Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mary Karr, Hometown Hero

I grew up in a little backwater town in southeast Texas that lets me call people like Janis Joplin, Tex Ritter, Frank Robinson, George Jones, The Big Bopper, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Johnny & Edgar Winter, Jimmy Johnson, Evelyn Keyes, Mark Chesnutt, Clay Walker and Tracy Byrd hometown heroes. Admittedly, not everyone on this list has had the same impact on our national culture - and they were born, or grew up, in several different cities in Jefferson County. But I still claim them all.

I got to thinking about the list today (and there are others I could add) when I put down an ARC of Mary Karr's new memoir, Lit, because Mary is another of my hometown heroes. And, book nerd that I am, she is near the top of the list for me these days. I grew up in Backwater, Texas, a full decade ahead of Mary but much of what she has written about her childhood and her own Great Escape hit very close to home for me. I feel like I know her - and, in a way, I do.

Lit is the perfect title for part three of Mary's overall memoir because of the word's double meaning. Mary Karr is a respected poet and her previous memoirs, The Liars Club and Cherry have done quite well, I think, because of the frank way she exposes her life to the scrutiny of her readers. So, in one sense, Lit refers to Mary's literary reputation and achievements. Unfortunately, Lit has another connotation in Mary's life, a good portion of which has been spent fighting her alcoholism, a disease from which both her parents also suffered.

What Mary Karr has accomplished, and continues to accomplish, amazes me. I know where she came from and I know how hard it is to escape from that kind of place. I hope to get a moment at the Texas Book Festival on Halloween weekend to tell her just how proud I am of her.


  1. I'm excited that she has a new memoir out.

  2. Great post. Mark Karr rules. I think, however that there is a third connotation to the title, Lit. The latter half of the book chronicles Mary's astonishing conversion as she is led out of darkness and despair through faith. The juxtaposition of those two meanings in the title, in that one can refer to being "lit" as either being drunk/high(as you mentioned), or blessed/redeemed, I thought was brilliant, pardon the pun. The first connotation you brought up, however, totally eluded me but now seems so obvious, as the whole book does deal with how she entered and dealt with the literary world of the East Coast.

  3. I just finished it, Ms. Bybee, and was pleased with it. It's all very frankly written and covers the period through which Mary was having major success (and finally making enough money to support herself and her son. She covers it all. Her mother was a trip.

  4. Kevin, I believe you are right. When I posted about the new book and Mary I had not yet come to the point where prayer was working for her and she was converting to Catholicism, etc. What a great title for her book!