In a late December day — despite stormy weather and post-holiday inertia — about 100 women showed up at the Cox Building to hear writer Kelly Corrigan read from her remarkable memoir, “The Middle Place.” Some may have braved the cold and rain as a show of support for Corrigan's in-laws, long-time Little Rock residents Nancy and Larry Lichty, but if they came out of loyalty, they stayed because they were rapt.
It was everything a book event should be. The good energy in the room was palpable, in part because of Corrigan's ease and candor, in part because of the sense of camaraderie among the multi-generational group gathered there. Essentially, it felt like a celebration, which, of course, it was. Because Corrigan's story, still unfolding, is not only one of success, but of survival.
Corrigan and her beloved father, “Greenie,” were both diagnosed with late-stage cancer at the same time, and “The Middle Place” is an account of their relationship and their recoveries. She is a natural-born storyteller who combines a razor sharp wit with heart-wrenching tenderness. As the mother of two young children, she beautifully captures the rhythm of daily life and what happens when that is interrupted. At the risk of sounding maudlin, her reading elicited both laughs and tears from the audience. She's a little like a combination of Anne Lamott (with less religion) and Tina Fey (with a little more reverence). Corrigan read two chapters from her book, published by a new imprint of Hyperion called Voice, one about meeting her husband Edward, another about receiving chemo.
Corrigan is such a huge talent that we'd like to claim her as one of our own, and, thankfully, we can. Almost 10 years ago she married Arkansan Edward Lichty, who graduated at the top of his class from Central High in 1987 and went on to Yale and Stanford and has since held various high profile positions in Silicon Valley.
Fresh off of a book tour in the Northeast, Corrigan recently spoke to us from her home in the San Francisco Bay area. We caught her as she was heading out to a play-date for her younger daughter, Claire. She talked about the “quiet joy” she experiences when writing a column (for the Bay Area News Group) at home while in her pajamas, as well as her distaste for the marketing side of things, which makes her “feel like a self-promoter.” “You're so afraid you're turning into an asshole,” she says with typical frankness.
Even over the phone, the Corrigan charm is infectious. Other people seem to think so too, as evidenced by her extremely successful tour (though she admits to stacking the deck with relatives at every stop), and recent ranking on the New York Times bestseller list, vying with Steve Martin for number 15. The number of book sales for “The Middle Place” spiked with her January appearance on the “Today” show (her third).
Corrigan has also received rave reviews in People magazine, O magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle and garnered praise from writers like Ayelet Waldman and Anna Quindlen.
One of the refreshing things about Corrigan is that she seems genuinely unaffected by her success and impervious to the narcissism and self-absorption that often afflict mom bloggers and memoirists alike. Sure, she's delighted by the overwhelmingly positive response, but she keeps things in perspective and doesn't suffer from ego inflation. She strikes a nice balance between being confident and not taking herself too seriously.
If you missed the December signing and reading, not to worry. You can catch Corrigan at this year's Arkansas Literary Festival, April 3-6, which will include an appearance at the Arkansas Times' “Pub or Perish” event on Saturday, April 5. You can also check out her website, kellycorrigan.com, and upcoming essays in the spring issues of Glamour, Good Housekeeping and O.