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Firebird: a Memoir Hardcover – Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition, First Printing edition (Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060193743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060193744
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,830,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Book Description

A brilliant, bittersweet memoir of growing up gay by the prize-winning poet --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

A self-confessed 'chubby smart bookish sissy with glasses and a Southern accent', Mark Doty grew up on the move, the family following his family's engineering work across America. With his rebellious sister already heading for abortions and prison, and his fragile mother drinking herself to death, the young Mark has quite enough troubles without discovering that his emerging sexuality is The Wrong One. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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In 1959, in Memphis, Tennessee, my sister, Sally, became a Rain Girl. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
Mark Doty recalls his childhood years from the late 1950s and into 60s and 70s. The second child, his sister much older, he is a chubby, bespectacled, sissy American boy born of the South. His father is an engineer and the nature of his work means they are constantly on the move. His mother, who never works, makes the best of this sometimes pursuing her interest on art and giving attention to Mark's education in the arts. But it is not an easy life for Mark, aware that he is different - he loves dressing up but hates sports and games - he is at times the object of ridicule, although occasionally he finds himself and and then blossoms - until family intervention of the next move sets him back again.

Mark's troubled childhood finds not easy solution, and matters will get worse before he eventually finds his feet. He speaks honestly about his feelings, his father, his mother who eventually deteriorates, and his growing awareness that he is gay - and that that is not what he is supposed to be; usually the memories are factual, but sometimes they are just impressions, and these are perhaps even more revealing.

Mark Doty's childhood was far from idyllic, and his account is often moving, even heartbreaking. In addition it is full of insightful observations, but what makes it truly memorable if the quality of the writing, it is most beautifully expressed, the result is a thoroughly involving and thought provoking read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 17 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
We voted Mark Doty "Most Likely to Succeed" 24 Oct. 2000
By Julia Smith Grossman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For several years I had read favorable reviews of Mark Doty's work and wondered if this writer was "that Mark Doty"--the smartest boy in my junior high school, the one we voted "Most Likely to Succeed."
My curiosity got the better of me when Firebird was released, since it is autobiographical, and yes, it is that Mark Doty. Those junior high years were but a blip on the screen of Mark's life (chapter seven), but his memories and descriptions of the place and the same people I knew are spot on. This book, however, is so much more than a snippet of shared history. There is nothing I could say about this book that would accurately describe its impact on me--all of my words would be an understatement.
Mark Doty's work is fine art. His prose and the structure work beautifully together. This is not another package of self-pity in which the author is intentionally pulling up emotions. Yes, I cringed and felt outrage at some of the most uncomfortable parts, but the writer soothed me and reassured me that where there is art, there is a home, a place in the world--like that which Petula Clark sings about in "Downtown."
I am proud of and pleased for Mark Doty's outstanding literary achievements. I also thank him for having the courage to write this book. Many of us who are fortunate enough to have read it are grateful and forever changed through the experience of his work of art.
I recommend it to anyone who is gay, straight, or undecided.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
an outsiders baedeker 6 Oct. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
To the ostracized, Mark Doty's "Firebird" is testament. To insiders, the frank and moving memoir of growing up gay in '50-60's America, is a lens into which a casual gaze will stun. Looking deeper, few readers will come away from "Firebird" without recognizing themselves. Fewer still will leave Doty's life story without empathy. This is the book's chief victory; while the memoir may be a personal account of a young gay man's salvation, it is a story few would find utterly foreign. Self-discovery, after all, is solitary and often pits the inner polliwog against the larger, and often shifting, societal/peer context. The gay boy; the geek; the punk with the Mohawk; the girl with the braces all belong to the same childhood tribe. En masse, outsiders separate themselves through the discovery of what, ultimately, comforts them and affords them a place in this world-and where they find others just like them. Our young "Firebird" misfit finds beauty, a place to belong, within art. First he comes to love dancing and music; later he finds solace in painting and finally, poetry (on the urging of poet Richard Shelton to whom we poetry-lovers owe a huge debt of gratitude). Through it all, the emerging Doty, the evolving gay boy, is most at home in art, not in the rule-bound world of little boys. "Most boys...who seem already possessed of forms of knowledge opaque to me, things they grasp...I do not." When Mark's mother finds him performing playful drag for a friend, "She says, with a hiss, with shame and with exasperation, Son, you're a boy." No, he is a "queer" boy-"simultaneously debased and elevated." By Doty's own definition, "inside the rejected boy, inside the unloved body, reigns the sissy triumphant, enraged, jeweled by an elegant crown of his own devising." "Firebird," opens and closes focusing on this devising, this art and how the humanities, while on the surface may manifest itself as the serenity of stilled water, dazzles and confounds the soul and marrow in the murky depths below mere appearance. The opening work of art introduced to readers (and I don't want to give it away) is a clever piece of happenstance only a poet could mine to illustrate the book's theme. While Doty says much about himself and his salvation by art, it is when art is thrust in face of recrimination that it is most potent. "The Firebird, in fact, is used to (it), and doesn't care about the difficulty of circumstance; if anything it burns brighter in a gloomy wood. Go ahead...do what you will, I'll find the music in it." I'm beautiful, dammit! Young Mark needed to find the music in his own being. Life in the Doty household was anything but pedestrian; it was full of alcoholism; self-loathing; strained relations; and the proverbial generation gap, among other human frailities. Although I found at times his regaling of familial woe to be a tad tiresome (which might say more about me than the author), readers find the dolor is followed by incredible, inconceivable moments. The banal often served as the calm before the storm. Doty's sexuality and his sister's proclivity for the wild life, both proved to be touchstones of extreme prejudice to which neither would find solace from their parents. In "Firebird," the motherly succor is poison and the fatherly guidance is doled out in dollar bills and insouciance. Readers will discover this negligence and bias nearly ends the memoirist's life. For every gay man this book should become a Baedeker; for every straight person it should be required reading. Doty, mostly known for his searingly-beautiful and evocative poetry ("Sweet Machine" being his best), has written a memoir that is startling in its revelations and oddly moving in its reportage. It differs from his previous memoir, "Heaven's Coast," in its introspection. While "Heaven's Coast" (on the death of partner, Wally) has immediacy and intimacy, "Firebird" is more assessing and inclusive. "Firebird" is raw, exquisite and prosaic in the equal proportions mirroring the natural rhythm of family life, of growing up and inward. It is a sand papering off the layers of familial varnish; it is the story of how art saved a little, sissy boy residing in a house of dysfunction, in a world not always ready for the outsider. It is a story of us all rising from our individual pyres of prejudice and to what we owe the power of flight.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Great Book 23 Nov. 1999
By Jon Miller-Carrasco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with a cynical heart; I loved Bernard Cooper's _Truth Serum_ memoirs so much that I was pretty sure all other coming of gay-age autobiography would be inferior in comparison. I'm happy to have been wrong. I thought _Firebird_ was wise and unpretentious, articulate and clear: it works for all the same reasons _TS_ succeeded. It is a very well-written book by a thoughtful writer.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Evolution of a poet 20 Aug. 2003
By Peggy Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It's not always a pretty story, but it's always intellectually and emotionally moving. Mark Doty is one of America's finest writers of poetry and prose. That such a mind should have triumphed over his stressful growing up years is remarkable. His background would have landed many other kids in a foster home. Firebird is a coming-of-age memoir of a pre-gay geeky kid with a deranged and alcoholic mother, a passive/conflicted father, and a sister whose middle name is Trouble.
Firebird is beautifully written, revealing how a person who lives in a world of art, music, and literature rose from the ashes of his youth like the proverbial Phoenix of legend. It could easily have been titled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but somebody got to that one first.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Mark Doty's FIREBIRD: The Beautiful Sadness of Childhood 2 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In his memoir, Mark Doty says, "The older I get, the more I distrust redemption; it isn't in the power of language to repair the damages." Though I agree with Doty's thought-prevoking statement, I would also venture to say that the power of this book, though it does not attempt to sugar-coat the past, does make of what is difficult a thing of beauty.
Poet Mark Doty has a uniquely adept ability to find beauty in the most tragic of events, not in a way that minimizes, but ironically, in a way that points them up even more clearly. For it is those events that shape us, Doty says, like it or not, and we cannot run from them, we can only claim them.
This memoir is brave and honest, profound and wise, beautifully and powerfully written. I believe my life more rich for having read it.
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