How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
From the author of The Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist—and how we form our identities in life and in art. As a novelist, Alexander Chee has been described as “masterful” by Roxane Gay, “incendiary” by the New York Times, and "brilliant" by the Washington Post. With How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, his first collection of nonfiction, he’s sure to secure his place as one of the finest essayists of his generation as well.  How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.   By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel Details

TitleHow to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Author
ReleaseApr 17th, 2018
PublisherMariner Books
ISBN-139781328764522
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Language, Lgbt

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel Review

  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Conversational, but thoughtful, Alexander Chee’s collection of personal essays consistently demonstrates an interest in empathy, in earnestly engaging with the world. Chee moves at a measured pace in these essays, steadily drifting from subject to subject, scene to scene, memory to memory. He seems less interested in establishing definitive centers for his essays than in exploring a wide range of topics, making his work read as expansive and open minded; a concept groups together each essay’s di Conversational, but thoughtful, Alexander Chee’s collection of personal essays consistently demonstrates an interest in empathy, in earnestly engaging with the world. Chee moves at a measured pace in these essays, steadily drifting from subject to subject, scene to scene, memory to memory. He seems less interested in establishing definitive centers for his essays than in exploring a wide range of topics, making his work read as expansive and open minded; a concept groups together each essay’s diverse contents, but in the loosest way possible. The essays also recall each other, lending the collection a cumulative force. That is, an idea raised in one essay will be expanded upon in another, a memory referenced early on later fleshed out. Chee’s at his best when he allows himself enough space to delve into the nuances of his material, be it family history or the development of his first novel: favorite essays included “The Curse,” “Inheritance,” “The Autobiography of My Novel,” and "The Guardians."
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  • Thomas
    January 1, 1970
    A vulnerable and moving essay collection that kept me up well past midnight thinking about writing, writing, writing. A successful novelist, Alexander Chee shares his personal life in these essays about growing up as both Korean and white, about his work as an activist in the queer community, about his relationship with writing, and more. As a gay Asian American, I related to quite a bit in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel; my own stomach coiled when Chee wrote about one of his first lusts A vulnerable and moving essay collection that kept me up well past midnight thinking about writing, writing, writing. A successful novelist, Alexander Chee shares his personal life in these essays about growing up as both Korean and white, about his work as an activist in the queer community, about his relationship with writing, and more. As a gay Asian American, I related to quite a bit in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel; my own stomach coiled when Chee wrote about one of his first lusts for another boy, and I felt a sense of shared annoyance when he described how his first book faced pressure to be categorized as either a gay book or an Asian American book, as if both identities cannot both exist at once. Chee's writing contains a quiet assuredness with language and self-exploration that I found both comforting and compelling.I want to dedicate an individual paragraph to the essay "The Guardians," which literally took my breath away. With great courage, compassion, and intelligence, Chee examines his own experience of childhood sexual abuse and his journey to hide from it and confront it. This essay felt like such a masterful and real rendition of how trauma emerges from nowhere and everywhere, how our past affects our relationships with others and our relationship with art and writing, and the time and the bravery it can take to heal. My heart hurt for and felt hopeful for Chee when I read this, as well as for myself and others who have experienced abuse. I wish I could give this essay 10 stars.A solid collection I would recommend to anyone interested in writing, race, and/or queerness. While at times I wanted a more cohesive theme across essays or sharper insights in a few individual essays, there is no denying Chee's immense talent and effort with writing. He's definitely inspired me - and I am sure many others, especially those with Asian and queer identities - to persevere with writing, for which I am so grateful.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    I do not read many books of essays even though I read a lot of essays online. There's a big difference between reading one personal essay and reading over a dozen by the same person, there are not many writers I trust that much. But I do trust Alexander Chee that much and my trust yielded significant dividends with this beautiful, complex, and moving collection.With an entire book of mostly quite personal essays you may wonder how a person may have this much to say and not just write a memoir. I I do not read many books of essays even though I read a lot of essays online. There's a big difference between reading one personal essay and reading over a dozen by the same person, there are not many writers I trust that much. But I do trust Alexander Chee that much and my trust yielded significant dividends with this beautiful, complex, and moving collection.With an entire book of mostly quite personal essays you may wonder how a person may have this much to say and not just write a memoir. I understand the impulse, but I don't think these stories would be as successful as they are in that format. The essay, like the short story, can zero in on one thing and explore it in relation to many other things. Here, the kinds of things that may get lost in a memoir that is more about things happening get to be examined in great detail. One person, one event, one idea is so much more than a step along the way in a person's life and Chee opens up so many of them here that I feel I've never before encountered so much of one person's self in any one book before. And I've read a lot of memoirs. We are so much more than what happens to us.I should also add that I am currently writing a semi-autobiographical novel and there are several essays here on writing and specifically on writing something about your own experiences (which Chee did in his first novel, EDINBURGH). While I loved everything in this book, those were the essays that hit me in the gut. There was much highlighting. Not every writer is good at talking about writing, the writing process, and what it feels like. Maybe it's just because of where I am right now and my own investment in my own book, but wow did I finish this book feeling like I had my own mini-MFA on how to move forward with my own terrifying project.If you have read Chee before, you will encounter the same intelligence, the same deliberate and fascinating prose you have come to expect, and above all the same deep empathy and emotion.
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  • Manuel Betancourt
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t think I’ll read a more passionate defense (and excoriation) of the practice of writing. Wrestling with what it means to write and to be a writer, Chee has gifted us with a collection of essays sure to be read and re-read for years to come. As practical advice it delivers. As memoir it dazzles. As both at the same time it astounds.
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  • Joseph Cassara
    January 1, 1970
    This book spoke to me on so many levels. It is impossible to overstate just how much I loved these essays! I have waited so long for a book like this—something that could speak to my heart, mind, and soul. If only this were around when I was in high school...I have a feeling that this will be one of the books that I re-read every year or two.
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  • Carolee Wheeler
    January 1, 1970
    Breathe in this sadness, kindness, compassion, pain, and uncertainty. Breathe out. Breathe in. This is a beautiful collection.
  • Abdal
    January 1, 1970
    I'm now emotionally invested in making sure our planet makes it to (April) 2018.Oct 24/: Love the cover art. Feels like confirmation that we've got an instant classic on our hands, girls.
  • Katie Devine
    January 1, 1970
    More so than any recent book I can remember, Alexander Chee's How To Write An Autobiographical Novel has changed the way I read, the way I think, and hopefully, the way I write. This is a must-read for anyone attempting to find and articulate truth on the page. But it's also a must-read for anyone attempting to make their way through a world that tells them, something is wrong with you, something is strange about you, something, anything about you. This book is a gift, and I will continue to tre More so than any recent book I can remember, Alexander Chee's How To Write An Autobiographical Novel has changed the way I read, the way I think, and hopefully, the way I write. This is a must-read for anyone attempting to find and articulate truth on the page. But it's also a must-read for anyone attempting to make their way through a world that tells them, something is wrong with you, something is strange about you, something, anything about you. This book is a gift, and I will continue to treasure it through the next read through and beyond.
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  • Tiffany Reisz
    January 1, 1970
    Wonderful and unexpected. I'm going to make all my writing students read this one. Thank you, Mr. Chee!
  • Kevin Bertolero
    January 1, 1970
    "I wanted to write a novel that would take a reader by the collar and run. And yet I was drawn to writing stories in which nothing happened."lol same bro
  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    An enjoyable collection of 1st-person POV essays, many of them related to the writing life (or, as they say in the Christmas Carol trade, related to the "hopes and fears of all the years"). It opens with a strong piece about an exchange student program Chee partook of with a wealthy Mexican family, the son of which his family had hosted in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (Maine!), the year before. Equally intriguing is entry #2, "The Querent," which is an education of sorts on Tarot cards and readings, so An enjoyable collection of 1st-person POV essays, many of them related to the writing life (or, as they say in the Christmas Carol trade, related to the "hopes and fears of all the years"). It opens with a strong piece about an exchange student program Chee partook of with a wealthy Mexican family, the son of which his family had hosted in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (Maine!), the year before. Equally intriguing is entry #2, "The Querent," which is an education of sorts on Tarot cards and readings, something Chee took a strong interest in earlier in his life. Tarot cards have always spooked me a bit, which is why I've never had a reading done, but this essay helps to relax a guy a bit. And besides, I once had a full natal chart done by an astrologist (includes a House of Death reading), so how bad can it be?After these, I was most taken by the writing-related pieces. Well, "mostly" as opposed to "most," maybe. I was especially taken by "The Writing Life," wherein Chee shares his luck from 1989 when he was taught in Wesleyan (Middletown, Connecticut!) by Annie Dillard (insert sound of jealousy here). The essay includes many pearls of wisdom from AD, which in turn inspired a post on my blog here.The other intriguing pieces, writing-wise, were the last two: "How to Write an Autobiographical Novel" and "On Becoming an American Writer." The penultimate essay hits on important material, namely on how reliant first-time novelists are on their own lives while working on their first novel. The ultimate touches on two of the great tragedies of the past decade: 9/11 and 11/16 and how they relate to writing and the arts. Rough sledding but must sledding.I found "100 Things About Writing a Novel" less successful, which is surprising in that lists are usually reader catnip and this is a list. Alas, 100 entries is a bit heavy for a list, or at least I found it so. Overall, though, a strong voice and a strong outing exploring writing, coming of age as a gay man, the AIDS crisis, and other topics. Worthwhile, in other words.
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  • Vivek Tejuja
    January 1, 1970
    It isn’t easy to write a book of essays that charts life. And when you come across a work that is so lucid, questions the world and has so many identities rolled into itself, that you just have to sit up, take notice and devour it cover to cover. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee is one such collection of finest essays of our times and that is mainly because it is as honest as it can get. There is something about books that come from the heart – they manage to ge It isn’t easy to write a book of essays that charts life. And when you come across a work that is so lucid, questions the world and has so many identities rolled into itself, that you just have to sit up, take notice and devour it cover to cover. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee is one such collection of finest essays of our times and that is mainly because it is as honest as it can get. There is something about books that come from the heart – they manage to get through to you breaking all pretense and that’s what this collection of essays does to you. It gets through. Alexander Chee’s writing was only known to me through his earlier literary fiction works, “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of the Night” which I loved immensely. This is his foray into non-fiction and I just hope that he continues writing many such essays. What I found a notch above the essay collections I have read in the past couple of months in this one was just the candid and heartwarming way in which they are written. Chee doesn’t shy from talking about his life, his struggles and his perception of the world at large. When you write non-fiction, you become more susceptible to judgment than when you write fiction. Everyone may not have an opinion about the storyline or characters but one sure does have an opinion (maybe more) on the world and its issues. Chee’s essays range from growing-up in America and how different identities take over his life – a son, a Korean American, a gay man, a student, a teacher and a novelist amongst others. I loved the way he connected his life to his country and its issues and everything just seemed one. For instance, the section on AIDS and then again on 9/11 were most hard-hitting to me. When he speaks of literature (there are so many references throughout the book), you just want to sit up and listen. I for one, remember re-reading so many passages about writing and what it takes to be a writer. Alexander Chee’s essays are wry, real, political (everything is political in today’s time and age), and above all makes us ask questions of art and life and what happens to it all, when they come under attack. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” is hands down one of the best essay collections of 2018 and I am not speaking too soon.
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    “To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” - “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander CheeY’all, mark 4/24/18 on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays is stellar beyond words, this single quote one of the many sentences he wrote that just stick in the mind like a tiny bit of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited. The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving meditatio “To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” - “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander CheeY’all, mark 4/24/18 on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays is stellar beyond words, this single quote one of the many sentences he wrote that just stick in the mind like a tiny bit of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited. The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving meditation on what it means to be an American writer, especially at this present time. Bravo, Alexander. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
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  • sharon
    January 1, 1970
    It is a humbling, awe-inspiring thing to be invited into the mind of a writer of Alexander Chee's caliber. What I most appreciate about these essays is how consistently Chee holds any claims to virtuosity at arm's length. His prose is intensely beautiful, intensely moving, but he also shows the rigor that goes into the magic trick, the work of knowing one's self. With this generous, self-revelatory collection, he has given a tremendous gift to us all.
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  • Dominique
    January 1, 1970
    "...writing fiction is an exercise in giving a shit — an exercise in finding out what you really care about.Simply, this book is something to marvel at. A collection of essays that will warm your heart, break your heart, and encourage you to pick up the pen to write about your heart's journey.
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  • Erika Dreifus
    January 1, 1970
    Not every essay in this collection is explicitly "about" writing, but those that are are the ones that I fell into most gracefully. (I have killed every plant I've ever been given/tried to raise, so maybe I just bear too great a sense of guilt to embrace "The Rosary," for example, as beautiful as the writing is. And it is.) In any case, the essays I'm most likely to recommend to other writers most interested in essays on writing include "The Writing Life," replete with scenes from undergraduate Not every essay in this collection is explicitly "about" writing, but those that are are the ones that I fell into most gracefully. (I have killed every plant I've ever been given/tried to raise, so maybe I just bear too great a sense of guilt to embrace "The Rosary," for example, as beautiful as the writing is. And it is.) In any case, the essays I'm most likely to recommend to other writers most interested in essays on writing include "The Writing Life," replete with scenes from undergraduate workshop taught by Annie Dillard; "My Parade," which follows the author's MFA experience; "100 Things About Writing a Novel" (which, as the title suggests, is an essay in list form); "The Autobiography of My Novel"; and "How to Write an Autobiographical Novel," which I suspect will resonate even more powerfully for those who have read Chee's Edinburgh. Still, reading the entire book is a memorable and most worthwhile experience. Go ahead and pick it up! I'm so glad that I did.
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  • Dana
    January 1, 1970
    So, so, so, so, so good.
  • Columbus
    January 1, 1970
    Alexander Chee writes absolutely beautiful sentences. This is my second go round with Chee after reading his debut novel, Edinburgh. This book of essays is written like a memoir. In fact, the chapters follow in a rather linear order with the first essay The Curse detailing Chee’s time as a foreign exchange student in Mexico at the age of 15. All of these essays are very personal with my favorites being those centered around writing as a gay Korean American.My favorites are:After Peter: about a f Alexander Chee writes absolutely beautiful sentences. This is my second go round with Chee after reading his debut novel, Edinburgh. This book of essays is written like a memoir. In fact, the chapters follow in a rather linear order with the first essay The Curse detailing Chee’s time as a foreign exchange student in Mexico at the age of 15. All of these essays are very personal with my favorites being those centered around writing as a gay Korean American.My favorites are:After Peter: about a former friend/lover, AIDS activist in San FranciscoMr. And Mrs. B: his time working as a waiter at the home of William and Pat Buckley during the height of the AIDS epidemic (William Buckley notoriously advocated for the tattooing of people with AIDS on their buttocks and wrists).And also the essays with him working under the tutelage of Annie Dillard at Wesleyan University and his activism with ACT UP and Queer Nation in San Francisco.A solid effort from Chee.3.5 stars
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    What an astounding collection of essays. The only way I can think to describe it at the moment is just to write the word deeply, over and over again, followed by many other words: deeply beautiful, insightful, generous, courageous, precise, wise, open. Chee writes about writing in a way that cut me down to the core, with a kind of honesty that I've rarely, if ever, seen. I want to hold this book against my chest and let all its power and gorgeousness and intelligence and grace just sink into my What an astounding collection of essays. The only way I can think to describe it at the moment is just to write the word deeply, over and over again, followed by many other words: deeply beautiful, insightful, generous, courageous, precise, wise, open. Chee writes about writing in a way that cut me down to the core, with a kind of honesty that I've rarely, if ever, seen. I want to hold this book against my chest and let all its power and gorgeousness and intelligence and grace just sink into my skin.
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  • Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    i LOVED nearly all of this book, except for the last essay, which i totally hated and wish i could unread (my main issue with the last essay is i think we're still too close, we're still IN the disaster watching it unfold around us, to really even comprehend what's happening, and that every essay about it feels both too much and not enough). what a generous, empathetic little book and a gorgeous examination of the fears and truths we can barely bring ourselves to face. often with books of essays i LOVED nearly all of this book, except for the last essay, which i totally hated and wish i could unread (my main issue with the last essay is i think we're still too close, we're still IN the disaster watching it unfold around us, to really even comprehend what's happening, and that every essay about it feels both too much and not enough). what a generous, empathetic little book and a gorgeous examination of the fears and truths we can barely bring ourselves to face. often with books of essays i find myself learning more about the author or about a specific topic, but these essays made me feel like i was learning something new about myself. like the best fiction, they leave life somehow enlarged.
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  • Bookoisseur
    January 1, 1970
    Superb. Read it immediately. Grab a pen, you'll want to mark it up and remember things. It made me cry at least twice on the subway, and once at home.
  • Alvin
    January 1, 1970
    These essays cover Chee's bicultural upbringing, AIDS activism, rose gardening, childhood sexual abuse, novel writing, and meteoric ascent within The Literary Industrial Complex. Despite a slight tendency towards earnestness and verbosity, this is a thoughtful, intelligent, and important book.
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  • Richard Gilbert
    January 1, 1970
    Brave, searching, elegiac essays. I found them thrilling for their artistry, authenticity, stimulating content, and mature tone.
  • Monika
    January 1, 1970
    Chee's novel The Queen of the Night was my favourite book of 2016, so when I heard that he was writing a collection of essays I was very excited. I was even more thrilled when I was approved for the ARC. Chee moves brilliantly and skillfully from his time as an AIDS activist to his attempts to grow a rose garden with grace and passion. It is political, literary, and incredibly moving and powerful. I cannot recommend this enough.Special thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this ahead of it Chee's novel The Queen of the Night was my favourite book of 2016, so when I heard that he was writing a collection of essays I was very excited. I was even more thrilled when I was approved for the ARC. Chee moves brilliantly and skillfully from his time as an AIDS activist to his attempts to grow a rose garden with grace and passion. It is political, literary, and incredibly moving and powerful. I cannot recommend this enough.Special thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this ahead of its publication, which will be on April 17th.
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  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    a beautiful collection of essays on writing, identity, activism, & trauma. it’s both completely romantic and absolutely unromantic. i almost want to go back to undergrad and study literature, definitely want to plant a rose garden and throw myself back into writing and art.(cw sexual abuse.)
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  • Christina
    January 1, 1970
    like a glass of water for my heart
  • Mike Violano
    January 1, 1970
    After much category fiction and category non-fiction it was a welcome break to read Chee's entertaining and enlightening collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. In the memories and experiences told, the author describes "good writing" by simply and eloquently telling his life and times. Authors as teachers appear including Annie Dillard to Frank Conroy; Chee relates their advice and wisdom with genuine regard. A couple of personal favorites from "100 Things About Writing a After much category fiction and category non-fiction it was a welcome break to read Chee's entertaining and enlightening collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. In the memories and experiences told, the author describes "good writing" by simply and eloquently telling his life and times. Authors as teachers appear including Annie Dillard to Frank Conroy; Chee relates their advice and wisdom with genuine regard. A couple of personal favorites from "100 Things About Writing a Novel" include: once you have finished a draft, revising it turns something like laundry into something like Christmas; it is like the language the explorer must learn even to ask the question.
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  • Courtney Gillette
    January 1, 1970
    I savored this book. It’s a gift. The Guardians is one of the best essays I’ve ever read.
  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    This is a dazzling collection of important and insightful essays crafted by an extraordinary talent. It is essential reading for all writers.
  • Natasha
    January 1, 1970
    This book does the magic of good nonfiction—it turns your world inside out and gives you a new story to see in yourself and in others. I couldn't stop reading it until I finished it.
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