Koren Zailckas : biography
Koren Zailckas (born 1980) is a bestselling American writer and memoirist. Her debut, Smashed, was released in 2005 by Viking Penguin and became a New York Times bestseller. Zailckas attended Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, Massachusetts and Syracuse University.
Smashed chronicles Zailckas’ decade-long struggle with alcohol abuse, beginning at fourteen, in an effort to explain the binge drinking phenomenon that plagues America’s youth.
Around the time she quit drinking, Zailckas became preoccupied with an old memory, which involved a night that she had her stomach pumped when she was 16. According to Zailckas, she had not thought about that night in a number of years, but she suddenly could not get it out of her head. Eventually, she sat down and wrote about it. The piece later became a chapter in her book.
Around the same time, Zailckas was hearing a lot in the news about “girls of her generation” and how they were drinking younger and more than all the generations of women who’d gone before them. The Harvard School of Public Health reported, between 1993 and 2001, there was a threefold increase in the number of women who reported being drunk on ten or more occasions in the previous month. Time magazine ran a cover story about female binge drinkers. Zailckas did not agree with what the psychologists and the sociologists, the clinicians and the statisticians had to say, which was: “girls today are drinking more because they’re just so damn liberated, because they’re bursting with confidence and girl power, because they believe they can match boys everywhere, including the bar.” In her own experience, the author says, she and her female friends drank largely because it was an expression of their unhappiness and lack of confidence. It occurred to Zailckas, then 23, that she could offer a younger perspective.
As a writer, Zailckas says her writing is informed by memoirists Mary Karr, Nick Flynn, Tobias Wolff, as well as novelists T.C. Boyle, Jeffrey Eugenides, A.M. Homes, Richard Ford, Haruki Murakami. She’s also admitted she is heavily influenced by music and song lyrics. Zailckas has been quoted as saying, "If you’re a writer, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found in lyrics. That’s the first thing I do before I get to work in the morning: have a cup of coffee and put on a record."
On September 1, 2008 Zailckas married Eamon Hamilton, singer and songwriter of the acclaimed band Brakes, whom she met on the social networking site Myspace, in Romainville, France.
Zailckas has been challenged by some readers who want to dispute her assertion that she is "not an alcoholic." In interviews, Zailckas maintains: "I’ve talked to a lot of addiction counselors who say alcoholism is made up of two things: abuse and addiction. God knows I had that abuse down pat. But I don’t know that I necessarily felt (or feel) that addiction. And so no, I don’t identify myself as an alcoholic. That identity didn’t feel true to me, so I didn’t write it. I also think the brand ‘alcoholic’ prevents a lot of people, especially young people, from seeking help or even reevaluating their relationship with alcohol. In my mind, the whole point of Smashed is to say, you don’t have to be a quote-unquote alcoholic in order to examine the underlying reasons why you’re drinking."
Fury: A Sequel to Smashed
In February 2010, Koren Zailckas announced a sequel to Smashed on her Facebook page. Her follow-up, Fury: a Memoir came out on September 7, 2010. It was published by Viking Penguin, who described it as relating her exploration with her feelings of anger, the effects of that anger and the psychological aspects of repression and the turmoil of her own life which caused it. The book combines psychological research with her personal story.
Zailckas downplays the catharsis of memoir-writing, saying, "All said and done, I’m reluctant to say writing Smashed was cathartic. For one, I think we assign that term to women far more often than we assign it to men. All too often, men’s works are deemed ‘literature’ and women’s are dismissed as ‘therapy.’ On a personal level, sure, it’s easier to discuss old indignities. Talking, for instance, about a horrifying blackout doesn’t rattle me the way it used to. I’m not convinced I’ve come to term with old aches as much as I’ve had to numb myself to them for the sake of spreading the book’s message. Ultimately, I think a memoir leaves its author with more terror than comfort, more questions than closure. More than anything, I feel a growing breach between ‘me’ and the ‘me’ on the page. It’s an occupational hazard, I guess. I feel sort of exiled from my own experiences."
She also says she finds writing fiction more challenging than writing narrative non-fiction. "For me, fiction-writing is about escapism. Whereas memoir-writing is about facing cold, harsh realities. I’ll let you guess which one is more of a party… Naw, in reality, there are challenges to both. In memoir, there’s the burden of truth. And in fiction, there’s the burden of fantasy. Me, I find fiction harder. There are so many possibilities in fiction. The story can go absolutely anywhere. And that overwhelms me. That strikes fear in my timid, little heart. I like being restricted to the cage of fact, the coop of reality. Without it, I feel a certain agoraphobia."
As a journalist, she has contributed to The Guardian, U.S. News & World Report, Glamour, Jane, and Seventeen magazine. She has promoted her book on 20/20, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper 360, The View, Topic A with Tina Brown and The Tyra Banks Show, among others.