Friday, June 10, 2016

Bukowski in a Sundress {+ Giveaway}

I’m delighted to welcome award-winning poet and novelist Kim Addonizio here today to talk about her upcoming release BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS: Confessions from a Writing Life (Penguin Books, on sale June 21).

BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS is a collection of essays by Kim, who has been called “one of our nation’s most provocative and edgy poets” (San Diego Union). Her first foray into memoir, BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS is a raw and uncensored depiction of her life– the good, the bad, and the hilarious. Thanks to the lovely Jessica and the wonderful folks at Viking/Penguin Books, I have a print copy to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for more giveaway details.

If Nora Ephron and Amy Schumer had a baby, it would sound a lot like Kim Addonizio. Like Mary Karr before her, Kim turns her poet’s sensibility to the art of memoir. In BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS: Confessions from a Writing Life (A Penguin Paperback Original; On-sale: June 21; 9780143128465; $16), Kim gives readers a backstage look at her life in letters—the good, the bad, and the hilarious. From surviving alcohol-fueled hook-ups at writer’s conferences to explaining the appearance of one of her stories in Penthouse to her teenage daughter to visiting her mother in the Geriatric Psych Ward, Kim writes with verve and candor about love, lust, family, and her career.

 Equally compelling are the poignant and often uproarious stories about Kim’s family and romantic partners. Kim writes honestly and empathetically about her tennis champ mother whom she assisted through old age, her father who instilled in her a love of poetry, and her now adult daughter. Along the way, readers meet boyfriends, flings, and ex-husbands, all wrought in exquisite detail. With a glass of wine in hand, Kim chronicles the joys and indignities of being a writer, the optimistic bloom of new love followed by the crushing low of its unraveling, and the emotional obstacle course of familial ties. 

At once intimate and outrageous, BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS is a seductive cocktail of wit, heart, and utter originality. BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS has already gotten some fantastic pre-pub praise. Kirkus called the book an unrelenting, authentic, literary midnight confession while Booklist described Kim as a secular Anne Lamott, a spiritual aunt to Lena Dunham.

Here’s a Q & A with Kim provided by the publisher.

As you are, as you say, a writer occasionally tarred with the brush of being a “confessional poet,” readers often think that the details in your poems are entirely true. But here, you admit that you’re guilty of lying your head off in poems and that you “just plain make shit up.” With nonfiction—especially memoir—there’s an expectation from the reader that it has to be God’s honest truth. Is essay writing more difficult for you, given that you can’t get to the truth by “lying” the way you can in poetry and fiction?

Essays are definitely trickier. In a poem or a piece of fiction, I can change things to shape a story or an idea, or just make the whole thing up.  In an essay, I have to find the story in what actually happened.  The heart of the piece has to emerge out of memory and lived experience. The fidelity in a poem or story is to emotional truth.  That’s true in memoir, too, but I’m trying as much as possible to say what happened and how it felt. Though often it was less funny at the time.  It seems to me you can tell all the facts but still lie in terms of the emotion, and there’s a fine line when you’re using humor. The thing is, I do find much of my experience funny in retrospect. Thank God.

Were there any parts of your life that you felt were off limits for this memoir? How did you go about shaping the book?

Hey, even “confessional” writers have their secrets! That said, I was focused on how to structure the book around both writing and life, and giving weight to each of those things—which for me are so intertwined they often feel inseparable. I had a very different manuscript originally, one that revealed a lot about the ending of a long-term relationship.  It wasn’t until I hit on that writing/life dynamic that I was able to finish the book.  And now I’m glad all that other stuff didn’t end up being in it—partly because I didn’t want to be unkind to that person. Revenge memoirs probably aren’t a good idea.  You need to step back at a certain point.

Many of the essays in Bukowski in a Sundress explore the tender albeit fickle nature of familial relationships. You write about an estranged brother, the difficulties in caring for an aging mother, and striving to protect your own daughter from the world’s impurities (especially the erotica you once wrote for Penthouse). How has your family directly or indirectly informed your writing? 

Both my parents, as it happened, wrote books—my mother a tennis guide and her autobiography, and my father a memoir called Sportswriter.  Writing was something I saw my Dad do, growing up.  He’d sit at the kitchen table typing his column for the Washington Post.  Yet literature wasn’t valued in our house.  It was my family’s focus on sports that led me to reading, where I found a world I could inhabit. Mostly I found my own way as a writer, without parental support or understanding of what I was aiming for (my father died as I was just starting down that road). Now that they’re both gone, the only person I worry about is my daughter, Aya. I guess she already knows most of my faults, but still. And then there’s the sex stuff, which no kid wants to read when it features a parent.
In addition to being a prolific writer, you’ve played harmonica in various bands. The relationship between music and writing—especially poetry—has long been a continuous one. Does focusing your creative energy on other arts like music affect your writing process, or is it more of an escape? 

Music, especially the blues, has definitely influenced my poetry and my performance of it. I don’t think that’s true of my prose. And music is also, definitely, an escape sometimes, a room to go into when the writing isn’t happening. Studying music also reminds me of how much work goes into any creative endeavor, and reminds me that if I keep working, I’ll get closer to solving the problems of a particular piece of writing.

You were once characterized as “Charles Bukowski in a sundress.” Given the level of regard Bukowski is afforded in prestigious literary circles, it’s hard to believe the comparison was meant as a compliment. In the collection, you express your preferences for other characterizations, like “Gerald Manley Hopkins in a bomber jacket,” “Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu,” or “Emily Dickinson with a strap-on.” Are you still adverse to the Bukowski comparison? How do you confront the unfair, petty, or sometimes belittling criticisms that writers often face, especially women writers?

Of course I’m being facetious about those comparisons. I guess it’s human nature to put people into categories—which is useful, but can be limiting or reductive. I’m always open to honest criticism. As for unfair, petty, and belittling critics, I say, Fuck you. Because that’s what they’re saying to me. And yes, women writers—don’t get me started! Right now I’m rereading Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. She talks about silencing and “the necessity of making women credible and audible.” That’s what it’s about, on the personal, the cultural, the societal level. We could bring race and class and sexuality into this, too. Why was #BlackLivesMatter necessary? Because everyone knows that those lives, in so many ways that play out every day, don’t matter as they should.

You write candidly about your romantic relationships. What was it like to commune with the ghosts of relationships past? Did you gain any new insights into these men or yourself in the process?

Maybe this circles back, in some way, to the first question about “God’s honest truth.” There’s so much left out of all of those stories, and while they’re true, it’s impossible to tell, or understand, the whole story of those relationships and what they meant. I’m an awfully slow learner in terms of romantic love. I don’t seem to know how to make it work. It would help, for starters, if I knew how to get a date with someone who was actually in the ballpark.  The men I’ve encountered in the past few years aren’t even in the parking lot having a tailgate party. That probably, actually, says a lot about the work I’ve got to do on myself.  But I’m lazy that way. I’d rather write.

Author Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio is an award-winning author of fiction, essays, and poetry. She has received numerous honors for her work, including the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poetry collection Tell Me was a finalist for the National Book Award, and she has won Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and prose. She is also the author of two hugely successful guides for beginning poets, The Poet's Companion and Ordinary Genius, and has taught writing workshops in New York City, the Bay Area, and at conferences across the country.

For more on Kim and her writing, visit her website and connect with her with Twitter and Goodreads.

Thanks to the lovely Jessica and the wonderful folks at Viking/Penguin Books, I have one print copy of BUKOWSKI IN A SUNDRESS: Confessions from a Writing Life by Kim Addonizio to giveaway. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only and will end at 12 a.m. (EST) on Monday, June 20.

To enter the giveaway, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load so please be patient. A winner will be selected by the Rafflecopter widget and I’ll send an email with the subject line “Thoughts in Progress Giveaway.” The winner will have 72 hours to reply to the email or another winner will be selected. PLEASE be sure to check your spam folder from time to time after the giveaway ends to make sure the notification email doesn’t end up there. If you win and you’ve already won the book somewhere else or you just decided for whatever reason you don’t want to win (which is fine), once again PLEASE let me know.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Do you enjoy reading memoirs? If so, what draws you to them?


  1. Brilliant title.
    I am with Neil Gaiman who said 'Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.'

  2. Very unique book. I imagine her daughter will skip the sex parts.

  3. I wonder what Bukowski would think of it

  4. Really interesting interview! I love the creative spirit she exhibits in all aspects of her life and the fact that she's not afraid to embellish in her poetry..melding truth and fiction. Cool book...will definitely check this out.

  5. This is so interesting! Thanks, both. I always enjoy learning how different writers and artists express themselves, and this sounds like a 'window' into the way it's done.

  6. Kim's book sounds wonderful. I'm adding it to my TBR list right now. Thanks, Mason.

  7. Wonderful, unique and very creative. What talent. Thanks.

  8. I've seen this book around and been intrigued by it before. I really do enjoy memoirs. One thing that's interesting to me is that famous people at their very highest points can experience the same self-doubt that we all do. I'm all in on this one. Thanks


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.