Award-winning poet and bestselling memoirist Mary Karr emphasized the importance of vulnerability in writing to Emerson students during a Q&A moderated by Associated Professor Mako Yokishawa on Thursday, April 12.
Karr followed the Q&A in the Beard Room with a poetry reading for students and the public in the Bordy Theater. She was on campus for the WLP Reading Series, sponsored by Writing, Literature and Publishing.
“Not everyone can be emotionally vulnerable,” said Karr, author of the memoirs, The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit, and of a literary master class, The Art of Memoir. Karr told students, who she said are usually afraid to be vulnerable, to write in their own voice.
She also warned against becoming figures of pity. She said students should include places of relief in their work, and should want readers to see how they lived through a tragic event. Otherwise, readers may get callous, she said.
“Don’t write about how you suffer, write about how you survive… The most dangerous thing you can do is write about love and hope,” she said. She called on her own experiences writing about her family to explain this point.
Karr said writers should keep in mind the audience when writing about their struggles. They need to write about struggles in a way that makes it understandable and accessible for readers, she said.
Karr was also asked about writing memoir as a poet. Karr said writing poetry is technically more challenging, but writing a memoir is more difficult emotionally. She said memoir writing dredges up memories and people from the past.
“When I’m writing prose, it eats my life,” she said. She said it’s easy to become reclusive when writing prose.
Karr also touched on writing while raising children. She offered advice to parents and writers, including writing early in the morning or late at night, letting some small tasks go, and practicing self-love.