American Bastard by Jan Beatty
American Bastard is a lyrical inquiry into the experience of being a bastard in America. This memoir travels across literal continents—and continents of desire
as Beatty finds her birthfather, a Canadian hockey player who’s won three Stanley Cups—and her birthmother, a working-class woman from Pittsburgh. This is not the whitewashed story, but the real story, where Beatty writes through complete erasure: loss of name and history, and a culture based on the currency of gratitude as expected payment from the adoptee. American Bastard sandblasts the exaltation of adoption in Western culture and the myth of the “chosen baby.” This journey into the relationship of place and body compels and unhinges, with the link between identity and blood history as its driving force. Beatty rescripts the order of things: the horizontal world of the birth table where babies are switched, the complex yard of the body where names and blood shift and revolt, and the actual story into the relationship of place and the insurrection of the body erased. Issues of class and struggle run throughout this book, this narrative river between blood and continents, between work and desire.
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this one. I hadn’t known some live haunted by their own blood ghosts. It will be medicine for those wounded by their own births and illuminating for anyone who thought they understood notions of home and kin. It’s as if Beatty’s lived homesick for herself. American Bastard is as brutal and beautiful as Beatty’s poetry. A surgery of the self. Precise and invasive, exploratory and celebratory, debilitating and transformational.”—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and A House of My Own: Stories from My Life
Jan Beatty’s American Bastard starts with a threat—with razorlike prose, she backs you up against the wall of your naïve assumptions. A monumental work of wild innovative storytelling, wholly original, American Bastard would be unbearable in its pain were it not rendered with such exquisite craft and beauty. As a reader, you’re either in or out; I suggest you stay in for one of the decade’s premier memoirs.—Sapphire, author of Push and The Kid
American Bastard dares and succeeds at reimaging and redefining memoir as a genre where stream of consciousness meets essay, meets magical realism, meets reportage, meets poetry to create an epic mosaic only possible through the literary genius of Jan Beatty. And as if that weren’t enough, an enthralling yet gracious exposé about adoption that confronts and educates us through a voice that is at times tender and broken, at times angry and fierce, but always unflinchingly honest with herself, the people in her life, and her readers.—Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Memoir
Jan Beatty’s sixth book, The Body Wars (2020), was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Books include Jackknife: New and Collected Poems (2018 Paterson Prize) named by Sandra Cisneros on LitHub as her favorite book of 2019. Awards include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Discovery/The Nation Prize finalist, Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, $10,000 Artists Grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation, and a $15,000 Creative Achievement Award in Literature from the Heinz Foundation. She directs creative writing and the Madwomen in the Attic Workshops at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is Distinguished Writer in Residence in the MFA program.