Writing Widowhood

The Landscapes of Bereavement

By Jeffrey Berman

Subjects: Death And Dying, Literature, Literary Criticism, Memoir, Autobiography, Biography And Memoir
Paperback : 9781438458205, 244 pages, July 2016
Hardcover : 9781438458199, 244 pages, November 2015

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Table of contents

Introduction: “The Most Life-Changing Event”
1. Joyce Carol Oates: A Widow’s Story
2. Sandra M. Gilbert: Wrongful Death
3. Gail Godwin: Evenings At Five
4. Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights

5. Kay Redfield Jamison: Nothing Was the Same
Conclusion: Mourning Sickness
Works Cited

Explores how memoirs of widowhood can help us understand the reality of bereavement and the critical role of writing and reading in recovery.


The death of a beloved spouse after a lifetime of companionship is a life-changing experience. To help understand the reality of bereavement, Jeffrey Berman focuses on five extraordinary American writers—Joan Didion, Sandra Gilbert, Gail Godwin, Kay Redfield Jamison, and Joyce Carol Oates—each of whom has written a memoir of spousal loss. In each chapter, Berman gives an overview of the writer's life and art before widowhood, including her early preoccupation with death, and then discusses the writer's memoir and her life as a widow. He discovers that writing was, for all of these authors, both a solace and a lifeline, enabling them to maintain bonds with their lost loved ones while simultaneously moving on with their lives. These memoirs of widowhood, Berman maintains, reveal not only courage and resilience in the face of loss, but also the critical role of writing and reading in bereavement and recovery.

Jeffrey Berman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He is the author of many books, including Death in the Classroom: Writing about Love and Loss and Dying to Teach: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Learning, both also published by SUNY Press.


"…an original and wide-ranging study that combines close reading, literary analysis, grief and trauma theory, and composition studies to explore the theme of grief and recovery across the memoirists' fictional and non-fictional writings … this book makes an important contribution to the field in that it defines and examines a new genre: 'the widowhood memoir. '" — Life Writing

"Berman's study of women writing about their experiences of widowhood directs much-needed attention to this segment of memoir writing. " — CHOICE

"Writing Widowhood is a stunning achievement that combines biography, literary history, and theoretical and philosophical exploration into the nature of grief as well as mental illness—all seamlessly executed. Berman elegantly and lucidly conveys a range of theories and perspectives to suit both academic and general readers. Berman never compromises complexity while remaining accessible and straightforward throughout. " — Virginia L. Blum, author of Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery

"Writing Widowhood contributes to the field of autobiography/biography, and particularly to women's writing within that generic field, by discussing five memoirs which Berman categorizes as the 'widow memoir. ' No other critic that I know has shaped commentaries into a newly defined genre. Berman's book, thus, makes an important contribution to the overall field. " — Linda Wagner-Martin, author of Telling Women's Lives: The New Biography