HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Mary Karr

Award-Winning Memoirist & Poet


  • Poetry and Prayer: The Unlikely Catholic
  • Taking Your Power Back: Surviving Sexual Abuse
  • Overcoming Hurt & Anger: Don't Just Survive, Thrive
  • Karr Repair: Road Maps for Turning "Liars' Club's" Twisted Journey into Awe of Being "Lit"
  • From Lit to Literature: The Transformation of Truth into "Reality"
  • The Lifelong Journey of Alcoholism and Recovery
  • The Decline and Fall of a Blackbelt Drinker: What College Students Need to Know About Alcoholism
  • Imagination and Passion in Christian Spirituality: Lessons for Recovery from the Ignatian Exercises


New York

"Searing. . . [Karr] has written a book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won't let you go . . . Explores the subjectivity of memory even as it chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author's slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer . . . Karr writes with such intensity and poetry . . . This struggle to reconcile her past and present, her family and her future, is the steel-wired ribbon that not only runs through this affecting book, but that also connects it to Ms. Karr's two earlier memoirs - the bright, elastic thread on which she so deftly strings the colored beads of her tumultuous life."
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times on Lit

"Mary Karr captivates and befriends her audience with her understated intelligence, her adroit use of language, and her generous, self-deprecating good humor."
-- Bryan Gruley, novelist and Chicago Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal on Karr's Festival of Faith and Writing Lecture

Mary Karr is an award-winning poet and best-selling memoirist. She is the author of Lit, the long-awaited sequel to her critically-acclaimed and New York Times best-selling memoirs The Liars' Club and Cherry. Lit received an avalanche of rave reviews across the country in every major publication and was an immediate New York Times best-seller. In addition to the New York Times, Lit was named a Best Book of 2009 by the New Yorker (Reviewer Favorite), Entertainment Weekly (Top 10), Time (Top 10), the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, Slate, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Seattle Times. Karr also won Audiofile's Earphones Award for audio excellence for her reading of the audio book of Lit.

A born raconteur, Karr brings to her lectures and talks the same wit, irreverence, joy, and sorrow found in her poetry and prose. A sought after speaker, she has given distinguished talks at prestigious universities, libraries, and writers' festivals, including Harvard University, Oxford University, Princeton University, Brown University, Syracuse University ("On Salman Rushdie" with Salman Rushdie), the New York Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library, the Folger Library (Poetry Society of America/Emily Dickinson Lecture), The New Yorker Literary Festival, PEN/Faulkner, and the Festival of Faith and Writing. Karr welcomes conversation with her audience and she is known for her spirited, lively, and engaging Q&A sessions.

The Liars' Club won prizes for best first nonfiction from PEN (The Martha Albrand Award for nonfiction), the Texas Institute for Letters, and was a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Awards. It chronicled her hardscrabble Texas childhood with enough sass and literary verve to spark a renaissance in memoir, cresting the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year. Cherry, her ecstatically reviewed account of a psychedelic adolescence and a moving sexual coming-of-age, followed it into best-sellerdom. Hailed as "the memoir of the season," Lit answers the question asked by thousands of fans: How did Karr make it out of that toxic upbringing to tell her own tale?

Lit chronicles Karr's brazen battle into adulthood, taking readers on a journey into awe while tracing her search for the solid family she never had. On the way, she falls into the thrall of Jack Daniels, the blue-blood poet she marries, their child, and most bizarrely of all - Baby Jesus. Never have alcoholism and depression been rendered with more hilarity; no other modern memoir has so vividly brought to life the struggle with faith. As Francine Prose wrote in the New York Review of Books, "Contemporary Believers and nonbelievers have long been drawn to confessions, like Saint Augustine's, that read like dispatches from the knock-down drag-out encounter between God and the stubborn sinner. Lit . . . is one of those." Of her new-found faith, Karr writes, "If you'd told me, once I started taking my son to church regular - solely at his behest, with a paperback to pass the time - that I'd wind up whispering my sins in the confessional or on my knees saying the rosary, I would've laughed myself cockeyed. More likely pastime? Pole dancer. International spy. Drug mule. Assassin."

Karr's story in Lit can't be reduced to a sound byte. The way Catcher in the Rye isn't about therapy, Lit isn't just another drunkalogue of breakdown and recovery. Karr creates a world as rich and as varied as the best novels. How she forges a lasting truce with the mother she could never quite outrun and the son she can barely keep up with is both harrowing and riotous. Lit is a tour de force with a sass not seen since Huck Finn. A contemporary classic.

The Art of Memoir (Harper), draws from her experiences as a writer, reader, and teacher. She provides a unique window into the mechanics and art of memoir. Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experiences, The Art of Memoir also lays bare Karr’s own writing process. As she breaks down the key elements of successful memoir, she manages to break open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminate the cathartic power of recording the past. The Art of Memoir is an accessible yet sophisticated exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.

Every year there are one or two commencement speeches that strike a chord with audiences far greater than the student bodies for which they are intended. In 2015 Karr’s speech to the graduating class of Syracuse University caught fire, hailed across the Internet as one of the most memorable in recent years, and lighting up the Twittersphere. In Now Go Out There (Harper), Karr explains why having your heart broken is just as—if not more—important than falling in love; why getting what you want often scares you more than not getting it; how those experiences that appear to be the worst cannot be so easily categorized; and how to cope with the setbacks that inevitably befall all of us. “Don’t make the mistake of comparing your twisted up insides to other people’s blow-dried outsides,” she cautions. “Even the most privileged person in this stadium suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human.”


Of her poet's soul, Karr says, "From a very early age, when I read a poem, it was as if the poet's burning taper touched some charred filament in my rib cage to set me alight." Her poetry grants include The Whiting Writer's Award, an NEA, a Radcliffe Bunting Fellowship, and a Guggenheim. She has won prizes from Best American Poetry as well as Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and essays. Her four volumes of poetry are Sinners Welcome (HarperCollins, 2006), Viper Rum (Penguin, 1998), The Devil's Tour (New Directions, 1993), and Abacus (Wesleyan, 1986). Her work appears in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, and Parnassus.

Karr is the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University and was the weekly poetry editor for the Washington Post Book World's "Poet's Choice" column, a position canonized by Bob Hass, Ed Hirsch, and Rita Dove. She lives in Syracuse, New York and New York City.

Praise for Mary Karr:

"Mary Karr was everything we hoped for. She was thoroughly accommodating, enthusiastic in her delivery, and delightful in her candid revelations. All reports from her audience were extremely complimentary. Several of my friends had to leave early secondary to previous commitments and reluctantly did so. She very unselfishly signed books for lengthy periods of time. She tailored her talk to our needs and audience with remarkable understanding of our organization. In summary, five stars out of a possible four." -- Dr. Bill Crouch, AspenPointe Board of Directors

"As Mary Karr's recent discussant for Weill-Cornell Med School's grand rounds in Psychiatry, I found her lecture -- Spiritual Tools for Recovery from Addiction and Depression --smart, funny, and enthusiastically received by scientists often cynical about such subjects. I recommend Lit to my patients approaching recovery, and it's a wonderful tool to begin hard discussions about change. Reading it can be one of the small, estimable acts that helps the addict in early sobriety begin to garner hope that radical healing is possible." -- Bruce Phariss, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Weill-Cornell Medical College

"Mary Karr is a pistol, and she brings incredible firepower to the podium with great style, a contagious Texas twang, and a memoir that will knock your socks off - a month later, our audience is still talking about her memorable performance." -- Jayne Adair, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

"Mary Karr was the best Drue Heinz lecturer at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures I've seen in 10 years." --Terrance Hayes, poet and winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series

"Mary Karr is a literary gem. If only her words and wisdom could be distilled into a soft drink, bottled up and sold to struggling writers across the planet. Any writer who drinks from Mary's well wouldn't be ordinary any more. No one on earth can explore the depths of memoir writing better than Mary Karr. Period." -- George Getschow, Writer-in-Residence, The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference

"Mary Karr's hilarious, hair-raising talk rocked our auditorium of mental health professionals, but she also leant hope with concrete experience gleaned through her 22-year recovery from alcoholism and depression. As the only non-physician on the program, she mesmerized SUNY Upstate Medical University's 15th Annual Psychopharmacology and Addiction Psychiatry Conference describing her downward spiral as a young working mother, which included a stint in what she dubbed The Mental Marriott at 9 months sober. For the audience of psychiatrists, psychopharmacologists, and nurse practitioners, she made real an illness often covered in abstract terms. She even fired a provocative debate with two doctors about the definition of sobriety. Karr's story and her long sobriety make her the ideal speaker for mental health professionals passionate to treat their addicted patients. 'My life was saved by teachers, librarians and mental health professionals,' she claimed. She was an ideal speaker for us." -- Brian Johnson, Director of Addiction Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University

"I must say that having Mary Karr at the Allegheny County Jail was one of the highlights of my 28 year career. Mary Karr was one of the most honest people that I have ever met; I spoke with some of the ladies who were at the program and thought she was great and thanked me for letting someone . . . like her come in and speak." -- Jack Pischke, Inmate Program Coordinator, Allegheny County Jail

Praise for Lit:

"Searing. . . [Karr] has written a book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won't let you go. . . Explores the subjectivity of memory even as it chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author's slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer. . . Karr writes with such intensity and poetry. . . This struggle to reconcile her past and present, her family and her future, is the steel-wired ribbon that not only runs through this affecting book, but that also connects it to Ms. Karr's two earlier memoirs - the bright, elastic thread on which she so deftly strings the colored beads of her tumultuous life."
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"[Karr] seems to have been born with the inability to write a dishonest - or boring - sentence."
-- Lev Grossman, Time (Top 10 Citation)

"A master class on the art of the memoir. Mordantly funny, free of both self pity and sentimentality, Karr describes her attempts to untether herself from troubled family in rural Texas, her development as a poet and writer, and her struggles to navigate marriage and young motherhood even as she descends into alcoholism."
-- New York Times Book Review, Top 10 Notable Books Citation

"Howlingly funny... In some ways, Lit is her most intimate book. The overall impression is of a sorrowful narrative poem as humble and funny as it is beautiful. Karr is an 'inveterate check grabber,' she tells us, out of 'the poor girl's need to prove solvency.' Perhaps a similar need drives her generosity on the page. Certainly her readers, once again, are the lucky beneficiaries."
-- Mary Pols, Time

"No one should be surprised to find a certain combination of gut-spilling emotional volatility along with the survivor's keen ability to detach far enough to tell a rollicking story. But the book is more than a recovery memoir. Karr writes unflinchingly about marriage, class, guilt, and the struggle to make peace with her raw, melodramatic, yet wildly interesting past."
-- NPR

"Karr could tell you what's on her grocery list, and its humor would make you bust a gut, its unexpected insights would make you think and her pitch-perfect command of our American vernacular might even take your breath away. The closest relative to the memoir form is poetry, because the subject of the story doesn't matter as much as the self-awareness and craft of the writer telling it. In this, the Guggenheim Fellow in poetry holds the position of grande dame memoirista."
-- Los Angeles Times

"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, New York Times Book Review

"One of the best memoirists of her generation. . . She is, as always, unsparing in her honesty and humanity. . . [A] radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. . . Karr writes . . . with a rare vividness, humor, and candor. . .Warm enough to burn a hole in your heart."
-- Entertainment Weekly

"This affecting memoir - the third in a series that includes The Liars' Club and Cherry - documents Karr's alcoholism, the breakdown of her marriage, and the unlikely redemption she finds in the Catholic Church."
-- The New Yorker

"Mary Karr restores memoir form's dignity with Lit."
-- Vanity Fair

"Completes a landmark trio of literary confessionals from best-seller Mary Karr. . . and complements the story of her mother's destructive drinking that the Texas-born Karr has previously captured so colorfully and painfully. . . [A] body-and-soul-baring memoir."
-- Elle

"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. . . As with all stories that surprise us, the specificity of the account gives it its punch. . . Karr is full of regret, but she's also as funny as ever on the subject of her own sinning. . . The language often captures, precisely, the tension between the intellectual and the emotional, the artistic and the spiritual. This is a story not just of alcoholism but of coming to terms with families past and present, with a needy self, with a spiritual longing Karr didn't even know she possessed. It sounds as if she was hellish to be around for much of the time she describes here, but she is certainly good company now."
-- Washington Post

"With grace, saltiness and profanity galore, Karr . . . re-establishes herself as one of our finest memoirists and storytellers."
-- San Francisco Chronicle (Best Books Citation)

"Dazzling. . . Karr is the real thing. . . Ultimately, Lit reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art."
-- Boston Globe

"[Karr] continues to delight with her signature dark humor and pitch-perfect metaphors... Karr's prose moves at a quick and seductive clip, delivering large doses of wit and painful insights. . . There are plenty of memoirs about being drunk, but this one has Karr's voice - both sure-footed and breezy - behind it. . . Even when Karr is writing about church, Lit has flashes of brilliance to keep you under its intoxicating spell."
-- Time Out New York

"[Karr] pulls it off because, despite the narcissism and drama, she's a very likable character. If you've read Karr before, you know she's a terrific storyteller - and a poet. Her language is both precise and vivid, as though she were writing in color. If you like her other books or recovery memoirs in general, you'll probably enjoy this one."
-- Ellen Silva, senior editor, NPR's All Things Considered

"Karr tells the story with the same down-to-earth writing - some of it funny - that she brought to her first two memoirs. . . Her willingness to show herself in this light and the humility with which she writes about recovery and faith are testaments to the honesty of both her writing and her life."
-- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Riveting. . .As unsparing and unsentimental as her first two memoirs and, like the others, by turns hilarious and gut-wrenching. She again brings to the task her acerbic wit and poet's eye for lyrical detail. . . Karr's entire body of work attests to this simple truth: that the past, until you reckon with it, will remain in hot pursuit. In other words, what you don't bring into the light will destroy you. Lit brings this process full circle. That pleasingly monosyllabic title encapsulates this writer's entire journey thus far - one that is about drinking and the illuminating revelations of sobriety, about the redemptive power of literature and how the act of writing can save a soul."
-- Bookpage

"[Karr] writes with a singular combination of poetic grace and Texan verve, which allows her to present the experiences as fresh, but she also brings a potent, self-condemning honesty and a palpable sense of responsibility and regret to the narrative. . . Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups - an absolute gem that secures Karr's place as one of the best memoirists of her generation."
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Lit contains more than a whiff of the standard recovery narrative as Karr gropes her way toward her new faith. The saving grace, so to speak, is that she, better than anyone, can reinvigorate a tired tale... The yarn spinning skill she inherited from her father and the love of words bequeathed by her mom... remain in full display."
-- Ellen Emry Heltzel, Seattle Times

"[Karr's] poetic sensibility infuses every sentence of her story with an alliterative and symbolic energy, conjuring echoes of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and occasionally, Sylvia Plath. . . [Her] wry wit and deft prose do not render her slow conversion to Catholicism in a sentimental or proselytizing manner."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Her tale is riveting, her style clear-eyed and frank. That Karr survived the emotional and physical journey she regales her readers with to become the evenhanded, self-disciplined writer she is today is arguably nothing short of a miracle, and readers of her previous two books won't be disappointed."
-- Library Journal

Praise for The Liars' Club:

"Elegiac and searching... her toughness of spirit, her poetry, her language, her very voice are the agents of rebirth on this difficult, hard-earned journey."
-- Sheila Ballantyne, New York Times Book Review

"This book is so good I thought about sending it out for a back-up opinion ... it's like finding Beethoven in Hoboken. To have a poet's precision of language and a poet's insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astonishing event."
-- Molly Ivins, The Nation

"The essential American story. A beauty."
-- Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

"Overflows with sparkling wit and humor... Truth beats powerfully at the heart of this dazzling memoir."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"A dazzling, devastating memoir... Karr's voice never falters or rings false."
-- Vogue

"Karr lovingly retells [her parents'] best lies and drunken extravagances with an ear for bar-stool phraseology and a winking eye for image. The revelations continue to the final page, with a misleading carelessness as seductive as any world-class liar's."
-- The New Yorker

"Captivating, hilarious, and heartfelt."
-- Cyra McFadden, Los Angeles Times