Memoir Monday
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MEMOIR MONDAY: Michelle Oranage’s PURE FLAME is less of a legacy, and more of a heritage, about mothers & daughters, a reckoning with matralineal ties

By Leslie Lindsay

An intellectual, personal, and ultimately ferocious reckoning with feminism, family, and motherhood from a celebrated critic.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

A New York Times Edi­tors’ Choice



Michelle Orange is the author of the essay collection This Is Running for Your Life, named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in publications including The New YorkerHarper’s MagazineThe New York TimesBookforumMcSweeney’s, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she is a contributing editor. She teaches in the graduate writing programs at Goucher College and Columbia University.


During one of the texting sessions that became our habit over the period I now think of as both late and early in our relationship, my mother revealed the existence of someone named Janis Jerome.

So begins Michelle Orange’s extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of maternal legacy―in her own family and across a century of seismic change. Jerome, she learns, is one of her mother’s many alter egos: the name used in a case study, eventually sold to the Harvard Business Review, about her mother’s midlife choice to leave her husband and children to pursue career opportunities in a bigger city. A flashpoint in the lives of both mother and daughter, the decision forms the heart of a broader exploration of the impact of feminism on what Adrienne Rich called “the great unwritten story”: that of the mother-daughter bond.

“Some­times achingly sad, but often warm and evoca­tive, this reck­on­ing between moth­ers and daugh­ters is a bril­liant work of fem­i­nist cri­tique.” 

–Lau­ren Puckett-Pope, Elle

The death of Orange’s maternal grandmother at nearly ninety-six and the fear that her mother’s more “successful” life will not be as long bring new urgency to her questions about the woman whose absence and anger helped shape her life.

Through a blend of memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Pure Flame (FSG, June 2021) pursues a chain of personal, intellectual, and collective inheritance, tracing the forces that helped transform the world and what a woman might expect from it.

Told with warmth and rigor, Orange’s account of her mother’s life and their relationship is pressurized in critical and unexpected ways, resulting in an essential, revelatory meditation on becoming, selfhood, freedom, mortality, storytelling, and what it means to be a mother’s daughter now.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Michelle Orange, or to purchase a copy of PURE FLAME, please visit:

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I was reminded, in part, of SHADOW DAUGHTER by Harriet Brown, meets IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY by Bobi Conn, along with the work of Ariel Gore, Gayle Brandeis (particularly THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS), and perhaps WILD GAME by Adrienne Brodeur.


 THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Hussman, Anne Elizabeth Moore’s THE GENTRIFIER, REAL ESTATE by Deborah Levy, more.

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Michelle Orange was born and raised in Lon­don, Ontario. After grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto (dou­ble major in Eng­lish and film) she worked as a pro­ducer in the edu­ca­tion and children’s divi­sions of TVOntario.

In 2003, she moved to New York City to join the grad­u­ate film stud­ies pro­gram at New York University. Michelle’s writ­ing has since appeared in Harper’sMcSweeney’sThe NationBook­fo­rum, the New York Times, the New YorkerSlateTin House, 4 ColumnsFrieze, the Vil­lage Voice, and other pub­li­ca­tions. She is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at the Vir­ginia Quar­terly Review, where she is also a colum­nist. She is VQR’s 2019 win­ner of the Staige D. Black­ford Prize for nonfiction.

She is the edi­tor of From the Note­book: The Unwrit­ten Sto­ries of F. Scott Fitzger­ald, a col­lec­tion pub­lished in issue 22 of McSweeney’s fea­tur­ing sto­ries by Sigrid Nunez, Miriam Toews, Lydia Mil­let, and many more. Her work appears in sev­eral antholo­gies, includ­ing Best Sex Writ­ing 2006 and Should I Go to Grad School? (Blooms­bury, 2014), and Best Cana­dian Essays 2020.

She teaches in the grad­u­ate writ­ing pro­grams at Goucher Col­lege and Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity, and has been an invited guest and speaker at var­i­ous insti­tu­tions, includ­ing Yale Uni­ver­sity, New York Uni­ver­sity, Goucher Col­lege, the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Ontario, and the Uni­ver­sity of San Francisco.

This Is Run­ning for Your Life: Essays, pub­lished by Far­rar, Straus & Giroux in 2013,  was named a best book of the year by the New Yorker, the National PostFla­vor­wire, and other publications. 

Pure Flame, her sec­ond book of non­fic­tion, was pub­lished by FSG in June, 2021. 

She lives in Brooklyn.

Author photo retrieved from July 2021 NYT bookreview on 11.6.21


Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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