“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.


New York Times Edi­tors’ Choice Pick

Wal­rus mag­a­zine Best Book of 2021


“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


“Through­out the book, her mother’s voice emerges with strik­ing clar­ity, proud and gen­er­ous, ardently mer­i­to­cratic, puz­zled by her daugh­ter, and some­times hurt by the dis­tance that has grown between them. It is Orange’s pre­cisely ren­dered rec­ol­lec­tions that move and star­tle the most.”  Michael Prior, The Wal­rus


“Some­times achingly sad, but often warm and evoca­tive, this reck­on­ing between moth­ers and daugh­ters is a bril­liant work of fem­i­nist cri­tique.” –Lau­ren Puckett-Pope, Elle


Michelle Orange goes there with a cool head and an open heart, and the result is a mes­mer­iz­ingly com­pelling mem­oir and cru­cial con­tri­bu­tion to untan­gling the most overly prob­lema­tized rela­tion­ship in human his­tory.” –Fly­ing Books, Toronto


“Powerful…a vision of two women…fighting to dis­cover the small spaces where their ideas of wom­an­hood might still be mutu­ally intel­li­gi­ble. “ –Veron­ica Espos­ito, Lithub 


“Orange embarked on this fiercely intel­li­gent memoir–which dou­bles as a cri­tique of fem­i­nism and mater­nal failure–to try to come to terms with her mother’s deci­sions and their decades-long estrange­ment.” The Globe and Mail 


“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.


There’s an irre­sistible ques­tion at the cen­ter of this book: In her attempt to avoid becom­ing her mother, did Michelle Orange lose her­self, and her mother too? The book changes as it goes around cor­ners: a mys­tery novel, an inquiry, a call-and-response poem–Pure Flame is a provoca­tive, med­i­ta­tive, funny, fem­i­nist adven­ture about two women try­ing to tell each other the sto­ries that mat­ter while there’s still time.” –Alexan­der Chee, How to Write an Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Novel


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


Avail­able in the U.Sand Canada




This Is Running For Your Life


Praise for This Is Run­ning for Your Life

New Yorker Best Book of 2013

National Post Best Book of 2013

Fla­vor­wire Best Non­fic­tion Book of 2013

Large­hearted Boy Best Non­fic­tion Book of 2013

Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 Pick, Spring 2013


With its stew of high and low cul­tural ref­er­ences and extremely con­fi­dent voice, Orange’s essay col­lec­tion This is Run­ning for your Life dis­plays a crack­ling brain choos­ing to turn its atten­tion to an array of top­ics and ideas.”   Meg Wolitzer, NPR.org


Orange offers glimpses of the emo­tional root struc­ture of her own asso­cia­tive ten­den­cies, demon­strat­ing how exca­vat­ing analo­gies every­where is a form of gen­eros­ity but also a symp­tom of hunger: for sense, for con­nec­tion, for accumulation…At the cen­ter of her book is a stub­born fas­ci­na­tion with how imper­fectly we know one another and our own col­lec­tive past. But there is a deep ten­der­ness in how she picks apart our imperfection—a beat­ing heart deliv­er­ing oxy­gen to her acro­batic intellect—and it’s this qual­ity of intel­li­gent ten­der­ness that con­nects her voice most pal­pa­bly to [that of Rebecca Sol­nit].” Leslie Jami­son, The New Republic


Michelle Orange has made a name for her­self as a social and aes­thetic observer who eschews bro­mides and empty sen­ti­ment. Droll, hon­est, and inci­sive, her writ­ing glides effort­lessly between artis­tic crit­i­cism and per­sonal anec­dote.” Harper’s


A well-assembled essay book can be as charis­matic as a new rock album, espe­cially if it intro­duces you to a youngish author whose work you’d pre­vi­ously missed. This was the case, for me, with Michelle Orange’s first col­lec­tion: an assem­bly of ten styl­ish, rangy, slightly weird essays that cover top­ics from the city of Beirut to dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy. Orange’s style is at once nar­rowly per­sonal and intel­lec­tu­ally ambi­tious, and offered more sur­prises than I’d expected.” Nathan Heller, The New Yorker


If Joan Did­ion and David Fos­ter Wal­lace had a love child…Michelle Orange would be it. Back­ing up her opin­ions with research, enrich­ing her research with bold, clever, tricked-out sen­tences, and writ­ten with seri­ous range and aplomb, her essays — com­plex, crit­i­cal, inti­mate — are tools against stu­pid­ity, apa­thy, and zomb­i­fi­ca­tion.” Elissa Bassist, Los Ange­les Review of Books


While [Orange] deserves com­par­isons to DFW and John Jere­miah Sul­li­van, she has her own dis­tinct voice. Orange’s prose is ani­mated by her innate curios­ity and her con­vinc­ing med­i­ta­tions on cul­ture and her own life.” Michele Fil­gate, The Paris Review


A brave, new, and some­times thrillingly dif­fi­cult col­lec­tion of essays…[This Is Run­ning for Your Life] jolted me side­ways with ideas that were both imme­di­ately acces­si­ble and weirdly deep…[It’s] it’s a joy to come across some­one who has so much to say and who says it with such force and orig­i­nal­ity. From per­sis­tence of vision to per­sis­tence of image, Orange embraces such a wide range of con­cerns that while read­ing This is Run­ning for Your Life I had the feel­ing I had when I was in uni­ver­sity: that there is more to the world than I thought, and that it was worth the time to pause and con­sider it.” Michael Red­hill, The National Post


What a mar­velous — really, a mar­vel — jour­nal­ist and thinker Michelle Orange is. I am so engrossed in these cul­tur­ally astute essays about every­thing from Cana­dian retire­ment homes to Manic Pixie Dream Girls.”  Sloane Crosley, NPR.org


There’s a won­der­ful bal­ance between high and low art in this book, and a ter­rific streak of irrev­er­ence…  In [one] stand­out piece — “War and Well-Being, 21° 19’N., 157° 52’W.” — Orange recalls her time in Hon­olulu at the 2011 con­fer­ence of the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Asso­ci­a­tion - a hilar­i­ous and fas­ci­nat­ing essay that approaches David Fos­ter Wal­lace at his best…Orange tack­les dis­parate ele­ments with ease, and her essay col­lec­tion is smart, funny and fiercely orig­i­nal.”   Carmela Ciu­raru, San Fran­cisco Chronicle


The book’s diverse sub­ject mat­ter is uni­fied by [Orange’s] keen crit­i­cal eye, acer­bic sense of humor, and a writ­ing style that crack­les with wit and insight. Each piece braids mul­ti­ple nar­ra­tive and the­matic threads to cre­ate almost an impres­sion­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of how we expe­ri­ence, nego­ti­ate and doc­u­ment the times in which we live.” Pasha Malla, The Believer


Deft and pleasing…[Michelle Orange] writes gen­er­ously and thought­fully about the way mass cul­ture molds the human heart … big­hearted, unsen­ti­men­tal, and very smart.” Book­fo­rum


“In the open­ing essay in this engross­ing col­lec­tion, a book that restores one’s hope for the future of intel­li­gent life on earth, Orange intro­duces ‘the the­ory of recep­tiv­ity,’ a phrase that neatly describes the source of her fath­om­ing inquiries. In this extended thought piece, writ­ten, as is every selec­tion, with an ensnar­ing mix of intense curios­ity, per­sonal dis­clo­sures, buoy­ant wit, and har­poon­ing pre­ci­sion, Orange con­sid­ers the ways tech­nol­ogy has altered time and asks why nos­tal­gia is ‘now such an inte­gral part of Amer­i­can culture.’

Film is critic, jour­nal­ist, and writer Orange’s great pas­sion, and her inquiry into per­mu­ta­tions of the cin­e­matic ‘dream girl,’ from Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe to today’s ‘approach­ably edgy, adorably fran­tic,’ but dam­aged pix­ies, unveils cru­cial aspects of our ‘col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion.’ Inci­sive analy­sis of the impact of social media is matched by a poignant dis­patch on her nervy 2008 sojourn in Beirut and a star­tlingly pro­found report on what was actu­ally at stake at an Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Asso­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence. Orange’s recep­tiv­ity is acute, her mas­tery of lan­guage thrilling, and her inter­pre­ta­tions of the forces trans­form­ing our lives invig­o­rat­ing.”                   Donna Sea­man, Book­list


It is not an exag­ger­a­tion to say that Orange has per­fected the art of the per­sonal essay, seam­lessly weav­ing her own his­tory with our col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence, and effort­lessly ref­er­enc­ing dra­mas both small and large to back up her points. In these 10 diverse pieces, she ele­gantly com­bines his­tor­i­cal, pop-cultural, and per­sonal ele­ments, tak­ing read­ers on well-researched, acces­si­ble jour­neys through feel­ings and facts.”                             Stacey May Fowles, Quill and Quire (starred review)


As Orange bril­liantly breaks down the state of mod­ern life and how it stands in rela­tion to tech­nol­ogy and the com­modi­tized image, she tells us much of what we already have intu­ited, but might have been afraid to admit to our­selves. […] This book is not only a com­pre­hen­sive cul­tural por­trait of our rela­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy but also time itself, in the chang­ing ways that we medi­ate it and con­sume it.”                                                   Nicholas Man­cusi, The Daily Beast


Orange is pri­mar­ily a film writer, and it would be dif­fi­cult to name another cul­tural critic who brings such a high level of intel­lec­tual rigor to her sub­ject. Her essays are funny, but not friv­o­lous; sharp, but not brit­tle. “This Is Run­ning for Your Life” is thought­ful, heart­felt, witty and deeply impres­sive. […] Each piece con­tains mul­ti­tudes: snip­pets of mem­oir, para­graphs of exe­ge­sis, frag­ments of his­tory, melan­choly, joy.”                           SJ Cul­ver, The Min­neapo­lis Star-Tribune


“In this whip-smart, achingly funny col­lec­tion, film critic Orange trains her lens on aging, self-image, and the ascen­dancy of the mar­ket­ing demo­graphic, among other puz­zles of the Face­book gen­er­a­tion … [this is] a col­lec­tion whose voice feels at once fresh and inevitable.”  Publisher’s Weekly


The energy, vari­ety and intel­lec­tu­al­ity of these expan­sive non-fiction pieces recall the plea­sures of short sto­ries. Dis­parate sub­jects (a solo vaca­tion in Beirut, a visit to her grandmother’s retire­ment home, Melville Heights in Hal­i­fax) delight like restau­rant sam­pler plat­ters; the reader is served a curated mix of small delights, items one may not nor­mally select, per­haps out of fear of dis­ap­point­ment or a lack of adven­tur­ous­ness. This pu pu plat­ter approach informs the reader’s future choices, expand­ing the menu, as it were, to include bold new options…This is writ­ing for your life. You won’t read a bet­ter col­lec­tion of essays this year.”  Megan Power, Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Herald


Orange’s insights share their prob­ing, per­sua­sive rhythms with those of Susan Son­tag… [An] unfail­ingly X-ray-like inquiry into the pecu­liar­i­ties of our ultra-mediated world unites Orange’s 10 absorb­ing essays.”             M. Allen Cun­ning­ham,  Port­land Oregonian


Read­ing Michelle Orange is like hav­ing a mov­ing, one-sided con­ver­sa­tion with your best friend if your best friend was feel­ing par­tic­u­larly astute that day.” The Vil­lage Voice


Orange dis­sects pop cul­ture, fam­ily, and — if you’ll for­give our grand lan­guage — the state of human­ity with a deft, inci­sive hand, cement­ing her place among the ranks of our city’s most impor­tant cul­tural com­men­ta­tors.” Emily Tem­ple, Fla­vor­wire


This essay col­lec­tion cuts through cul­tural pre­con­cep­tions and offers insight into our chang­ing world with clar­ity, intel­li­gence, and a truly orig­i­nal voice.” Large­hearted Boy


Play­ful and eru­dite.” Time Out New York


“Michelle Orange’s mind and her work are splen­did, orig­i­nal, absolutely thrilling.”   –Kurt Ander­sen, author of True Believ­ers


“Michelle Orange is a crys­tal clear thinker—funny, lucid, warm and enthu­si­as­tic. And This Is Run­ning For Your Life is an impor­tant trea­sure trove of irre­sistible ideas, infor­ma­tion and mem­o­ries. I found it a delight.”  –Jami Atten­berg, author of The Mid­dlesteins


“Read­ing Michelle Orange is like get­ting swept up in a long, stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion. Orange is fear­lessly brainy and forth­com­ing, and she unstitches cul­tural assump­tions with dex­ter­ity and wit. This Is Run­ning for Your Life is a col­lec­tion of argu­ment, obser­va­tion, and per­sonal rev­e­la­tion that left me thought­ful and enter­tained.” –Leanne Shap­ton, author of Swim­ming Studies


“Smart, sophis­ti­cated, and quirky, these essays show­case an orig­i­nal voice that uncan­nily cap­tures the brood­ings and shad­ings of a gen­er­a­tion.” –Phillip Lopate, author of Por­trait Inside My Head


“A sprawl­ing, max­i­mal­ist jour­ney into the exis­ten­tial and cul­tural dra­mas of late twentieth-/early twenty-first-century North Amer­i­can life. Michelle Orange gives us the con­tents of her very inter­est­ing mind along with a healthy dose of her very good soul.” –Meghan Daum, author of My Mis­spent Youth and Life Would Be Per­fect If I Lived In That House


“With pro­found clar­ity and sly, pointed humor, Michelle Orange peels back the skin of our mod­ern world. I love this damn book!” –Davy Roth­bart, author of My Heart Is an Idiot


“I haven’t read any­one who writes more inci­sively and provoca­tively about the way we live now than Michelle Orange. She’s a mas­ter essay­ist and our very best mod­ern critic.” Stephen Elliott, author of The Adder­all Diaries