Pure Flame

On Vivian Gor­nick   May, 2015

On Kim Gor­don and Kurt Cobain   Feb­ru­ary, 2015

4 Columns

Smooth Talk  (Oct, 2020)

Cabaret  (Sep, 2020)

Nor­mal Peo­ple  (April, 2020)

Lit­tle Women    (Jan, 2020)

Glo­ria Bell  (March, 2019)

Tully  (May, 2018)

I Love You, Daddy  (Nov, 2017)


Cap­i­tal New York

56 Up    (Jan­u­ary, 2013)

Django Unchained    (Decem­ber, 2012)

Zero Dark Thirty  (Decem­ber, 2012)

Diana Vree­land: The Eye Has to Travel   (Sep­tem­ber, 2012)

Cos­mopo­lis    (August, 2012)

Take This Waltz  (June, 2012)



The Dark Knight Rises   (July, 2012)

Beasts of the South­ern Wild   (June, 2012)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present   (May, 2012)

Project X   (March, 2012)

Act of Valor   (Feb, 2012)

The Future   (July, 2011)

Inside Job   (Oct, 2010)

A Film Unfin­ished   (Aug, 2010)

I Am Love   (June, 2010)

Splice   (May, 2010)

Green­berg   (March, 2010)

A Prophet   (Feb, 2010)

The Ghost Writer   (Feb, 2010)

The White Rib­bon   (Dec, 2009)

Avatar   (Dec, 2009)

Bright Star   (Sep, 2009)


The Reeler

Be Kind Rewind  (Feb 2008)

The Band’s Visit (Feb 2008)

Knocked Up  (June 2007)

Away From Her  (May 2007)

Exter­mi­nat­ing Angels (March 2007)

The Lives of Oth­ers  (Feb 2007)

The Painted Veil  (Dec 2006)

The Secret Life of Words  (Dec 2006)

Volver  (Oct 2006)


IFC Inter­views

Inter­view with Natasha Lyonne (July, 2010)

Inter­view with Debra Granik (June, 2010)

Inter­view with Math­ieu Amal­ric (Novem­ber, 2007)

Inter­view with Flo­rian Henckel von Don­ners­marck (Jan­u­ary, 2007)



Ruben Östlund and Force Majeure,  Jan/Feb 2015

The Essen­tial Jacques Demy, Sept/Oct 2014

Eula Biss’s On Immu­nity: An Inoc­u­la­tion, Octo­ber 2014

On Black Mir­ror,  Decem­ber 2014

On (Not) Vis­it­ing the 9/11 Memo­r­ial,  Sep­tem­ber 2014

Rachel Monroe’s Sav­age Appetites, Dec/Jan 2019

Lisa Taddeo’s Three WomenSum­mer 2019

Mar­i­lynne Robinson’s Lila, Fall 2014

Nor­man Rush’s Sub­tle Bod­ies, Fall 2013

Vis­it­ing Gra­ham Greene’s Lon­don, Sum­mer 2013

Revis­it­ing Wak­ing Life,   August 2013

The Com­mit­ments: On Before Mid­night,   August 2013

“The Long Hello,” review of Bar­bara Stan­wyck biog­ra­phy,   Novem­ber 2013

This Is the End and Cana­dian sell-out anx­i­ety ,  June 2013

what pur­pose did i serve in your life, by Marie Cal­loway,   June 2013


“Indeed I did not think of myself as a woman first of all.… I wanted to be pure flame.” 

                                                                                                                  —Susan Son­tag, The Vol­cano Lover                                                              


“Dur­ing one of the tex­ting ses­sions that became our habit over the period I now think of as both late and early in our rela­tion­ship, my mother revealed the exis­tence of some­one named Janis Jerome.”

So begins Michelle Orange’s extra­or­di­nary inquiry into the mean­ing of mater­nal legacy—in her own fam­ily and across a cen­tury of seis­mic change. Jerome, she learns, is one of her mother’s many alter egos: the name used in a case study, even­tu­ally sold to the Har­vard Busi­ness Review, about her mother’s midlife choice to leave her hus­band and chil­dren to pur­sue career oppor­tu­ni­ties in a big­ger city. A flash­point in the lives of both mother and daugh­ter, the deci­sion forms the heart of a broader explo­ration of the impact of fem­i­nism on what Adri­enne Rich called “the great unwrit­ten story”: that of the mother-daughter bond.

The death of Orange’s mater­nal grand­mother at nearly ninety-six and the fear that her mother’s more “suc­cess­ful” life will not be as long bring new urgency to her ques­tions about the woman whose absence and anger helped shape her life. Through a blend of mem­oir, social his­tory, and cul­tural crit­i­cism, Pure Flame pur­sues a chain of per­sonal, intel­lec­tual, and col­lec­tive inher­i­tance, trac­ing the forces that helped trans­form the world and what a woman might expect from it. Told with warmth and rigor, Orange’s account of her mother’s life and their rela­tion­ship is pres­sur­ized in crit­i­cal and unex­pected ways, result­ing in an essen­tial, rev­e­la­tory med­i­ta­tion on becom­ing, self­hood, free­dom, mor­tal­ity, sto­ry­telling, and what it means to be a mother’s daugh­ter now.


“Rich and mov­ing … Orange skirts the traps of the mother-daughter mem­oir by going beyond per­sonal his­tory. She inter­leaves mem­o­ries of her mother and mater­nal grand­mother with dis­cus­sions of writ­ing by Simone de Beau­voir, Adri­enne Rich and Susan Son­tag, among oth­ers. Their thoughts on moth­er­hood and fem­i­nism don’t per­fectly align, nor do they match the views of Orange’s own mother, who climbed the cor­po­rate lad­der and agi­tated for equal pay but who never con­sid­ered her­self a fem­i­nist. This is a good thing: Dif­fer­ent voices and per­spec­tives are allowed to coex­ist, thus under­cut­ting any uni­ver­sal truths about women and moth­er­hood … After my first read­ing, cer­tain scenes haunted me for a week … Pure Flame may be Orange’s legacy. It is already her gift.” Mag­gie Doherty, The New York Times


“The pris­matic effect of Orange’s mul­ti­di­men­sional approach is bril­liant, illu­mi­na­tive, and mov­ing.” Kirkus (starred review)


“In a weave of mem­oir, his­tory, and reflec­tion, Orange judi­ciously con­sid­ers the lives of her mother and her mother’s mother within the larger con­text of women’s ongo­ing bat­tles for equal­ity and lib­er­a­tion … In gleam­ing prose of ten­sile strength, Orange con­sid­ers the painful para­doxes of women’s lives and mother-daughter rela­tion­ships, draw­ing on the writ­ings of Simone de Beau­voir, Susan Son­tag, and Adri­enne Rich, while track­ing her seem­ingly indomitable mother’s long-brewing lung dis­ease and her ulti­mate bat­tle between mind and body.” Book­list


In Pure Flame, Michelle Orange geniusly rewrites and rein­vig­o­rates what Adri­enne Rich called “the great unwrit­ten story.” In doing so, she recasts the notion of mater­nal legacy and fills it with pointed mys­tery and informed sin­cer­ity. Pure Flame is a tuto­r­ial in bend­ing cre­ative non­fic­tion.  –Kiese Lay­mon, author of Heavy: An Amer­i­can Memoir


The best book I’ve read this year, Pure Flame is both a plea­sure to read and a work of high seri­ous­ness. A med­i­ta­tion on moth­ers and daugh­ters and an unspar­ing, styl­ishly writ­ten, and pro­foundly lov­ing explo­ration of her own rela­tion­ship with her mother, the book is as orig­i­nal as it is pow­er­ful. To be with Orange as she reck­ons with each stage of her mother’s life and with her own shift­ing assess­ments is to expe­ri­ence a joy that is at once intel­lec­tual and moral: this is a book that expands and breaks your heart, not with sen­ti­men­tal­ity but with its intel­li­gence and com­pas­sion. –Adelle Wald­man, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.


Open­ing Pure Flame is like step­ping into a cathe­dral. Michelle Orange makes elab­o­rate leaps of asso­ci­a­tion and ele­gant sen­tences seem effort­less to con­struct, but only a writer as skilled as Orange can make a reader feel like a col­lab­o­ra­tor, rather than a mere wit­ness to the artistry. Pure Flame is as lyri­cal and idea-driven as it is propul­sive and mov­ing. I already can’t wait to reread it. –Jean­nie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl



This Is Run­ning for Your Life

LA Review of Books inter­view with Elissa Bassist  (Sep, 2013)

Wag’s Revue inter­view with Abby Koski  (Sum­mer, 2013)

Other Peo­ple Pod­cast with Brad Listi  (April, 2013)

The Paris Review inter­view with Michele Fil­gate  (April, 2013)

The Mil­lions inter­view with Han­nah Gersen  (March, 2013)

Believer inter­view with Pasha Malla  (Feb, 2013)

Vil­lage Voice inter­view  (Feb, 2013)

Harper’s “Six Ques­tions” inter­view  (Feb, 2013)

Fla­vor­wire inter­view with Tobias Car­roll  (Feb, 2013)

Rum­pus inter­view with Stephen Elliott  (Feb, 2013)

Q & A with Publisher’s Weekly    (Dec, 2012)


Other Inter­views

Inter­view with the Vir­ginia Quar­terly Review   (Sum­mer, 2009)

Inter­viewed by The Dan­forth Review    (Feb, 2009)

Inter­viewed about The Sicily Papers for “The Liv­ing Writ­ers Show”   (Nov, 2006)

Zulkey.com inter­view  (Oct, 2006)





Habeas Whit­ney  (Feb, 2012)

Inter­view with Every Man in this Vil­lage is a Liar author Megan Stack    (Nov, 2010)

The The­ory of Relata­bil­ity and Rethink­ing Justin Long’s Face   (Oct, 2010)

Re-commencement: Notes on an Eng­lish Professor’s Retire­ment  (Sept, 2009)

“Do I Know You?” And Other Impos­si­ble Ques­tions  (June, 2009)

The The­ory of Recep­tiv­ity and Some Thoughts on Ethan Hawke’s Face   (May, 2009)

Fade to Orange: Famous on Famous/Film Links For­ever   (Feb, 2009)

Fade to Orange: “He Is So Totally That Into Me” Edi­tion  (Feb, 2009)

Fade to Orange: Inter­na­tional Film Link Inci­dent  (Jan, 2009)

Fade to Orange: Film Link Implo­sion  (Dec, 2008)



On Man­hat­tan, then and now (March, 2017)

Cam­er­ap­er­son fea­ture  (Sep, 2016)

Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance With Me?  (Aug, 2016)

On Spike Lee’s BAM ret­ro­spec­tive  (June, 2014)

Nympho­ma­niac Vol­ume II  (April, 2014)


Into Great Silence (March, 2007)

The Pris­oner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (March, 2007)

The Golden Com­pass (Dec, 2007)

Chuck Close: A Por­trait in Progress  (Dec, 2007)

Inter­view with Christo­pher Hon­oré and Louis Gar­rel (March, 2008)

Inter­view with Etgar Keret (April, 2008)

Big­ger, Stronger, Faster (May, 2008)

The Tourist (Dec 2010)




Prince Song or Inspi­ra­tional Signage

Dialects of the Com­mon Bum­ble Bee

Cable News Shows In Geom­e­try Geek Heaven

Actual Vocab­u­lary at 13 Months…

Actual Answers to the Ques­tion ‘What Or Who is the Love of Your Life?’ That Were Not, To My Sur­prise, ‘You.’

All That I Remem­ber From A Shel­ley Win­ters Biog­ra­phy I Read At 15

A Year in Words that Sound Like Pasta Shapes When Pro­nounced As Such




The Needling and the Dam­age Not Done (March, 2001)

Alter­nate End­ings… (August, 2001)

Smart and Cute and Dad: The Last Orange Tapes (2002)

Smart and Cute and Bad: The Lost Orange Tapes (2002)

Every Sha La La La, Every Oh No (Jan­u­ary, 2003)

Of A Piece: An inter­view with John Orange (Jan­u­ary, 2002)


This Is Run­ning for Your Life: Essays (FSG): Ama­zon, Bookshop.org, Powell’s Books, or your local indie bookstore.

Pure Flame (FSG)



Best Cana­dian Essays 2020

Basta Cosi, Parts One to Twelve.


Con­trib­u­tor page, 2006-present





“Polit­i­cal The­aters,” on satire and the new polit­i­cal tele­vi­sion,  Feb­ru­ary 2014

Gra­ham Greene: A Life in Let­ters,  April 2009


Self-Portrait of the Artist,   Spring 2021

The Real Real: On the His­tory of Amer­i­can Doc­u­men­tary,   Fall 2020

On Tiger King,  Sum­mer 2020

Cou­ples Ther­apy and the Guru as Pro­tag­o­nist,   Win­ter 2019

On Free­dom, Democ­racy, and Big Tech,   Sum­mer 2019

Death and Declut­ter­ing,  Spring 2019

The Tale and Cru­elty with a Point,  Fall 2018

Ways of See­ing and Being on YouTube,   Sum­mer 2017

The Career Woman in Elle and Toni Erd­mann,   Spring 2017

On Weiner and Author: The JT Leroy Story,   Fall 2016

Chan­tal Aker­man and No Home Movie,   Spring 2016

Lau­rie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog,  Win­ter 2016

Beirut Ris­ing,”  Sum­mer 2009


Elegy in a Pre-Post-Pandemic World,   May 2021

On Shame and Won­der: Essays,   Jan­u­ary 2016

Essays Short­list,   May 2015

Patri­cia Clark­son pro­file,  August 2010

“Sunny Spies Under Those Sunny Skies” Covert Affairs fea­ture,  July 2010

“Tak­ing Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory in Jennifer’s Body,  Sep­tem­ber 2009

Lynn Shel­ton pro­file,  July 2009

“Ses­sions and the Sin­gle Man”  In Treat­ment fea­ture,   April 2009