Where Are All the Memoirs About Women and Work?

I did some research and found that among the 58 memoirs by women published in a six-month period in 2018, significantly less than a quarter focused on work and career, and of those, only three were by women of color. Here’s an essay I contributed to Electric Literature on the topic: https://electricliterature.com/where-are-all-the-memoirs-about-women-and-work-649980e95b08.

8 Memoirs by Women with Unconventional Jobs - and who gets to tell their work stories

I had so much fun putting together this list of "memoirs by women with unconventional jobs" for Electric Literature. When I set out to create the list I would use as the basis for the piece, I had some books already picked out; I rowed out into the choppy waves of the internet to find more. My research revealed a surprising lack of published memoirs by women about work or career; a huge majority of published memoirs by women seem to fall into the large topic area of marriage; family; fertility; and physical or mental illness. Further, there are almost no published memoirs by women of color that are about work or career, and the few exceptions are by well-known actresses or celebrities. 

I'm thinking about putting together some further research on this topic, but in the meantime, here are the questions that keep arising for me: What types of stories are we willing to accept from women about their own lives? Which true women's stories are publishers willing to put into the world? Does our culture insist on funneling the whole breadth of women's experiences down to stories that are based in our physical bodies or family life, and is this somehow an echo of the patriarchy? Are women authors submitting loads of memoir proposals about work or career or art creation or education, and getting rejected? Are women authors of color being shut off from that discussion, intentionally or unintentionally? And why are most of the exceptions books by celebrities? I think women's memoir might have a bit of a gatekeeper problem, and I'd like to study it more. Soon.

If you want to support a recently published memoir by a woman of color about her life, career, and later-in-life art education, please go to your local bookstore and get a copy of OLD IN ART SCHOOL by the luminous Nell Irvin Painter.

TENEMENTAL & the audiobook dream team

I've been working in the audiobook business for almost as long as I've been a landlady, so when it came time to plan the audio edition of TENEMENTAL, I was excited to make it happen and nervous about getting it right. I know from experience that many authors ask to narrate their books - especially memoirs and creative nonfiction. It makes sense - wouldn't any story be best voiced by the person who created it?

Actually, no. Not always. Although nobody knows a book like its author, that fact alone does not a narrator make. If you don't have some vocal/acting training AND an objectively velvety voice, it's going to be so much harder than you think. I have the benefit of many years in audio; I know just how grueling the process is, how fresh you have to be at every moment in order to get the tone right and not fall into a rote recitation pattern. I thought, since I have a choice, why not work with a vocal artist to make this thing vibrant, someone who hasn't been reading it out loud to herself over and over AND OVER for so long that it's become tough to hear it with objective ears?

Along those lines, I'd been following the career of my friend Rebecca (Reba) Mitchell, who has been racking up audiobook narration credits for quite a few years now. Reba lives here in Providence; she is a much-loved musician and makes a lot of very good things happen, arts-wise, in our city. She also happens to be a fellow landlady, so we'd been trading battle stories and the names of reliable repair technicians for a couple of years already. She auditioned; she nailed it; she got the job; we texted a lot of exclamation points at each other.

We met at the studio of Joel Thibodeau, who records audiobooks when he's not writing and playing music as Death Vessel. Admittedly, it was tough to get started each day, with the three of us old buddies telling stories and catching up on whatever topic floated by. (We took special delight in trading renditions of the Rhode Island accent, with a voicemail from my mom as the source material.)

We finally got to it, Joel setting me up with headphones, the script, and unlimited cans of seltzer, and Reba settling into the tiny airtight booth. Joel's dog woke up once in a while to request behind-the-ear scratches, but other than that we cranked through, barely moving. I won't belabor this point, but let's just say I was exhausted just listening all day - even listening requires enough alertness to recognize errors, tone issues, or misreads. In the end, Reba was the perfect voice for TENEMENTAL - she understood exactly which phrases should be emphasized, which words should have an edge on them, which should be more gently stated. She and Joel GOT IT DONE like the professionals they are. And I was more than happy to leave it in their hands and simply observe. I think the final product will be many times better for it.

90s band photo/audiobookers ... Joel, me, Reba

90s band photo/audiobookers ... Joel, me, Reba

Most authors do not get the opportunity to be in the room while their audiobook is being made. For a multitude of logistical reasons, it's just not how it's done. But - quick PSA for authors: regardless of your book's format, genre, voice, or narrative style, don't be afraid to speak up and ask for a chat with your book's narrator. It will be helpful to let that person hear your voice and check out your personality and mannerisms. You can share some friendly advice and answer any questions in advance of the recording. Most narrators and producers would prefer to have your input, even if they don't come out and ask for it up front.

(To learn more about the TENEMENTAL audiobook, or to preorder, click here.)