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A Story Larger than My Own

Women Writers Look Back on Their Lives and Careers

A Story Larger than My Own

Women Writers Look Back on Their Lives and Careers

In 1955, Maxine Kumin submitted a poem to the Saturday Evening Post. “Lines on a Half-Painted Housemade it into the magazine—but not before Kumin was asked to produce, via her husband’s employer, verification that the poem was her original work.

Kumin, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was part of a groundbreaking generation of women writers who came of age during the midcentury feminist movement. By challenging the status quo and ultimately finding success for themselves, they paved the way for future generations of writers. In A Story Larger than My Own, Janet Burroway brings together Kumin, Julia Alvarez, Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, and fifteen other accomplished women of this generation to reflect on their writing lives.

The essays and poems featured in this collection illustrate that even writers who achieve critical and commercial success experience a familiar pattern of highs and lows over the course of their careers. Along with success comes the pressure to sustain it, as well as a constant search for subject matter, all too frequent crises of confidence, the challenges of a changing publishing scene, and the difficulty of combining writing with the ordinary stuff of life—family, marriage, jobs. The contributors, all now over the age of sixty, also confront the effects of aging, with its paradoxical duality of new limitations and newfound freedom.

Taken together, these stories offer advice from experience to writers at all stages of their careers and serve as a collective memoir of a truly remarkable generation of women.

192 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2014

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Reference and Bibliography

Women's Studies


"The variety of voices and styles adds up to a mesmerizing tapestry of a generation, made up of both individual experiences and the commonalities between them. Readers of all walks of life will find much to savor here."

Starred Review | Publishers Weekly

“In A Story Larger than My Own, Janet Burroway has cannily compiled a glittering collage of narratives that dramatizes the achievements, perspectives, and problems of older women writers. From Margaret Atwood to Alicia Ostriker, Toi Derricote to Hilma Wolitaer, a range of accomplished artists review careers from which all readers have much to learn.”

Sandra Gilbert, coauthor of The Madwoman in the Attic

"A Story Larger than My Own is an essential book for women writers, for all writers, for readers, for people with mothers, for people who remember their mothers."

Cris Mazza, author of Something Wrong with Her

"Janet Burroway was my first writing teacher and when I read her work, I always hear her voice, warm and wise, giving me the courage to write. But in a very real sense, everyone in this collection is my teacher, my mentor, and to read what they have to say about writing and their writing lives, speaks directly to me. This is more than a must-read book, this is a book of psalms, of truths—a book every writer, or reader, should own."

Jesse Lee Kercheval, author of My Life as a Silent Movie and Space: A Memoir

Table of Contents

Janet Burroway

Julia Alvarez
The Older Writer in the Underworld

Margaret Atwood
On Craft

Madeleine Blais
The Ratio Is Narrowing

Rosellen Brown
Parsing Ambition

Judith Ortiz Cofer
Mothers and Daughters

Toi Derricotte
The Offices of My Heart

Gail Godwin
Working on the Ending

Patricia Henley
The Potholder Model of Literary Ambition

Erica Jong
Breaking the Final Taboo

Marilyn Krysl
Passing It On

Maxine Kumin
Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness

Honor Moore
On Certainty

Alicia Ostriker
Splitting Open: Some Poems on Aging

Linda Pastan
Old Woman, or Nearly So Myself: An Essay in Poems

Edith Pearlman
Public Appearances

Hilda Raz
Say Yes

Jane Smiley
Boys and Girls

Laura Tohe
The Stories from Which I Come

Hilma Wolitzer
What I Know



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