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.