Newest Brief Essays

"Women's Hour, YMCA" featured in Kenyon Review Online

"I Second That Emotion" (craft essay) featured in New Ohio Review


Other Brief Essays

"Advanced Directive to My Future Roommate…"

"Things Gone the Way of Time," recently reprinted in Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (Norton)


Study with Rebecca this summer

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, June 18-25


Kenyon Review PODCAST with Rebecca

(on memoir, genre-crossing, writing practice, and more)


Word Painting Revised Edition: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

New edition includes over 100 writing exercises for all genres.

Word Painting

The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change

A multi-generational memoir based on hundreds of letters and documents spanning more than a century…

The Tribal Knot
Available from...

The Tribal Knot Artifacts (video)

Tribal Knot artifacts


Author's Note

           I have always written from a deep need to explore the mysteries and complexities of so-called ordinary lives. (I do not believe any life is ordinary; if so, then all lives are.) Most of the work I've produced over the past thirty years, whether poetry or prose, centers on family and community relationships, the myriad ways in which lives intersect. So when I inherited more than a thousand family documents spanning a hundred years of intersecting lives--letters, postcards, diaries, and ephemera--I could not resist the impulse to stitch these lives back together, in part to discover my own place in the tribal constellation. After ten years of researching, drafting and redrafting, cutting and pasting and cutting again--losing hundreds of pages in the process--I completed The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change.
            The Tribal Knot explores the complicated nature of communal bonds in various forms: blood families, neighborhoods, rural and small town communities, and religious and fraternal organizations, including exclusionary groups such as the Improved Order of Red Men and the 1920s Ku Klux Klan. Though the book spans several locales, its geographical core is central Indiana, where many of my ancestors migrated during the 1880s. Like the image of a family hair weaving that informs the book's title, individual stories are braided into a single narrative. The timeline is long, the cast of characters large, but at its center is the Mounts family, a tribe of subsistence farmers, hunters, trappers, and laborers who survived numerous dark chapters—poverty, war, illness and accident, filicide and suicide, economic depressions and personal disasters—while struggling to balance independence and community and to hold tight to the ties that bound them.

– Rebecca McClanahan


Downloads for The Tribal Knot

Interviews on The Tribal Knot

Kenyon Review (READ ONLINE)
Rain Taxi Review of Books (featured in print Summer Issue)
Washington Independent Review of Books (Q&A)

Reviews for The Tribal Knot

Niche (online review) READ

"Book like no other I've read, The Tribal Knot combines genres to become something entirely new. Memoir, novel, genealogy, biography, survivor's testimony, study of generations of women, love story, catalogue of precious quotidian details, and portrait of Twentieth Century American life, this book takes us where we've all been wanting to go but haven't until now seen how to get there. In this brilliant revitalizing of the oldest narrative we know, Rebecca McClanahan demonstrates how our lives depend on the story of our human family and why we can never get enough of it."
-- David Huddle, Author of The Story of a Million Years and The Writing Habit

"Rebecca McClanahan has written a magnificent book. The Tribal Knot is a loving portrait of a family across its generations. More than a genealogical trail, this is the story of a distinctly Midwestern family who captured my heart. I fell in love with, quibbled with, and worried over these people as if they were my own. I celebrated their joys, grieved for their losses, and mourned their deaths. McClanahan does such a marvelous job of making her ancestors come alive in this loving reminder of the ties that bind."
-- Lee Martin, author of From Our House and Turning Bones

"To enter Rebecca McClanahan's memoir is to truly enter her life--her history, her geography, her tribe. The blending of photographs, letters, and diary entries into McClanahan's intelligent, lyrical and thoughtful prose makes this book one of the fullest reading experiences I have had in a very long time."
-- Ann Hood author of Comfort: A Journey Through Grief and The Knitting Circle

"Rebecca McClanahan's multi-generational memoir artfully weaves together more than a century of family documents, oral history, and historical records. With poetic elegance, McClanahan transforms ordinary life events into meaningful life stories. The Tribal Knot is not only an engaging read, but a literary model for those who yearn to write their own family story."
-- Sharon DeBartolo, Certified Genealogist and author of You Can Write Your Family History

"This lovely, unsentimental memoir spins the multiple strands of McClanahan's family past into a living tapestry going back into the nineteenth century Midwest. I have never seen the familial panorama captured as living knowledge in such a moving way. Tragedies lie alongside daily struggles with McClanahan's own formation becoming intuitively known to the reader as she conjures her knot. When her time rolls around we already know her well. This is an unsparing book that is pulled into true by enduring attachment."
-- Suzannah Lessard, author of The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Excerpts from The Tribal Knot

Scheduled The Tribal Knot Events

In New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Washington

Suggested The Tribal Knot Events

Readings, Lectures, Workshops, Interviews