Gordon, Emily Fox 1948-
Gordon, Emily Fox 1948-
Born 1948; married; children: one.
Has worked as a writing instructor at Rice University, Houston, TX; University of Wyoming, Laramie; and the INPRINT Program, Houston.
Two Pushcart Prizes.
Mockingbird Years: A Life in and out of Therapy (memoir), Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Are You Happy? A Childhood Remembered (memoir), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to the Pushcart Prize anthologies. Contributor to periodicals, including the American Scholar, Anchor Essay Annual, New York Times Book Review, Boulevard, and Salmagundi.
Emily Fox Gordon had already established herself as an award-winning essayist when her first book, Mockingbird Years: A Life in and out of Therapy, was published. Mockingbird Years begins with Gordon being institutionalized at a hospital for the mentally ill; she was sent there by her parents after a botched suicide attempt. Gordon was already adept at the role of psychotherapy patient by the time she arrived at the hospital, having been sent to see a number of clumsy or outright incompetent therapists since the age of eleven. The eighteen-year-old Gordon spent a year living at the Stockbridge, Massachusetts, hospital, and two more years making regular outpatient visits. Her therapist, employing what Gordon calls an "anti-therapeutic therapy," made a meaningful impact by simply sharing conversation, establishing mutual interests, and encouraging her to strike out on her own. In an interview on the Barnes and Noble Web site, Gordon related that the therapy "never had a curative or ameliorative purpose. It was teaching by example. It was a way of demonstrating what real talking, real reciprocity, real mutuality, real friendship is about." New York Times Book Review contributor Daphne Merkin described the memoir as being "written in a witty and sparkling style," and Gordon as "a stunning writer whose perceptions are casually penetrating. Her guilelessly understated memoir is as good an argument for the examined life—for the sustained construction of a coherent self that is the therapeutic ideal—as it is a dissection of the many ways in which therapy can go wrong." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it "a long, satisfying adventure, told with sly insight and charming asides," further lauding its "clear-eyed, candid prose."
Are You Happy? A Childhood Remembered takes readers back to Gordon's preadolescent years, which set the stage for her later battles with emotional illness. The daughter of an emotionally absent economics professor and an increasingly discontented stay-at-home mom, Gordon faced her father's thoughtless comments about her weight, her mother's descent into alcoholism, and the cruelty of schoolmates. A Kirkus Reviews contributor described Gordon's writing as "skillful, and her account is replete with lucid scenes, capturing moments of pleasure and pain, awkwardness and confusion, torment and temporary triumph." Donna Seaman, writing for Booklist, called Gordon "a mordantly witty writer with a gift for slam-dunk metaphors," and found "her ability to convey her child's sensibility impressive."
Gordon's final experience with therapy was what led to her taking up writing as a craft. As she stated in her Barnes and Noble interview: "I wrote my way out of therapy. In the later years of my last therapy, I somehow struck an implicit bargain with my therapist that allowed me to use my sessions to 'write aloud.'… Later I found the personal essay, the genre which most closely approximates this speculative, ruminative, wide-ranging kind of mental process." Gordon also described her books to CA: "Mockingbird Years is an exploration in memoir form of the impact of psychotherapy on a patient's life. Are You Happy? is a memoir that evokes the paradoxical happiness of an unhappy child."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gordon, Emily Fox, Mockingbird Years: A Life in and out of Therapy, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Gordon, Emily Fox, Are You Happy? A Childhood Remembered, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Booklist, March 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Are You Happy?, p. 58.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2006, review of Are You Happy?, p.70.
New York Times Book Review, June 25, 2000, Daphne Merkin, review of Mockingbird Years; March 19, 2006, Elizabeth McCracken, review of Are You Happy?
Publishers Weekly, April 24, 2000, review of Mockingbird Years, p. 75.
Barnes and Noble Web site,http://www.bn.com/ (September 20, 2006), interview with Emily Fox Gordon.