Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Kelly Corrigan draws on growing up in Radnor for memoirs

Kelly Corrigan loves driving down Darby Paoli Road in Villanova. The author has returned to it many times, both on visits to her parents' house and in her best-selling memoirs about family.

Author Kelly Corrigan
Author Kelly CorriganRead moreDrew Altizer

Kelly Corrigan loves driving down Darby Paoli Road in Villanova.

The author has returned to it many times, both on visits to her parents' house and in her best-selling memoirs about family.

It's the look of the landscape.

The way the hills slope.

The lack of stoplights on the road.

"I just think it's beautiful," said Corrigan, 47.

It also, like many roads in her life seem to, leads to her mother and father.

The Radnor native has built a career writing about her relationships with her parents and daughters.

She started out selling her first memoir, about her and her father's simultaneous battles with cancer, in friends' living rooms in 2008.

It wasn't until a video essay of Corrigan's about female bonds called "Transcending" went viral on YouTube that she herself went from a newcomer to a big name.

"Transcending" has gotten nearly five million hits. All three of her memoirs have reached No. 2 on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

This month, Corrigan is starting the paperback tour for the third book, Glitter and Glue, which was first published in hardcover a year ago.

The book tackles Corrigan's relationship with her mother.

"I didn't leave my childhood thinking my mother was going to be a big part of my life. I didn't think we really had enough in common to hold us together," Corrigan said last week from her home in California.

That changed, first during Corrigan's postcollege job as a nanny to children whose own mother had just died, and later after Corrigan's breast cancer diagnosis at age 36.

The book weaves those stories together with the ability to relate that has drawn Corrigan thousands of fans.

"The nicest thing people ever say, that makes me so happy, is, they say, 'Exactly. This is exactly how I felt,' or, 'This is exactly what I've wanted to say,' " Corrigan said.

She aims to put words to elements of life that can be hard to express but are worth thinking about, she said. Her next book will be about acceptance - the things that are "blocking us from being able to let go."

In conversation, Corrigan is as engaging and funny as she is on the page. Fast-paced and thoughtful, she weaves back and forth between jokes and wisdom. Her mother's voice frequently works its way in, via Corrigan's croaky, Philadelphia-Baltimore-accented imitation of her.

Corrigan's parents still live in the house in which she and her two brothers grew up. Both she and her father finished cancer treatment in 2006.

Corrigan, who now lives in Oakland with her husband and two daughters, 11 and 13, remembers her childhood fondly. She gives great credit to Radnor High School, from which she graduated in 1985.

Corrigan received her master's degree in literature from San Francisco State University and worked for the United Way before her writing career. She was featured in The Inquirer in 1998 for Shakespeare-teaching software she developed as a graduate student and demonstrated at Radnor.

"I am incredibly proud of her," said Mary Anne Caporaletti, who taught Corrigan's senior-year Advanced Placement literature class at Radnor. Corrigan was a brave student, she said.

Since the release of Glitter and Glue, Corrigan has taken her comedic yet poignant style to a new endeavor: a talk show for called "Foreword," which launched on YouTube last month.

So far, she's interviewed the author Margaret Atwood and the actor Jason Segel, among others, about "big ideas."

"We're really going for . . . something more satisfying, that you will refer to in your mind over time, that will change the way you think about something in a lasting way," Corrigan said.

She is also hoping to create change on her book tour by donating all its proceeds to charity. Her reading on Monday, scheduled for Montgomery School in Chester Springs at 7 p.m., will benefit the Exton-based nonprofit Family Lives On, an organization that helps bereaved children carry on traditions they had with their deceased parents.

The family-oriented organization is a perfect match for Glitter and Glue, Corrigan said.

Her childhood house on Wooded Lane has changed little. Corrigan sleeps in her old bedroom when she visits. It's almost like a museum, she said, and one she has mined well in her writing.

Glitter and Glue was the first book Corrigan attempted. After six months, she decided it was a ludicrous aspiration, akin to wanting to win an Oscar, she said. But 20 years later, the book is on Oprah Winfrey's list of favorites. Corrigan's mother thinks it's the best one yet. And Corrigan said she has learned one important lesson:

"You're allowed to tell your story."