Vivian Gornick

Award-winning memoirist, essayist, critic, and biographer

Vivian Gornick is the bestselling author of the acclaimed memoir Fierce Attachments, a biography of Emma Goldman, and three essay collections: The Men in My Life, Approaching Eye Level, and The End of the Novel of Love, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her February 2020 release Unfinished Business , called “lively, personable, and sneakily poignant” by the New York Times, reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life.


Gornick began her career as a staff writer for the New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice, where she wrote articles, essays, and book reviews, concentrating mainly on the burgeoning feminist movement. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and many other publications.


Towards the end of her career as a journalist, Gornick wrote Fierce Attachments a memoir about her mother and herself that signified her transition between journalism and literature.  Since then, she has written multiple essay collections and taught creative non-fiction in MFA programs all over the country. Out of her teaching experience came the book The Situation and The Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, which is taught in many writing program in the United States.


Gornick’s most recent memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, was released in May 2015. Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist, the role of the flaneur in urban literature, and the evolution of friendship over the past two centuries, The Odd Woman and the City beautifully bookends Gornick’s acclaimed Fierce Attachments, in which we first encountered her rich relationship with the ultimate metropolis.


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UNFINISHED BUSINESSNotes of a Chronic Re-reader
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life. Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader is Vivian Gornick’s celebration of passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading—and re-reading—as life progresses.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same.

THE SOLITUDE OF SELFThinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Elizabeth Cady Stanton—along with her comrade-in-arms, Susan B. Anthony—was one of the most important leaders of the movement to gain American women the vote. But, as Vivian Gornick argues in this passionate, vivid biographical essay, Stanton is also the greatest feminist thinker of the nineteenth century.

FSG Classics

In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female despair": the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond.

THE SITUATION AND THE STORYThe Art of Personal Narrative
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

This book, which grew out of fifteen years teaching in MFA programs, is itself a model of the lucid intelligence that has made Gornick one of our most admired writers of nonfiction. In it, she teaches us to write by teaching us how to read: how to recognize truth when we hear it in the writing of others and in our own.

The Past, Present, & Future of Feminism Whether she's discussing the achievements of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, outlining her own personal history, or predicting women's concerns later down the line, Gornick addresses the history of feminism in this dynamic talk.

The Memoir & The Art of Personal Narrative With more than fifteen years experience of teaching in MFA programs and a few instant-classic memoirs under her belt, Gornick demonstrates the best practices for reading and writing nonfiction. She draws upon a diverse range of sources, including Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, Marguerite Duras, and her own work.

The Christian Science Review posted a rave review of Unfinished Business. Unfinished Business included in the New York Times“11 New Books We Recommend This Week” list. LitHub’s “14 Books You Should Read in February” includes Unfinished Business. The Millions named Unfinished Business as one of “The Millions Most Anticipated” books of February. 4Columns published a fantastic review of Unfinished Business. Read Columbia Journal’s review of Unfinished Business. Check out the fantastic review of Unfinished Business from New York Times. The Paris Review published an excerpt from Unfinished Business. Check out Bookforum’s wonderful review of Unfinished Business. Read New Yorker‘s recent profile of Vivian and Unfinished Business. Check out the review of Unfinished Business from Art Fuse. LitHub includes Vivian’s upcoming release Unfinished Business on their “Most Anticipated Book of 2020” list. Check out Kirkus Reviews’ STARRED REVIEW of Unfinished Business. Unfinished Business receives a STARRED REVIEW from the Library Journal. Vivian’s memoir was included in Literary Hub’s 10 Best Memoirs of the Decade list. She was honored at the 2015-2016 New York City Book Awards, with a special citation for New York City writers. Vivian sits down for an extended conversation with The Paris Review.

Praise for Unfinished Business “Gornick’s new book is part memoiristic collage, part literary criticism, yet it is also an urgent argument that rereading offers the opportunity not just to correct and adjust one’s recollection of a book but to correct and adjust one’s perception of oneself . . . Lively, personable . . . sneakily poignant . . . It is one of the great ironies of consuming literature that as much as we read to expand our minds, we often take in only whatever it is that we are primed to absorb at a particular moment. Do not, Gornick says in this brief, incisive book, let that be the end of it.”
-Chloë Schama, The New York Times Book Review

"Vivacious and highly recommended."
-Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Unfinished Business is all about different ways of looking, a chronicle of the protean perceptions and interpretations . . . Gornick certainly is convincing when she takes the perceived textual qualities of realness and life and brings them to bear on her own life . . . In each case, the new reading leads to a different destination; in each case, Gornick is guided by a yearning that has remained as constant through the years as a star."
-Christopher Sorrentino, Bookforum

"Reading Gornick rereading, there is the persistent feeling that we—readers, writers, authors, characters—are all in it together, trying to grasp the bigger, ever-shifting picture of why we do what we do and to find the tools to illuminate, reveal, question, mourn, and grow."
-Emily LaBarge, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[An] enchanting and addictive little book—whose size and shape make it feel like it contains epigrams and instructions for life when in fact it contains not so much instructions for life, but life itself."
-Thomas Beller, 4Columns

"These essays glow with Gornick's sharp intelligence . . . Whatever a reader may think of Gornick's tastes and interpretations, it must be recognized that few champions of literature and reading are as passionate and uncompromising. Would that there were more.""
-Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier

"Gornick’s ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection . . . The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years . . . Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful—or as uncompromising—as Gornick, which is to readers’ good fortune."

"A delightful entry for lovers of literature and literary criticism."
-Library Journal (STARRED REVIEW)

"In this brief and characteristically pithy collection, critic and memoirist Gornick considers how her responses to particular books have changed over time… Through steady, sculpted prose and elegant readings, Gornick concludes the work of great literature is less about ‘the transporting pleasure of the story itself’ than revealing readers to themselves. . . . The insights in this rich work will be appreciated by Gornick fans and bibliophiles alike."
-Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Odd Woman and the City "[F]unny and elegiac and truth-dealing. . . . It's a slim book with big echoes. . . . What puts The Odd Woman and the City across, however, is how deeply Ms. Gornick gets into the fat of feeling. She is as good a writer about friendship as we have."
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"[An] elusive and stirring memoir."
—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

"[Vivian Gornick is] a kind of ambassador for those most contested, conflicted of American genres, the personal essay and the memoir."
—Emily Stokes, The New York Times Book Review

"The best books, like the best friends and their best emails, like the most intimate and comforting conversations, make us feel understood. They make us feel like home is home. The Odd Woman and the City can be read as a guidebook for how to exist."
—Katherine Taylor, Los Angeles Times Review of Books

"Gornick's most ambitious attempt yet at the nonromance plot . . . richly felt."
—Laura Marsh, The New Republic

"A series of sharply observed vignettes."
The New Yorker

"In an age of often pointless confessional writing, Gornick remains a master of purposeful personal narrative."
—Isabella Biedenharn, Entertainment Weekly

"One of the most vital and indispensable essayists of our cultural moment."
—Phillip Lopate