A ‘girly, girl’ with fart jokes


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Writer Diana Joseph should’ve been a comedian.

“She’s not just funny, she’s hysterical,” Prairie Lights book buyer Paul Ingram said. “Her humor is reminiscent of David Sedaris, of Chelsea Handler … the self-deprecating, young wise guy.”

Joseph will read from her memoir, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog, at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way examines Joseph’s male relationships with unflinching honesty and sharp-witted observations.

In the book, her father is described as a retired body-shop owner who rarely wears a shirt, smokes two packs a day, and warns the then 12-year-old Joseph against becoming a slut. Her delinquent-turned-cop brother calls women “little honeys” and knows hundreds of dirty jokes. Her ex-fiancé pushed Joseph to eat Double Stuf Oreos in the hopes of increasing her chest size.

Her son, referred to as “the boy,” loves “cash money,” hates hippies, and once gave himself trench foot by wearing the same pair of socks for 28-days straight.

“The first piece I wrote [from this memoir] was about the boy,” said Joseph, 39. “I had a pretty good time writing it and then put it away.”

A couple of years went by before she did anything with the essay. She entered “The Boy” in the Kentucky Women Writers Prize for Creative Nonfiction, judged by writer and National Public Radio’s “This American Life” contributor Sarah Vowell.

“Sarah Vowell has the same kind of witty style [as Diana Joseph],” Ingram said. “It is interesting these women are doing the kind of comedy that is … naughty, naughty, naughty. They use all the words and language that women traditionally didn’t say.”

Joseph won the contest, which soon led to acquiring a literary agent.

The nonfiction stories in I’m Sorry You Feel That Way depict flawed characters but with a generous honesty. She believes the people in her memoir are not fundamentally different from the ones in the lives of her readers.

“In writing these stories, I want to tell a story about your dad, your brother, your son,” she said.
Ingram thinks her candor translates clearly through the page because “[she is] not afraid to offend other people or be the butt of her own jokes.”

Critics praise her for opting for honesty over flattery in the memoir, saying she does not try to come off as good or wise. Many sections deal with the consequences of bad choices, failed romances, and maternal oversights.

“I write about the way I see the world,” she said. “I really like the absurdities. For me, putting the comic and the tragic together really make sense.”

As a self-professed “girly girl who enjoys a good fart joke,” Joseph — a faculty member at Minnesota State University-Mankato — thinks college students have always been her ideal audience.

Not only do her undergraduate students share a similar sense of humor, she also credits them with helping her writing.

“I try to get [my creative-writing students] to pick up stories from their own lives,” Joseph said. “[While] helping them brainstorm ideas, I would usually tell them my stories.”

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