How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

by Alexander Chee

Available 04/17/2018

From the author of The Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring how we form our identities in life, in politics, and in art 


  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9781328764522
  • ISBN-10: 1328764524
  • Pages: 288
  • Publication Date: 04/17/2018
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    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, “incomparable” by Junot Díaz, and “incendiary” by the New York Times. 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.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
  • Reviews
    Praise for How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: 

    Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Esquire, Book Riot, PopSugar, The Rumpus, My Republica, and Buzzfeed 

    Named a Most Anticipated Nonfiction Title of 2018 by Bitch 

    Named a Top 10 Essay Collection of Spring 2018 by Publishers Weekly 


    "Alexander Chee has been a beloved writing teacher and generous supporter of fellow authors for quite a while. His first collection of nonfiction is a lovely reminder that there is indeed an art to the personal essay, and he is a master artist." 

    Maris Kreizman, Esquire 


    "As profound as they are beautiful, Chee's essays impart wisdom from a life fully lived, and speak to what it means to be a writer and reader in contemporary times." 

    Jarry Lee, Buzzfeed 


    "In his first collection of nonfiction essays, novelist Alexander Chee immortalizes himself through his art and literature...Enlightening, revealing the true impact of the arts." 



    "Alex Chee explores the realm of the real with extraordinarily beautiful essays. Being real here is an ambition, a haunting, an impossibility, and an illusion. What passes for real, his essays suggest, becomes real, just as life becomes art and art, pursued this fully, becomes a life." 

    Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man’s Land and On Immunity 


    "These essays feel like a life's wisdom—its hurts, joys and redemptions—salvaged from a great fire. After reading these myriad-minded and compassion-filled essays from Alexander Chee, I feel in possession of a map of secrets and second chances; I feel I am holding an inheritance whose gifts have only been partially revealed to me, inexhuastible as they are. But these essays are more than maps; for me, as a younger writer, they are the very ground. They are the earth made solid enough so that I might stand here, made rich enough so that I might plant here, and, like Chee's devastating rose garden in "Rosary," thrive here. This book makes me feel possible." 

    Ocean Vuong, author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds  


    "I'm astonished by the wisdom of these essays, and how beautiful they are. A riveting account of activism and artistry, as well as a profound exploration of the intersections of identities and experiences that build up this novelist's composite eye. Alexander Chee is brilliant and brave in equal measure, and has written an essential book about how to survive as an artist in America today." 

    Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You 


    "How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a rare hybrid of a book: an act of poetry, a gift of entertainment, and a primer for life. Alexander Chee is one of our most important writers and we should listen to every damn thing he has to say." 

    Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins and All Grown Up 


    “Alexander Chee asks one of the great coming of age questions here: Isn’t beauty strong? His welter of answers yields a really moving (and sometimes devastating) writing memoir of being young, of being someone and not entirely knowing it yet—all the while being so poetically receptive to the fragrant and devastating strains of beauty and beauty’s harsh wisdom that wind up moving and shaping a life. It's a strangely romantic and practical book. It holds a skull lightly.” 

    Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls and Afterglow: A Dog Memoir 


    "In Chee’s hands, varied subjects, however disparate they may seem, coalesce...A duller, less evocative title along the lines of How I Became a Writer might have been more accurate, but that would have failed to convey Chee’s marvelously oblique style as an essayist—his capacity to inform and educate readers while they’re too enraptured to notice." 

    Publishers Weekly, starred review 


    "If nothing else about the coming year excites you, at least be happy we have a new Alexander Chee book! And it’s nonfiction! I love his novels, but he is also wicked smart, and has many insightful, thoughtful things to say about the world." 

    Liberty Hardy, Book Riot 


    Select Praise for Alexander Chee and The Queen of the Night: 


    National Bestseller 

    New York Times Editor's Choice 

    A Best Book of the Year from NPR, Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, Esquire, San Francisco Chronicle,Time Out, Self, Jezebel, The Portland Mercury, Electric Literature, and Entropy Magazine 

    An Indie Next Pick 


    "Sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery." —Scott Simon, NPR 


    “The novel is infused with an operatic sensibility…The Queen of the Night is a celebration of these women of creativity, ingenuity, endurance, mastery and grace—a gala in their honor.” —Kelly Gardiner, New York Times  


    “Epic…Brilliantly extravagant in its twists and turns and its wide-ranging cast of character.” —Julia Felsenthal, Vogue  


    “[An] extravagant five-act grand opera of a novel…Chee’s writing is cultured and confident, and the elite society he depicts is dazzling…Readers willing to submit to the spell of this glittering, luxuriantly paced novel will find that it rewards their attention, from its opening mysteries to its satisfying full-circle finale.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal 


    "A sweeping, richly detailed historical novel about a young woman's tumultuous trajectory from circus rider to renowned soprano at the Paris Opera." —Kim Hubbard, People 


    “An opera of the page, complete with seduction, hidden identity, betrayal and plenty of costume changes…It’s the ball gowns and roses, magic tricks and ruses, hubris and punishment that will keep the reader absorbed until the final aria.” —Sarah Begley, Time 


    “Gorgeous prose...Extraordinarily beautiful and dramatic, a brilliant performance.” —Wendy Smith, Washington Post 


    “[A] postmodern bodice ripper…It just sounds terrific. It sounds like opera…It offers a rare, intriguing psychology: the heart as a buried place, where someone is hiding, singing—words you can’t quite hear.” —Joan Acocella, The New Yorker 


    “If Lilliet Berne were a man, she might have been what 19th-century novels would call a swashbuckler: the kind of destiny-courting, death-defying character who finds intrigue and peril (and somehow, always, a fantastic pair of pantaloons) around every corner…The richness of [Chee’s] research is evident on every page. Paris’ glittering swirl of artists, artistocrats, and underworld habitués lives vividly in his descriptions.” &mda...