The World Before Mirrors


The World Before Mirrors

Joan Connor

River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize Series

148 pages
4 color inserts


June 2006


$16.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

"What do you do for a living?" the podiatrist (or the photographer or the woman in the train station) asks, and Joan Connor answers, "I’m a writer," waiting with a cringe for the inevitable rejoinder: "Oh, boy, do I have a story for you!"

How such offerings, not stories but small reports from the thick of life, become rich reflections on the nature of waiting and writing, language and love, memory and hope, is the mystery of this award-winning collection of essays. Traveling between the poles of Ohio and Vermont, childhood and motherhood, Connor writes of a peripatetic family whose oddities make the quirks of a Thurber household seem downright subdued; of a thirteen-year-old son as an unlikely companion through the torments of middle-aged dating; of old loves and new; and through it all, of writing as a means of finding the shortest distance between two lines: hope. With language that distills insight from anecdote and transforms the stuff of middling life into telling metaphor, The World Before Mirrors, winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, lifts the telling of a life’s stories into the realm of flight.

Author Bio

Joan Connor is a professor of fiction writing at Ohio University and a co-director of the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program. Her third collection of short stories, History Lessons, won the 2002 AWP Award in Short Fiction. A recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Grant and a Pushcart Prize, Connor is also the winner of the John Gilgun Award and the Ohio Writer Award in fiction and nonfiction.


"With candor, bracing wit, and the kind of skewering insight that could kill if she let it, Joan Connor investigates love, sex, motherhood, family, and the ways they echo back through memory, sometimes to comfort and sometimes to bite. I am so engaged by her vital, verbally adventurous voice that I would follow her pretty much anywhere she wants to go."—Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After and Half a Heart

“Early on, Joan Connor writes that ‘Wordplay and wit are my versions of despair.’ The passage is born of spending a night in James Thurber’s house, when the author feels kinship with Thurber as eccentric. It is her eccentricity, her off-centeredness, that keeps these writings so lively: Connor views love and death and work and art from so brilliantly quirky an angle that her wit (in all that noun’s meanings) and the wordplay ultimately preclude mere despair in reader and writer alike. I can’t overpraise Connor’s accomplishment.”—Sydney Lea, author of Hunting the Whole Way Home

"Joan Connor's essays are a survivor's psalms, a secular spirit's prayers played brilliantly in ragtime. She sees herself and all the rest of us—our yearnings, our secrets, our foibles—with such clarity her vision would be terrifying if it were not at once so kind, if her words were not so salty and sharp, her sentences so energetic and exhilarating."—Richard Hoffman author of Half the House: a Memoir