True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba's coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.
We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would cut off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.
Being mean isn't for everybody.
Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.
These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They're queers.
Myriam Gurba is a queer spoken-word performer, visual artist, and writer from Santa Maria, California. She's the author of Dahlia Season (2007, Manic D) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, Wish You Were Me (2011, Future Tense Books), and Painting Their Portraits in Winter (2015, Manic D). She has toured with Sister Spit and her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. She lives in Long Beach, where she teaches social studies to eighth-graders.
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About the Author
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction
Finalist for the Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Nylon, "Our Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2017"
Book Riot, "The Best Genre Bending Fiction of 2017"
NBC, "8 Great Latino Books of 2017"
BuzzFeed, "The 19 Best Nonfiction Books Of 2017"
Autostraddle, "The Top 10 Queer and Feminist Books of 2017"
Remezcla, "These Were the Best Books From Latin American & Latino Authors in 2017"
The Riveter, "The Riveter's Top Ten Books of 2017"
"Mean calls for a fat, fluorescent trigger warning start to finish -- and I say this admiringly. Gurba likes the feel of radioactive substances on her bare hands." --The New York Times
"Gurba is something of a connoisseur of cruelty. She doesn't pull her punches, but her jabs are calibrated with a perfect balance of rage and satire." --The New York Times
"[Gurba's] dark humor isn't used for shock value alone, offering instead a striking image of deflection and coping in the face of real pain and terror." --Publishers Weekly
"With its icy wit, edgy wedding of lyricism and prose, and unflinching look at personal and public demons, Gurba's introspective memoir is brave and significant." --Kirkus
"Mean demands our attention not only as a painfully timely story, but also as an artful memoir.... a powerful, vital book about damage and the ghostly afterlives of abuse." --Los Angeles Review of Books"With unconstrained, inventive, stop-you-in-your-tracks writing, Gurba asserts that there is glee, freedom, and, perhaps most of all, truth in meanness." --Booklist "Gurba seems intent on tearing down walls and shaking readers out of complacency; her writing pulls our attention to human cruelty, suffering, and then, resilience. We are better off for it." --BuzzFeed "[Gurba's skill] here is apparent in the way she demonstrates her own gradual maturing through her developing thoughts and sense of self." --Literary Hub "This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously." --The Rumpus "[Gurba's] politicized consciousness comes not only through her college education, but also through the stories of the women who don't survive the violence that women of color encounter on journeys similar to hers. This is a startling and edgy book from start to finish." --NBCNews "She tackles everything from sexual violence to racism with humour and directness." --ELLE UK "[Mean is] gorgeously written--beautiful, forthright, honest, and just a little bit mean, and I loved every minute of it. Gurba's is a voice we need to be listening to right now." --Book Riot "Gurba's 'queer art of being mean' is a triumph of deadpan humor in a timely and thrilling voice. Stop everything and read this brave and tender book." --O, The Oprah Magazine "Throughout the book, [Gurba] handles the telling of one tragedy after another with great care and sharp humor, so there is redemption and levity even in dark moments." --Buzzfeed, "21 Books Queer Women (And Everybody Else) Should Read This Pride Month" "Gurba explores the stark reality of her suffering as she creates solidarity with other victimized women. Her story is a powerful one, and her voice is certainly one that earns readers' attention." --BUST
"Mean will make you LOL and break your heart." --The Millions
"Gurba uses the tragedies, both small and large, she sees around her to illuminate the realities of systemic racism and misogyny, and the ways in which we can try to escape what society would like to tell us is our fate." --Nylon"Gurba throws her past styles and concerns into a blast furnace and casts Mean, a pair of brass knuckles disguised as a book, a personal narrative that takes on sexual assault and its aftermath, rape culture, racism, queerness, family, and coming of age, laced through with a cool knowing and cooler humor, a literary voice like none other." --Publishers Weekly
"[Mean] is a book that commands you, pushing and pulling you with the author's expert language and voice, haunting you long after the pages have ended." --Atticus Review
"The book is a study in the utility and limits of niceness, especially when it comes to being a nice girl--and the political power of being mean." --Pacific Standard
"Don't let its slim profile fool you, this memoir bursts with vitality and humor (however mordant), all while dealing with issues of gender politics, sexual assault, PTSD, and Gurba's experience growing up as a queer, mixed race Chicana in California in the '80s." --Nylon
"Through her unpredictable style, Gurba offers a welcomed antidote to the formula of the contemporary novel." --W Magazine
"Gurba tackles hard subjects and ugly adolescent intimacies in short sentences you'll have no choice but to read out loud to strangers and repeat to yourself, quietly, later." --Kenyon Review
"Hauntingly, beautiful, and refreshingly blunt, Gurba's "Mean" is an open door through which she invites you to experience her life, in all its beauty and struggle. I suggest you walk through it." --Harvard Crimson
"The difficulty and the joy of reading Mean is diving deep into the murky "Molack" waters with Myriam Gurba." --Bust
"Not one to mince words, this Lambda Literary finalist [Myriam Gurba] nevertheless aims to entertain as she tackles racism, homophobia, and sexual violence in this amusing genre-defying celebration of strategic offensiveness." --Logo
"[Gurba's] voice is irreverent, lyrical, and sharply observant, even as her book offers dark commentary on what it means to be a woman in American society." --Library Journal
"Honest and darkly funny, the book is riddled with moments that will have you nodding, cringing, and crying right along with the author." --Harper's Bazaar
"...as [Gurba] veers from biting vignettes to poignant verse and back again, she shows reverence for both saints and bitches, arguing that nastiness can be more than just a defense mechanism. In a cruel world, it sometimes offers us the catharsis we need to keep going." --OUT Magazine
"Gurba's experience as a spoken word poet shines through in her colloquial quips and clever turns of phrase. It's not an easy feat to inject wit into such a heavy subject matter, but Gurba does so with tact." --Lambda Literary Review
"[Gurba] breathes fire and Spanglish, batters you with her biting humor then buries you in truths you cannot look away from... This is how memoirs should always be written - with fierceness, brutal honesty and a wry smile cutting through it all." --Brightest Young Things
"Bruised but exuberant, Gurba's brash voice eschews any sanctimonious overtones... With this unashamed, raw perspective, Gurba views her life as a means to demonstrate how a person can be reduced to a mere body, nothing more than an object of desire." --BOMB
"Read Mean for its humor and stimulating structure. Read Gurba for her unique perspective and literary stylings." --PANK"In vivid and unflinching prose, Gurba looks at sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and speaks out for women who aren't afraid to be feisty and angry and mean." --Bustle
"Mean is pure Gurba: brazen, ballsy, and grinning. But Gurba's first memoir is also poised to be a breakout book--a work that, like Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water, will likely catapult its author out of the small world of experimental-ish short fiction and into a much larger readership." --4Columns
"...[Mean] sets itself up as a challenge -- to empathize, to tell the truth and to stay awake to the violence done to women (and minorities) every day, and the various ways in which our society works to erase their dignities and identities, not to mention their bodies." --Star Tribune
"Gurba's artistic sensibility is so fresh, her wit and observational skills so acute, that she defies all expected tropes and story structure." --Dallas Morning News
"For its unapologetic examination of trauma, for its witty take on the beloved idols of pop, and for its contributions to the genre of memoir, Mean is a must-read... Gurba's voice is strong, irreverent, vulnerable, and smart all at the same time, a much needed perspective at a time when white gentility dominates the national conversation on seuxal harassment and what it means to be accountable." --Mask Magazine
"Gurba's prose is dark and sparse, potent yet playful. She combines different registers and rhythms, and weaves together threads of different kinds of privilege, whiteness, sexual assault, and trauma." --The Rumpus
"Through wit and in-your-face brilliance, Gurba tells a story that is both deeply personal and bitingly critical of modern life. Along the way, she also gives us a masterclass in what intersectionality is all about." --Shondaland
"This book is testament, translation, smackdown, and also it's hella funny." --Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Mean is a memoir, but it's a unique one: it's poetic, forceful, angry, and, yes, a little bit mean, in the best way possible...one of the most moving and inventive memoirs I've read in a long time." --Book Riot
"[Mean] charts [Gurba's] coming-of-age as a mixed-raced, queer Chicana and delves into the dark recesses of feminism, racism, sexual violence and PTSD with fierce humor where you'd least expect it." --The Orange County Register
"To say this book exudes confidence is an understatement." --ELLE
"Gurba manages to simultaneously inhabit the innocence and audacity of a child's point of view and the nuanced and scathing humor of an adult awareness. She invokes petty meanness and indicts systemic cruelty. She exploits the often-paradoxical distance between the experience of trauma and the body's reactions to create a fractured narrative that teases the line between disclosure and revelation." --Truthout
"[Gurba] has written a memoir that is just a little bit different--or maybe a lot--an in-your-face account of the young life of a mixed-race Chicana who identifies as queer, who has known prejudice, the anguish of her own sexual assault and an unshakable haunting by others she knows have been victims." --Kansas City Star
"If you like memoirs (hell, even if you don't), this one will knock your socks off." --Hello Giggles"[Mean] is not a triumphant story of survival, rather it's a defiant, hybrid text that refuses to let anyone off the hook and resists the falsity of closure." --Iowa Review "Gurba's memoir is a deft fusion of true crime, ghost story and memoir... Gurba freely admits to having a gleefully gruesome sense of humor. She uses this quality liberally in her story of the ghost who haunts Gurba as she's trying to make sense of her own trauma and life as a mixed-race queer Chicana." --Kansas City Star
"Gurba's writing feels devastating and holy and hilarious all at once." --Autostraddle
"The complexity of [Gurba's] voice contributes to the appeal of her memoir, which is compelling, suspenseful, both knowable as the girl next door and mysterious...This memoir is remarkable for its unflinching candor, for its humor in the face of tragedy and absurdity, and for its adventurous style." --Shelf Awareness Pro
"Myriam Gurba's witty, trenchant, and all too relevant account of a culture in which sexual violence exists as a frightening daily reality and is often confronted alone." --Adroit Journal
"Gurba has a special skill for capturing the sly friendships of young children, and the way so much adolescent intimacy derives from a shared conspiracy." --Bookforum"Mean... takes on the 'what are you' question and applies it to every aspect of life." --Electric Literature "Mean turns a bright spotlight on the sexual violence that women endure and what it means to live life after trauma." --Them "Gurba has constructed a coming-of-age memoir full of gut punches and belly laughs, culminating in trauma, but never victimization." --NewPages
"Gurba bookends this book with two sexual assaults and in their retelling manages to offer something close to the catharsis we all so desperately need. When I finished the last page, I couldn't help but reverently whisper aloud, 'Damn.'" --Heauxs
"Mean tackles the most serious of topics--sexual assault, racism, homophobia--with a voice that revels in the grim humor of survival." --Catapult Community, "Staff Picks"
"I am such a gigantic fan of Myriam Gurba. Her voice is an alchemy of queer magic, feminist wildness, and intersectional explosion. She's a gigantic inspiration to my work and the sexiest, smartest literary discovery in Los Angeles. She's totally ready to wake up the world." --Jill Soloway
"Casually frank and grimly funny, the stealth power of this book mesmerizes. Mean excavates one female's personal history with America's rape culture, zooming through suburbia, race, friendship, desire, education, family, pop culture--essentially taking on the world--with prose both controlled and popping with singular detail. There is no writer like Myriam Gurba, and Mean is perfection." --Michelle Tea
"'The post-traumatic mind has an advanced set of art skills, ' Myriam Gurba writes. Mean tackles the profane and the sacred by sticking one hand into your chest and grabbing hold of your heart muscle while the other hand tickle fights your brain, complete with serious noogies. Aligned with female saints and feminist artists and writers, Gurba vividly offers stories both familiar and unfamiliar in a heartbreaking and riotously funny collection that, like Gurba, is hybrid in its form. I don't know that I've ever read a book that covers the territories of class, racism, sexual assault, eating disorders, and more that made me LOL with its ferocious intellect and biting humor. There is just no other voice like hers, and Mean is a testament to that fact. I want Myriam Gurba to translate the world." --Wendy Ortiz