Coming of Age in a Hardscrabble World

A Memoir Anthology

Edited by Nancy C. Atwood and Roger Atwood

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From the publisher: Nonfiction storytelling is at its best in this anthology of excerpts from memoirs by 30 authors — some eminent, some less well known — who grew up tough and talented in working-class America. Their stories, selected from literary memoirs published between 1982 and 2014, cover episodes from childhood to young adulthood within a spectrum of life-changing experiences. Although diverse ethnically, racially, geographically, and in sexual orientation, these writers share a youthful precocity and determination to find opportunity where little appeared to exist.

“A moving, engrossing anthology … autobiographical pieces by 30 writers — including Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, Michael Patrick MacDonald and bell hooks — offer a window into the struggles of growing up poor or working-class.” —Brandeis magazine

“Wonderfully varied … unique in its focus.” — Julia Prewitt Brown, author of Jane Austen’s Novels: Social Change and Literary Form

“These beautifully curated excerpts are as vivid and concise — and sometimes as dark and disturbing — as fairy tales.” — Adam Goodheart, author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening


  • Wonderfully varied . . . unique in its focus . . . I recommend this anthology with great enthusiasm. At a time when the gap between rich and poor seems to be growing ever larger and in which communication among classes seems to be at an all-time low, these memoirs have the potential to enlighten readers both in the university and beyond it.

    Julia Prewitt Brown, author of Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form
  • Coming of Age offers invaluable insights into what it means to come of age for youth who struggle to overcome disadvantages and find their place in American society. The memoirs are rich, vivid, and well-written.

    Nazli Kibria, author of Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans
  • In a sense, all children are picaresque heroes: intrepid travelers through an uncharted wilderness teeming with mysteries, dangers, absurdities, and delights. But Hardscrabble features writers whose childhood landscapes were especially rocky — and whose journeys thus possess exceptional narrative power.

    Adam Goodheart, author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening