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Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father Hardcover – June 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The child of quintessentially 1960s parents, Abbott lost her mother to a car accident when she was only two. Determined to raise her, Steve Abbott took her along to San Francisco. There, he sparely supported her through the many moves consequent upon his bohemian lifestyle as a newly out homosexual and a writer-editor determined to make his mark on S.F.’s poetry scene. At last they settled into a one-bedroom place (she got the real bedroom, while the living room doubled as his) in the Haight-Ashbury district that she would call home for 17 years, until Steve’s death from AIDS in 1992. She resumed the life she’d started in New York and never returned. But no repudiation of her father and the unconventional circumstances in which he raised her was involved in her decision to relocate. She never doubted his love because he never gave her cause; he was a devoted, even doting parent despite his very open gayness. She has maintained his reputation for two decades now (see, and she writes up to a standard that would do any writer-parent proud. If there’s plenty of emotion in her recollections, they lack all sentimentality, sensationalism, and special pleading. Like Ira Wagler’s Growing Up Amish (2011), a tale of another radically different, unusual upbringing, Fairyland is written in shiningly clear, precise prose that gives it literary as well as testimonial distinction. --Ray Olson


“Alysia beautifully remembers the innocence of the age between the disappearance of the Beats and the onset of AIDS.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“What makes this story especially successful is the meticulous way the author uses letters and her father’s cartoons and journals to reconstruct the world she and her father inhabited. As she depicts the dynamics of a unique, occasionally fraught, gay parent–straight child relationship, Abbott offers unforgettable glimpses into a community that has since left an indelible mark on both the literary and social histories of one of America’s most colorful cities. A sympathetic and deeply moving story.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Beautifully written… a powerful portrait of a love between a father and his daughter, but also of San Francisco in the 1970s and ‘80s and the power of community, art, and love in the face of discrimination and death.” — Kasia Hopkins (News Gazette)

“Extraordinary.” — Jeff Calder (Chicago Tribune)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (June 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393082520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393082524
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alysia Abbott was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, the only daughter of gay poet and critic, Steve Abbott. After receiving her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The New School University in NYC, she worked at the New York Public Library and WNYC Radio. In 2013, she published her first book, "Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father," which was named a New York Times "Editors' Choice," an O, The Oprah Magazine "Book of the Week," and one of The New Yorker's "Books To Watch Out For: June." Her work has appeared in Vogue, Slate, Salon,, Real Simple, and Psychology Today.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Neurasthenic VINE VOICE on May 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book has a perfect title, a perfect cover, and the author has a memorable and easily shared personal history. On the strength of these alone, I expect that this book will be widely read and discussed, and perhaps will even become standard reading in gay & lesbian studies programs. Though it is at heart a simple story of a sort seen in countless works of young adult fiction, about a girl raised by her father after the death of her mother in a car accident, Abbott uses this to discuss numerous vital themes. More than perhaps any other book I've recently read, I expect this one will have broad cultural impact.

I don't think I can discuss this book without a bit of a spoiler (forgive me, but this much is given away on the book jacket anyway). Abbot is raised by her gay father in bohemian circumstances in San Francisco. It sounds like the setup for a sitcom (imagine them critiquing each other's outfits, or boyfriends, perhaps), but there is little humor here. Abbott's story feels fraught with peril from almost the first page, though we already know the outcome -- that she survives and he does not. Abbot's approach to this story is relentlessly earnest, and some of the investigation of her family's past evokes the great "My Dark Places."

Her sense of time and place will resonate to anyone of her generation (those who went to high school in the 1980s); some aspects may be specific to struggling bohemians of San Francisco but it is a testament to the great leveling power of American popular culture that Abbott's preferences in music and blue jeans will be immediately recognizable to those of us who grew up in far different circumstances in other parts of the country.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jay Hinman on September 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I moved to San Francisco right out of college in 1989, and was raised in the shadow of it, an hour down the peninsula in San Jose. The City (capital C, of course) was, by the time I was moving in, consumed by an AIDS crisis that was killing young men in the low hundreds every single month. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury, just blocks from where "FAIRYLAND"'s author Alysia Abbott grew up with her gay poet/writer father, Steve Abbott - and where she was caring for him as he died from AIDS as well. It was a weird time. San Francisco is such a gay city, and AIDS activists and organizations and marches and hospice care fundraisers were everywhere at that time. The documentary film "We Were Here", which is excellent, tells the story very well. As a non-gay male whose main and almost exclusive interests in the early 90s were rocknroll, record collecting and starting my work career, I found the AIDS crisis both easy to ignore and impossible to get away from. I wanted to read Abbott's book to get a better sense of her San Francisco, the one I lived in or near for much of the same time, and at the same age (early 20s) - but also because her memoir of growing up in a loose, ever-shifting sort of bohemia with her dad sounded like a terrific ride. It was.

"FAIRYLAND" is a memoir that I recommend to anyone unconditionally. Primarily, Abbott tells an excellent chronological tale of her girlhood, teenage years and young adulthood in a non-maudlin, often self-effacing and extremely loving manner toward her father, who raised her on a wing and a prayer all by himself. Her parents were educated and radical grad student activists and hippies in Atlanta who married young, lived fast and, in her mother's case, died very young.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sandra on May 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this well written memoir by the age 40-something daughter of an openly gay father growing up in the tumultuous 70s and 80s in san francisco. I was born in the same year as the author's father and I have 2 sons about the same age as the author. I also spent my university and graduate school years in california, near san francisco. But if I were to write a memoir of my life, there would be virtually no overlap with the father's life style, parenting or emotions. So this book opened my eyes to a slice of life so near and yet so far from what I know. Fascinating. Drugs, bisexuality, homosexuality, self-indulgence, openness with a child beyond anything I could imagine---all this described with poetry and not sensationalism or depression, through the eyes of a beautiful and lonely soul who continued to adore her father despite painful moments, many of them, culminating with her father's death after he summons his 22-year-old daughter back to san francisco to care for him in his final weeks dying of aids. I was left torn open emotionally but inspired by the book which must have been so cathartic to the author in its writing.

I must also say that the book's cover is wonderful both before and after you read the memoir--the father and his brave daughter dressed up for a night out in fairyland.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bill Kirtz on June 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Fairyland" is a charming and compelling memoir that combines vivid portraits of a neglected aspect of the `70's San Francisco cultural scene and of a girl forging an identity from of loving chaos.
Alysia Abbott's father, Steve, was an influential poet, editor and organizer whose reputation today is overshadowed by better-known friends like Gregory Corso. Her daughter brings him to light amid kaleidoscopic descriptions of the Haight, the kindness of a host of relative strangers and the growing menace of the AIDS plague.
Literary offspring's memoirs can be mere interruptions in account s of the lives we're really interested in.
Not so here. The author's own story is fascinating. Unsparingly, Ms. Abbott details the myths she created (dad turned gay because mom was killed) and the detachment she needed (pursuing Paris amour as Steve's t-cell counts dropped) to survive in a lonely sea of Swanson's fried chicken dinners.
She writes beautifully. Here's a glimpse of her very young self with her father and one of his early lovers. "The three of us stayed in Golden Gate Park as long as the day would have us. When the light faded and the air cooled we began the long walk home together. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees shimmered in the early evening light, looking like rust-colored sequins."
Ms. Abbott's essays and selections from her father's poems and novels are available on [...]/ and [...]. "Fairyland" makes us eager to read more of those and of Steve Abbott's seminal, neglected work.
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