Against Memoir by Michelle Tea

This first collection of Michelle Tea’s journalistic essays an exuberant celebration of the modern American queer experience

Book Review by Eris Young | 03 Sep 2019
  • Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
Book title: Against Memoir
Author: Michelle Tea

Despite (or perhaps in light of) its title, Against Memoir is more essay collection than autobiography, though the author’s own life is inextricably bound up in her subject material. Tea writes with the authority of someone who has seen it all and done it all, but the writing is never jaded: she brings her whole self to her work, with no ivory tower in sight. Each successive essay draws the reader forward through Tea’s life, from her fraught misfit childhood in conservative New England, through lesbian street gangs, radical feminist music festivals and itinerant underground poetry collectives, out of poverty and into sobriety, love and motherhood.

In its most affecting passages, Against Memoir feels almost like archaeology, as if Tea is uncovering and preserving a gospel of queer, poor, punk femaleness though lost or destroyed. Constantly reframing the reader’s perception of femininity, family, queerness, poverty, violence, addiction and the fundamental connection all of these things have to one another, Tea puts the downtrodden and marginalised back at the centre of their own stories.

As a queer person, reading Against Memoir made me feel connected to a larger community, a long line of gender rebels from years past. Though sometimes tinted with anger or sadness, this collection is above all hopeful, enthusiastic, celebratory – written like a late night conversation with a good friend.

Out now via And Other Stories, £10
Michelle Tea appears at Category is Books, Glasgow, 2 Oct, 6.30pm; Golden Hare Bookshop, Edinburgh, 3 Oct, 6.30pm