HANDLING THE TRUTH

Gotham (Penguin USA), August 2013. 
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Books A Million
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iTunes
 

Winner, Books for a Better Life Awards (Motivational Category). (details)

Named a Best Book for Writers by Poets and Writers. (details


Named a Best Book of the Year by Caribousmom, Savvy Verse & Wit, and 3rs.

With infectious passion and hard-won wisdom, Beth Kephart eloquently celebrates the rigors and rewards of the creative process and – equally necessary – the art of crafting a meaningful life.  Part memoir and part memoirist’s manifesto, this small, urgent book inspires on many levels.  Read it and learn how to tell your story.  Better yet, read it and begin to understand why your story matters. 

Katrina Kenison, author of Magical Journey:  An Apprenticeship in Contentment 

Beth Kephart has done something extraordinary with this huge and messy thing called memoir—roping it into submission with her typically beautifully writing. There is authority here, scholarship, challenge. In this well-organized book, every example is a precious stone to turn over and to learn from, particularly in terms of crafting a voice and finding one's way in. Too many students think memoir just happens. Nothing ever just happens. Memoir is an academic field. This should become the seminal text.

Buzz Bissinger, author of Father's Day, A Prayer for the City, and Friday Night Lights


A marvelous primer for anyone who would dare to face the furies and write about his or her life. Beth Kephart has read the genre closely, put her own feet to the fire, and distilled the form with all the passion of a great teacher.  

Marie Arana, author of the National Book Award finalist American Chica  

In the tradition of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a critically acclaimed National Book Award finalist shares inspiration and practical advice for writing—and living with—memoir.


Writing memoir is a deeply personal, and consequential, undertaking.  As the acclaimed author of five memoirs spanning significant turning points in her life, Beth Kephart has been both blessed and bruised by the genre. In Handling the Truth, she thinks out loud about the form—on how it gets made, on what it means to make it, on the searing language of truth, on the thin line between remembering and imagining, and, finally, on the rights of memoirists.   Drawing on proven writing lessons and classic examples, on the work of her students and on her own memories of weather, landscape, color, and love, Kephart probes the wrenching and essential questions that lie at the heart of memoir.

A beautifully written work in its own right, Handling the Truth opens Kephart’s memoir-making classroom—and thoughts—to all those who read or seek to write the truth.

Podcasts and Interviews
Full podcasts are available of my presentation at the Free Library of Philadelphia and as a guest on the WHYY show, "Voices in the Family," here

A video clip from my talk at the Rosemont Memoir Summit is here.

A full podcast of my conversation with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is here

My conversation with Ploughshares can be found here.

My conversation with Jen Doll, for The Hairpin, can be found here.   

My conversation with Hippocampus Magazine can be found here.

My conversation with Andy Ross can be found here.

My conversation with writer Priscilla Gilman can be found here.

My conversation with Kate Hopper can be found here.

My conversation with Serena Agusto-Cox can be found here.

My conversation with myself can be found here.

My Chicago Tribune tribute to autobiographer Maya Angelou is here.

My Chicago Tribune appreciation of Megan Stielstra's essay collection is here. 


Press 

Starred Review, Library Journal 
.Kephart, Beth. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir. Gotham Bks. Aug. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781592408153. pap.
$16.
COMM
National Book Award finalist for A Slant of Sun, one of her several memoirs, Kephart (creative nonfiction, Univ. of Pennsylvania) has composed a gorgeous meditation on memoir. The author has achieved what few do in the crowded field of writing guides: she has created a work of art simply by reflecting on her own art—the writing and teaching of memoir. In four eloquent parts, Kephart introduces readers to the basic principles of memoir construction, suggests many writing prompts for navigating memories, and discusses the issues of describing living relatives and friends and of striving for accuracy. The book’s highest value lies in the author’s long experience with the memoir genre and its students. She writes with the same lyricism found in her own works and offers here passionate encouragement for would-be memoir writers to embrace truth and empathy, mystery and exploration. Drawing from classroom and personal examples, Kephart introduces readers to the delicate balance that creates the most honest and accomplished memoirs. An appendix of suggested memoirs for reading, grouped by category with generous annotations, is included.
VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone interested in the anatomy of a successful memoir and for all writers of literary nonfiction.—Stacey Rae Brownlie, Harrisburg Area Community Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
  


Starred Review, Kirkus
 A self-described "memoir autodidact" and distinguished author's refreshingly idiosyncratic guide to the art of creative nonfiction.

National Book Award finalist Kephart (Small Damages, 2012, etc.) began her literary career writing "from the margins." This book, which grew out of creative nonfiction classes she taught at the University of Pennsylvania, is not only about "the making of memoir and its consequences," but also "its privileges and pleasures." Though firmly rooted in personal experience, memoir is not an exercise in narcissism. As Kephart shows through examples from writers such as Michael Ondaatje and Annie Dillard, it is a process by which "memoirists open themselves up to self-discovery and make themselves vulnerable." Those interested in writing creative nonfiction must actively read it so that they can begin to know not only what moves them, but what goals to set for themselves in their own work. In setting out to actually write a memoir, Kephart advises writers to start small, using notes on and photographs of everyday life to start, while mining sensory details, situations and landscapes for meaning and metaphor. Awareness of what is at stake, not just for themselves and those whom they portray, but also for their readers, is also crucial. For Kephart, memoir is an act that brings a single person closer to the "us" of collective human experience. In the process of self-discovery—and like the Penn students from whose work she quotes liberally throughout—memoirists must also learn to ask the right questions about the past and about life itself. Perhaps most importantly of all, though, they must remember the things they love. Only then will they find their own authentic way of writing "toward the truth."

Generous, intelligent and genuinely insightful. 


Booklist Review

National Book Award finalist Kephart, who has written several memoirs and teaches a college course on the subject, offers an exploration of the genre that is informative and enjoyable. Drawing on the work of dozens of great authors (Annie Dillard, Mary Karr, Jeanette Winterson) as well as student comments, Kephart dives deeply into all that memoir can offer writers while acknowledging the pitfalls of oversharing and naming high profile memoir-abusers. Her insights are thoughtful and erudite. “Real writers,” she says, “do not write to trump or abolish. They write . . . to rumble or howl, or because language is salvation or because they’ve been alive or because they have survived”. As instructive as Kephart’s book is, it is not a how-to but rather a careful argument for the value of memoir, a form that allows writers to know themselves and readers to join them in the journey. Intense, provocative, endearing, and kind, Handling the Truth recalls Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (1995). The appendix alone is a reading course not to be missed. Delightful.
— Colleen Mondor 


New York Journal of Books
Learning to write a powerful memoir requires studying the masters, finding your form, and getting ready to be vulnerable. How else can you write with honesty and tell the truth? If you’re ready to “get it right, when so many get it wrong, you’ll learn to write and write until you find your true voice.” Ms. Kephart helps you along the way by explaining what memoir is not, and helps you understand what readers gain by reading good literature.— Helen Gallagher
 
Library Journal Nonfiction Previews
Not a memoir proper, this book fits nicely with the others on this list because it’s about writing memoir. Kephart has penned five.... She’s also mastered the fiction and essay forms and currently teaches memoir writing at the University of Pennsylvania, so she’s got the skills to explain every facet of the writing process, including that crucial issue for memoirists: where does imaginative shaping stop and disregard for truth begin.—Library Journal, Nonfiction Previews for August 2013.

BookPage Review, September 2013
If you can't enroll in her class, at least you can read her new book.... An extensive appendix featuring more than 75 recommended memoirs makes this a must-read for anyone seeking their own truth, written or not.

Featured in O Magazine (and on the O Magazine iPad app)
Handling the Truth is named alongside the writing books of Stephen King, Phillip Lopate, Betsy Lerner, and Ray Bradbury. Go here.

Named as a Top Ten September Book by BookPage Magazine.
The list here.

Star Tribune Review
At first glance her writing style may appear to be casual, but her advice for the memoir writer is deadly serious. “Careful, now,” she says to her class, and to her reader, as they start down the path of writing about their lives. There are many cautions like this along the way, because, “Writing is not a task; it is no job. Writing is a privilege.”

One of the qualities that make Kephart the perfect author for a book like this is that she considers herself not only a teacher, but a lifelong student. “I blame Natalie Kusz,” she writes, citing Kusz’s memoir “Road Song” as her earliest foray into memoir. She quotes heavily throughout the book from writers she continues to learn from, whether it is one of her own novice students or those she considers masters of the craft, such as Patricia Hampl or Sven Birkerts.
(For the whole, go here.)

Shelf Awareness Review
"She knows the difference between telling the truth and using truth as a kernel for fabricating fiction--and she asks her readers to parse these, too. She's astonishingly well read and explains precisely how each book she cites can serve as a guide along the way. "The job of a teacher, most of all (I think)," writes Kephart, "is to know what others have written and what another must read, right now, this second, in the midst of the long journey." — Jennifer M. Brown, Shelf Awareness

Hudson Valley News
"This book made me want to go out and read every memoir the author recommends. Part memoir and part memoirist's manifesto, this book will teach you how to tell your story. And remember, it's never the thing that happened that matters most. It's what's been learned, and how the learning has been shaped. This is a booklover's delight, whether or not you want to be an author as well as a reader." — Ann La Farge, Hudson Valley News

MetroWest Daily News
“Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir” by National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart may seem targeted to the writer of memoir. But the subtitle is more encompassing. We are right to expand the scope of the book’s target market to include all students of memoir. Any fan — writer or reader — is going to appreciate “Handling the Truth,” where many of our questions are addressed.—Rae Padilla Francoeur

Handling is on the North Shore End of Year list, here

The Smart Set Review
Kephart ... is assertive and defiant — and downright funny — about the literary value of memoir, a genre that some critics see as spent, imaginatively thin, and sentimental. So confident and playful, so taken is she with words, so willful is she about the transformative power of literature that at times in Handling the Truth she begins to sound like Rawi Hage’s Fly.—The Smart Set

Philly.com Review
All this sage advice and the wide-ranging texts she employs to support it make this a book useful for any writer, in just about any form (and all forms cross-pollinate and cross over anyway). Working on a novel? Well, you’d better have empathy. Consider yourself a poet: probably a good idea to listen equally well to yourself and the outside world. A journalist? Your stories will be all the more powerful if you can ascribe meaning to prosaic events.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/art-attack/Bookmarked_Handling_the_Truth.html#VAar38gVDabqo6D5.99
All this sage advice and the wide-ranging texts she employs to support it make this book useful for any writer, in just about any form (and all forms cross-pollinate and cross over anyway). Working on a novel? Well, you'd better have empathy. Consider yourself a poet: probably a good idea to listen equally well to yourself and the outside world. A journalist? Your stories will be all the more powerful if you can ascribe meaning to prosaic events. Philly.com

The Internet Review of Books
There are thousands of books on the subject of writing, and many of those are about memoir. In my mind, only a few stand shoulders above the rest. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart is one of these and a fine addition to any aspiring memoirist’s reference library.— Sarah Morgan, The Internet Review of Books

Cleaver Magazine
 Handling the Truth is not a manual on how to write memoir. That would be like telling an over-eager high school student the secret to getting into the college of their dreams—there is no way other than to be honest and try. Kephart is a warm narrator, writing in an inviting tone that welcomes the reader to freely pose questions and make discoveries of their own through her detailed discussions on form and the importance of staying true to one’s own story line. As readers we are transported to Kephart’s class on the corner of 38th & Walnut, welcomed to sample the contemplations of countless students she has advised within this wood paneled classroom. “Try this,” she seems to say when presenting an exercise of listening to music and writing about a conjured memory. “Maybe this will work,” she offers as she suggests photographing something intriguing, only to zoom in and write about a detail previously unnoticed.— Stephanie Trott, Cleaver Magazine

Main Line Today magazine 
 Memoir is a delicate art. In misguided hands, the delineation of experiences and the lessons contained within can miss the mark. The author of five memoirs and a professor in the art, Main Line writer Beth Kephart eloquently guides aspiring memoirists on the path to cultivating a first-person perspective that resonates. With its compelling excerpts and reflective prompts, Handling the Truth leaves no question as to the crucial attributes of this specialized craft. — Joe Lerro

The Sunday Salon
But what I love most about Handling the Truth is that it reveals a side of Beth Kephart I’ve not seen before. She is fierce in this book, like a mama bear protecting her cub. Kephart has written five memoirs of her own, each one astoundingly good, each one proving anew her passion for this genre. And throughout handling the truth she exhorts all of us – we fledgling, aspiring memoir writers – not to take this work she loves and mess it up. In the opening pages, she gives us a forthright and adamant list of what memoir is NOT – not “a lecture, a lesson, a stew of information and facts.” NOT “a self-administered therapy session.” NOT “an exercise in self-glorification.” NOT a “trumped-up, fantastical idea of what an interesting life might have been, if only.” — Becca Rowan

Debbie Levy on Handling the Truth

... not just a book for memoir writers, or memoir readers, or for writers or readers of any stripe. It works as a book for anyone who has had a childhood or a past. "Toward Mercy"

Caribousmom

Maybe you don’t want to write a memoir, so you think this book is not for you. But I encourage you to read it anyway, because within its pages are truths, “aha” moments, and beautiful writing. And if you only read it to get to the appendix of book recommendations – that is also worth your time. The research for this book was huge. Beth culls her formidable list of titles she read down to the best – many of which I have read and loved myself.

It was hot in Marin this past weekend – the day was heavy with sunshine, thick with an intense heat that had people rushing into shade – but sitting in the air conditioned environment of The Book Passage, the day fell away behind me. We were a small group, each of us there for different reasons and at different points in our writing abilities. We sniffed spices, shared photos, and scribbled down bits of memory and detail in short bursts of time. We shared. And we listened. We had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a writer’s soul and her passion, and reap the reward of doing so. It is not an experience I will soon forget.

Many thanks to Beth Kephart – to her willingness to share herself so completely with others, to fly through the dark, starry nights in order to touch the lives of her readers, and for her beautiful words of which I never tire of reading. You are a treasure. And so is your latest book – Handling the Truth. — Wendy Robards

Savvy Verse and Wit
he best teachers are those that give of themselves freely to their students and their craft, and with reference books available on various ways to write, what to write, and when to write, many will glance at yet another writing reference and dismiss it out of hand. What does that mean? That those people are fools — for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart, released today, is not a reference, it is a memoir about writing memoir (marking a 6th memoir from her). It is a reference guide written from the perspective of a teacher and writer on how to approach a genre riddled with scandal and debunked by naysayers.  Not only does she peel back the layers that can and should be part of memoir creation, but she also peels back her own experiences and perspective to shed light on the hard work memoirists should expect of themselves. — Serena Agusto-Cox, Savvy Verse and Wit 

Facing Forty Upside Down
HANDLING THE TRUTH draws on her teaching of creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania - my alma mater - oh how I wish I could have taken this course way back when! But now, I can - we all can!  Here are writing prompts that will actually make you want to write, discrete assignments that make a gargantuan task manageable (Empty your pockets. Choose the thing that matters most. "Tell me about the irreplaceable by telling your chosen object's story.").  Here are mind-opening exercises like taking a picture and then zooming in on a piece of the background as the center of your scene, or listening to a tango (or a sacred chant, or any unfamiliar music) as a route to memories you didn't remember you had. Here are examples of great writing by recognized masters and undergraduate students alike, reminding us credentials are not prerequisites for rendering an unforgettable story.  And perhaps most tantalizing, here is Beth's reading list, which will likely guide my book purchases for the foreseeable future. — Patty Chang Anker


She says you’d better have empathy, seek beauty, and try to understand love. All this sage advice and the wide-ranging texts she employs to support it make this a book useful for any writer, in just about any form (and all forms cross-pollinate and cross over anyway). Working on a novel? Well, you’d better have empathy. Consider yourself a poet: probably a good idea to listen equally well to yourself and the outside world. A journalist? Your stories will be all the more powerful if you can ascribe meaning to prosaic events.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/art-attack/Bookmarked_Handling_the_Truth.html#VAar38gVDabqo6D5.9
All this sage advice and the wide-ranging texts she employs to support it make this a book useful for any writer, in just about any form (and all forms cross-pollinate and cross over anyway). Working on a novel? Well, you’d better have empathy. Consider yourself a poet: probably a good idea to listen equally well to yourself and the outside world. A journalist? Your stories will be all the more powerful if you can ascribe meaning to prosaic events.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/art-attack/Bookmarked_Handling_the_Truth.html#VAar38gVDabqo6D5.99
All this sage advice and the wide-ranging texts she employs to support it make this a book useful for any writer, in just about any form (and all forms cross-pollinate and cross over anyway). Working on a novel? Well, you’d better have empathy. Consider yourself a poet: probably a good idea to listen equally well to yourself and the outside world. A journalist? Your stories will be all the more powerful if you can ascribe meaning to prosaic events.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/art-attack/Bookmarked_Handling_the_Truth.html#VAar38gVDabqo6D5.99
Reading/Discussion
Follow this link to see a reading/discussion of Handling the Truth.

Read some of my students' work
Pennsylvania Gazette: Links to the work of some of my Penn students. And here. And here.

Recent Beth Kephart essays on memoir and teaching
Thoughts on beloved memoirs and memoirists, on Biographile.

Thoughts on structurally remarkable memoirs, in Chicago Tribune.

Thoughts on the need for the conversational in memoirs, in The Millions.

Thoughts on the use of photography in memoirs, in Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy.

Thoughts on the hunt for memory, in Brevity.

Thoughts on cross-border memoirs/international memoirs, here/there memoirs, in Publishing Perspectives

Thoughts on White Space Memoirs, in Creative Nonfiction 49, here.

Thoughts on Bruce Springsteen, rivers, and creativity, in Poets' Quarterly, here

Thoughts on process. "Silence, Please," on the Psychology Today blog, here.

Thoughts on truth telling, on the Marion Roach Smith blog, here.

Thoughts on how a family grows once teaching begins, in The Pennsylvania Gazette, here

Eight memoir writing tips, on Huffington Post

Thoughts on teaching the truth sideways, on Huffington Post.

Thoughts on aging as students stay young, on Locust Walk, at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Inquirer

Walking through The Woodlands in advance of teaching memoir, Philadelphia Inquirer 

What twenty-four of the nation's top teen taught me about the books they read, HuffingtonPost 

On the future of MOOCs (and personal teaching): here.

Hairography: A collection of hair autobiographies produced in conjunction with the National YoungArts writers, Link to the book here.

When a memoir is not a memoir. Link here.

Lessons on managing time, thanks to Jo Ann Beard, here.

Every act of literary mimicry is transparent. Here.

Some Memoir Making Prompts
I have taught memoir to third graders, eighty-five-year-olds, and many in between. While Handling the Truth includes many of the exercises I've given through the years, it's not complete. There's always something new to teach, some new thing read or some new prompt devised or some question that takes me down a road that ends with students writing. Here are a few of the prompts that didn't make it into the book. I'll be adding to this page periodically.

Name that smell.

Write the journey.

What do you desire?

The near autobiography of self

Early sensory memory

Newly Reviewed (and mostly loved) Memoirs
I will never complete my tour of memoirs. There are classics still here on my shelf—unread. There are books that are still being written. While Handling the Truth contains my thoughts on nearly 100 memoirs, I want to continue the conversation here. Certainly, I won't include my thoughts on every memoir I have read or do read; I will only address those books that fulfill the many ambitions memoir must have for itself. But when I find a book that I love, a true memoir, I will list it here and link back to my original blog reflections.

I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place, Howard Norman

Country Girl: A Memoir, Edna O'Brien (but is it a memoir?)

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris, Stephanie LaCava 

The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit


Heaven's Coast, Mark Doty: Reflections on four etudes and structural choices 
  
Borrowed Finery, Paula Fox

The Suicide Index, Joan Wickersham 

Woolgathering, Patti Smith 

The Lover, Marguerite Duras

Messages from My Father, Calvin Trillin

The Same River Twice, Chris Offutt  

When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams


Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan 

White Elephants/Katie Haegele


Trailer
 We have Jilly Joy and Chippy to thank for this two minute book trailer.













 

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