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Lidia Yuknavitch

Award-winning author of The Small Backs of Children and The Chronology of Water.

  • About Lidia Yuknavitch

    Lidia Yuknavitch is a writer best known for her award-winning novel, The Small Backs of Children, and the acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water, a searing story of surviving and learning to live with a traumatic past. Fleeing from a lifetime of childhood abuse into the world of swimming, Yuknavitch received an athletic scholarship for the sport and rejoiced at the opportunity to leave her home once and for all. Unable to escape her demons, she found her future as a competitive swimmer jeopardized by her growing addictions. After dropping out of college, she relocated to Oregon where she embarked on an even more disastrous course of self-destruction, marked by failing out of college once more, divorcing twice, and multiple incarcerations. After the loss of her newborn child, she found herself homeless, living under an overpass.  In spite of this, Yuknavitch pursued her dream of becoming a writer, and found there was strength in being a “misfit.”

    Most recently, Yuknavitch ignited the literary world with the publication of The Book Of Joan, which garnered universal praise from respected outlets such as the New York Times and The Los Angeles Review of Books. A revelatory work that uses a dystopian world to deliver stark commentary on contemporary life, The Book of Joan cemented Lidia’s place as one of the most daring writers working today.

    In 2016, Yuknavitch delivered an acclaimed TED Talk entitled “The Beauty of Being a Misfit”, which has received over 2 million views to date. Drawing on a lifetime of not fitting in, she assured audiences that to identify as a misfit is to possess the possibility of endless reinvention in moments of failure. She believes as long as misfits continue to tell their stories, they will be able to give voice to something beautiful. Yuknavitch continues to seek this beauty in both her writing and speaking. Her forthcoming book, The Misfit’s Manifesto, expands upon this credo and inspires audiences to embrace the beauty that they too can find in the moments where they don’t fit in.

    Lidia Yuknavitch is also the author of The Book of Joan, Dora: A Headcase, and Allegories of Violence, a critical book on war and narrative. Her novel The Small Backs of Children was winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award’s Ken Kesey Award for Fiction as well as the Reader’s Choice Award. Her memoir, The Chronology of Water, was winner of a PNBA Award and the Oregon Book Award Reader’s Choice. In addition to her books, Yuknavitch’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Guernica MagazineMs.The Iowa Review, and The Rumpus. She is also founder of Corporeal Writing, a workshop series in her longtime residence of Portland, Oregon.

  • Speaking Topics

    The Beauty of Being a Misfit

    How can someone be both a success and a failure? While an acclaimed writer today, Lidia Yuknavitch spent much of her life feeling as though her early failures and bad choices had marked her for life. Struggling with her self-identification as a “misfit,” she battled with divorce, homelessness, and two stays in jail—and once she achieved some success, impostor syndrome. In this inspiring lecture, Yuknavitch breaks open the “misfit’s myth” and Lidia opens her audiences to the redeeming power of reinvention.

  • Video

  • Praise for Lidia Yuknavitch

    Praise for Dora: A Headcase

    Dora: A Headcase is first and foremost an irreverent portrait of a smart seventeen year old trying to survive. It channels Sigmund Freud and his young patient Dora and is both a hilarious critique and an oddly touching homage. With an unerring ear and a very keen eye, Lidia Yuknavitch casts a very special slant of light on our centuries and our lives. Put simply, the book is needed.

    Carole Maso, author of Defiance and The Art Lover

    Dora is too much for Sigmund Freud but she’s just right for us—raunchy, sharp and so funny it hurts.

    Chuck Palahniuk, author of Damned

    Dora is too much for Sigmund Freud but she’s just right for us—raunchy, sharp and so funny it hurts.

    Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

    Praise for The Small Backs of Children

    Lidia Yuknavitch’ s explosive new novel…is fierce in its vision, with captivating prose that carries its own momentum. Yuknavitch has created a reading experience that is uncomfortable and dazzling, with a vital intensity that grabs at the gutstrings.

    The Los Angeles Times

    Lidia Yuknavitch’s writing is a sizzle wire. Her fierce prose will jumpstart your heart and electrify your brain…and her new novel, The Small Backs of Children is a provocative and thrilling jolt of a book.


    Yuknavitch has emerged as a trailblazing literary voice that spans genres and dives deep into themes of gender, sexuality, art, violence, and transcendence.

    Suleika Jaouad, Lenny Letter

    I have never felt so wrung out by a novel and yet simultaneously invigorated…a terrifically good novel and powerfully written.”

    Paris Review

    Praise for The Chronology of Water: A Memoir

    ‎I’m also convinced that this bold and highly unconventional book – hot, gritty, unrelenting in its push to dismantle the self and then, somehow, put the self back together again – gets not just under a reader’s skin but seeps all the way into her bloodstream.

    Publishers Weekly

    This intensely powerful memoir touches depths yet unheard of in contemporary writing. I read it at one sitting and wondered for days after about love, time, and truth. Can't get me any more excited than this.

    Andrei Codrescu, author of The Poetry Lesson

    Lidia Yuknavitch is my favorite new writer…It’s so genius I’m not quite sure how she did it. The tone is a combination of high and low, with some of the writing literary and metaphorical, some conversational and shock-jockey, all of it fueled by rage and pain and love and art and transformation.

    Claire Dederer, The Atlantic

    I've read Ms. Yuknavitch's book The Chronology of Water, cover to cover, a dozen times. I am still reading it. And I will, most likely, return to it for inspiration and ideas, and out of sheer admiration, for the rest of my life. The book is extraordinary.

    Chuck Palahniuk, Pygmy

    Praise for The Book of Joan

    Joan [of Arc] offers herself as the perfect figure for Yuknavitch’s new novel. Translated into a dystopian future, this New Joan of Dirt serves as emblem for all the stalwart commoners in whose crushing defeat lies a kind of inviolate spiritual victory. . . . [The Book of Joan] offers a wealth of pathos, with plenty of resonant excruciations and some disturbing meditations on humanity’s place in creation . . . [It] concludes in a bold and satisfying apotheosis like some legend out of The Golden Bough and reaffirms that even amid utter devastation and ruin, hope can still blossom.

    Washington Post

    While delivering an entirely new world and also putting forth a powerful treatise on the way we live now, The Book of Joan is one of those dystopian novels that you can’t help thinking might be too eerily real to be just fiction.


    Riveting, ravishing, and crazy deep, The Book of Joan is as ferociously intelligent as it is heart-wrenchingly humane, as generous as it is relentless, as irresistible as it is important. In other words, it’s classic Lidia Yuknavitch: genius.” — Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild

    Cheryl Strayed, New York Times bestselling author of Wild

    [A] searing fusion of literary fiction and reimagined history and science-fiction thriller and eco-fantasy...Yuknavitch is a bold and ecstatic writer, wallowing in sex and filth and decay and violence and nature and love with equal relish.

    NPR Books

    Brilliant and incendiary. . . . Radically new, full of maniacal invention and page-turning momentum. . . .Yuknavitch has exhibited a rare gift for writing that concedes little in its quest to be authentic, meaningful and relevant. By adding speculative elements to The Book of Joan, she reaches new heights with even higher stakes: the death or life of our planet.

    Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
  • Books by Lidia Yuknavitch

  • Media About Lidia Yuknavitch

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