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From a critically acclaimed, Pushcart Prize–nominated performance artist, a funny, vivid, and ultimately heartbreaking memoir about forging identity in the chasm between cultures and classes
Anya Liftig grew up with her feet in two very different worlds. While her mother’s upbringing was so rural that the other kids called her “holler rat,” her father came from a comfortable, upper-middle-class Jewish family. Anya spent her childhood school years in Connecticut and her summers in the holler. Shaped by the experience, she would go on to win a scholarship to Yale and become an acclaimed artist, using provocative performances to explore the contradictions and unanswered questions of her life. But when the world Anya was building for herself shattered, she was forced to reconcile where she’d come from with who she was and who she wanted to be.
In Holler Rat, Anya skillfully interweaves family lore from her childhood with descriptions of her performance art pieces and scenes of the year-long period in which her life fell apart, then plumbs the cathartic self-reckoning that followed. She takes us from her mamaw’s porch to the site of a violent family land feud; from Yale to the rancid odors of a pre-gentrified Bushwick loft; and from making out with a 14-pound salmon to having 243 raw eggs pelted at her in the name of art. In visceral, beautiful prose that ranges from raunchy and outrageous to serious and tragic, Holler Rat is the origin story of an unconventional artistic life and a captivating account of the stumbling blocks, sacrifices, and discoveries along the way.
About the Author
A writer and artist, Anya Liftig has had her creative work exhibited at Tate Modern and MoMA, and she has curated events at The Kitchen, the Center for Performance Research, and the Queens Museum. She lives in Connecticut. Holler Rat is her first book.
“[A] searing debut memoir. . . Liftig vividly explains her struggle to reconcile her identities and sheds light on family tensions . . . Readers put off by the sermonizing of Hillbilly Elegy may find this glimpse at Appalachia more illuminating.”
“Liftig tackles a lot of compelling material in this memoir: her early childhood, her family history, her time at Yale, her artistic career, infertility struggles, and a failed marriage. But what stands out is her exploration of Ganderbill, how her mother’s family is tied to this land, her mother’s experiences as the one who left to pursue higher education, and Liftig’s own connection to the holler and her mother’s family.”
“A descendant of Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina and Just Kids, Anya Liftig's Holler Rat is a joyful and urgent look at how to claim a life as an artist when such choices seem unimaginable to the people who made you as well as how to bring together the parts of yourself that seem in irreconcilable contradiction.” —Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl
“Underneath the many pleasures Liftig offers in this, her portrait of becoming an artist, runs a river of calamity. Her descriptions of her performances are electric and wild, and her descriptions of Kentucky are deeply felt and hilarious.”—Nick Flynn, author of The Reenactments and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
“Holler Rat is whimsical, funny, clever, and daring. It’s also accurate, in its own unique way, about the madness in us as well as in the outside world.”—Amitava Kumar, author of A Time Outside This Time
“Anya Liftig’s Holler Rat is an electrifying record of an artist coming into being, which is just another way to say that it’s a book about staying alive—alive against the forces that want to simplify and diminish us. Outlandish, triumphant, and inhabited from sentence to sentence, it’s a life force on the page.”—Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World
“In Holler Rat, Anya Liftig shares her remarkable journey of growing up in two contrasting worlds. With one foot in the wealthy and privileged town of Westport and the other in impoverished and isolated rural Appalachia, Anya was constantly navigating the liminal space between divergent philosophies. Betrayed as a child by a surgeon, and by the adults around her, Liftig’s wounds follow her into adulthood. Told in propulsive prose and with energetic gusto, Holler Rat is a captivating and inspiring memoir about forging your own identity in a world that misapprehends uniqueness.”—Amanda Stern, author of Little Panic: Dispatches of an Anxious Life
“Anya Liftig’s memoir, Holler Rat, beautifully recounts her upbringing where she often felt caught between two worlds: the comfortable, upper-middle-class life in Connecticut where she lived, and the summers spent in Appalachia, her mother’s home.”
—Slate's "Culture GabFest"
"A fascinating memoir"—Book Riot
“Anya Liftig’s debut memoir, Holler Rat, gives us a refreshing perspective through her story of growing up with one foot in Appalachian Kentucky and one foot in affluent Connecticut . . . She subtly and masterfully lets the truth of each scenario speak for itself, never letting up and never slowing down, showing us multiple contradictions in one paragraph, allowing us to sit with it long after we are done reading.”
—Southern Review of Books