn Honors Program. Karr will also be the keynote speaker at the Honors Students conference. Finally, Karr will be hosting a smaller discussion with students and faculty in the same room at 11 a.m.

We encourage faculty to incorporate an excerpt, short story, or part of Karr’s work into your syllabus and course material. To this effect, LAS will be offering several “teaching approaches” to Mary Karr before the event, including sample questions.


Karr is interviewed for Fresh Air.NPR: Mary Karr, Remembering The Years She Spent ‘Lit’

In a Paris Review interview she explains her desire to write memoirs. “Daddy’s family told stories. Everybody was a spot-on mimic—name a politician or a public figure, and my aunt Gladys could nail every intonation. Maybe it’s a Texas thing, or maybe it’s a Southern thing, or maybe there’s more of an oral tradition among the poor. Stranded out there on the prairie, settlers had to amuse themselves. When I went to California at seventeen, I wrote back to my sister saying, These people are boring because the weather’s so good they never had to develop an inner life.


“You always knew Mary Karr wasn’t telling you everything. There were tantalizing hints of adult life in her two coming-of-age memoirs, “The Liars’ Club” and “Cherry.” But “Lit” is the book in which she grows up and gets serious, as serious as motherhood, as serious as alcoholism, as serious as God. And it just makes her funnier. In a gravelly, ground-glass-under-your-heel voice that can take you from laughter to awe in a few sen­tences, Karr has written the best book about being a woman in America I have read in years.” - Susan Cheever, The New York Times Book Review

“Karr’s sharp and funny sensibility won me over to her previous two volumes, but what wins me over to”Lit” is the way her acute self-awareness conquers any hint that hers is the only version of this story. The verbal tics of the earlier narratives – the folksy, earthy Texas-talk of “The Liars’ Club” and the stark second-person self-address of “Cherry” – charmed the many fans who made both books bestsellers, but here she mostly eschews such seductive flourishes for frank acknowledgments about the ways she controls this tale: She says, for example, that her ex-husband has declined a chance to review these pages and admits that this would be quite a different story told from his perspective.” Valerie Sayers, The Washington Post

Ultimately, the most moving, illuminating moments of love and reconciliation come from family. The boozy, lunatic behavior of her mother so darkened Karr’s childhood, yet her later sobriety serves as a kind of beacon of possibility. Her sister, Lecia, becomes her biggest fan and supporter. And finally, it is her son, Dev, who shows her the way to faith and who inspires her to share her story. “Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only way to get home, by which I mean to get free of us,” she writes.” Samantha Dunn, The Los Angeles Times

My mother couldn’t tell a story if she had a gun to her head, but she was a master of the one-liner. David Foster Wallace once called her and said, I’m going to marry your daughter. He’d been hospitalized for depression, and she said, Didn’t you just get let out of somewhere? I mean, God, Mother! Or when she was dying, one of her boyfriends showed up at the hospital and the nurse said, Your husband’s here, and she said, He must look like hell—he’s been dead twenty years. She always said the thing you wish you’d said.”

Literary Arts Series

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