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How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons On The Art Of Living Hardcover – November 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Karen Karbo's fresh and revealing take on the epic life of Georgia O'Keeffe is both effortlessly entertaining and profoundly inspirational. As vivid and original as an O'Keeffe flower, How Georgia Became O'Keeffe offers a quirky, modern view of one of America's most iconic women.”

—Sheila Weller, author of Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation.


“In this intimate, joyful, and absolutely fun biography, Karen Karbo shows us why artist Georgia O’Keeffe remains an inspiration for women in search of a self-determined life. I will immediately pass this book on to my fifteen-year old daughter so that she can learn from this unforgettable original: gifted, independent, daring, her beauty and creativity raw and unadorned, from youth into her old age.”

—Julie Metz, author of the New York Times bestseller Perfection

"Karen Karbo has done what no biographer, social critic, or fan has yet been able to do. She's burrowed past the genius and the legend and the clichés and arrived at the heart of Georgia-philia. The lessons she imparts remind us that true independence, like true eccentricity, true beauty and, of course, true love, cannot be faked. They remind us that owning your life requires owning your soul and, beyond that, you don't really need much else. I want to give this book to every young woman I know who's setting out on her own in the world—not to mention the rest of us, who could always use a refresher course on this stuff." —Meghan Daum, author of Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House

"How perfect that a writer as thoughtful, original, and hilarious as Karen Karbo takes on as a subject the talented, passionate, and fearless Georgia O'Keeffe. The result is a fresh, funny, highly personalized take on ‘the nation's greatest woman artist,’ a meticulously researched, page-turning romp through the life of a painter whose days were as bold and unique as her art." —Cathi Hanauer, author of Sweet Ruin and editor of The Bitch in the House

“Karbo writes like nobody else. She gives you O’Keeffe, but she also serves herself up in relation to O’Keeffe, woman to woman, as it were. Others do this, and the charm is so obviously fake . . . that millions fall for it. Karbo serves up more rueful memories: the dateless high school years, thyroid surgery, going on the O’Keefe trail in an RV. . . . Yes, there’s the standard stuff you want and need to know: the paintings, the photographs, her love of the Southwest. All presented lightly, effortlessly, casually, colloquially. ‘For O'Keeffe, forty was the new sixty,’ Karbo writes. That’s not being cool. That’s just style.” —Jesse Kornbluth, Head Butler

From the Inside Flap

Most people associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New Mexico, painted cow skulls, and her flower paintings. She was revered for so long—born in 1887, died at age ninety-eight in 1986—that we forget how young, restless, passionate, searching, striking, even fearful she once was—a dazzling, mysterious female force in bohemian New York City during its heyday.


In this distinctive book, Karen Karbo cracks open the O’Keeffe icon in her characteristic style, making one of the greatest women painters in American history vital and relevant for yet another generation. She chronicles O’Keeffe’s early life, her desire to be an artist, and the key moment when art became her form of self-expression. She also explores O’Keeffe’s passionate love affair with master photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who took a series of 500 black-and-white photographs of O’Keeffe during the early years of their marriage.


How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living delves into the long, extraordinary life of the renowned American painter, exploring a range of universal themes—from how to discover and nurture your individuality to what it means to be in a committed relationship while maintaining your independence, from finding your own style to developing the ability to take risks. Each chapter is built around an aspect of living that concerns women today of all ages: how to find your own path; work with passion and conviction; express yourself; be in a relationship without sacrificing your sense of self; and do it all with an effortless, unique style.


As with Karbo’s previous books, How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living is not a traditional biography, but rather a compelling, contemporary reassessment of the life of O’Keeffe with an eye toward understanding what we can learn from her way of being in the world. 

If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 70%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Skirt! (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762771313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762771318
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Karbo's first novel, Trespassers Welcome Here, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Village Voice Top Ten Book of the Year. Her other two adult novels, The Diamond Lane and Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me, were also named New York Times Notable Books.

Karbo's 2004 memoir, The Stuff of Life, about the last year she spent with her father before his death, was an NYT Notable Book, a People Magazine Critics' Choice, a Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and a winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Non-fiction.

Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, O, More, The New Republic, The New York Times, and other magazines. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a winner of the General Electric Younger Writer Award.

Karbo is most well known for her best-selling Kick Ass Women series, the most recent of which is How Georgia Became O'Keeffe, published in 2011. How to Hepburn, published in 2007, was hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as "an exuberant celebration of a great original"; #1 ebook best-seller The Gospel According to Coco Chanel appeared in 2009. Next up: Julia Child Rules, which will appear in October 2013.

In addition, Karbo penned three books in the Minerva Clark mystery series for children: Minerva Clark Gets A Clue, Minerva Clark Goes to the Dogs, and Minerva Clark Gives Up the Ghost.

Karen grew up in Los Angeles, California and lives in Portland, Oregon where she continues to kick ass.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jeanne Kane on November 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm most impressed with Karbo's ability to integrate and extrapolate. By this I mean, she takes vast amounts of data and documentation, mulls them over, and churns out a new take on one of the most powerful, influential women of our time. In that integration there is wisdom, humor, self-analysis and, of course, lessons to each of us about becoming who we are to be. When it comes to O'Keeffe, I thought I'd read most everything about her. Her work adorns my home. Yet, I'd forgotten her struggles and heartaches. From this book I'm reminded that there are productive times and healing times; that there are places that are truly our home even when least expected; that we make a difference often by saying no. This is a beautiful, thought provoking book.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Hannah Concannon on November 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'll have to admit, I too am biased. I loved "How to Hepburn" and "The Gospel According to Coco Chanel" was just my style. I came to this book with high expectations, only to be blown away. This is, in my opinion, the best of Karbo's three books cataloguing the lives of inspiration women. In her characteristic witty style, Karbo gives the reader the perfect balance of history, hilarious personal anecdotes, and life advice. I think I may have a new personal idol, and it's definitely Georgia O'Keeffe. I had no idea she was so incredibly badass! We have so much to learn from this incredibly strong, creative, and independent woman, and Karbo captures it all in chapters titled with awesome action verbs like "Defy," "Grow," "Muddle," "Bare," and "Drive." Every chapter is also accompanied by a beautiful O'Keeffe Painting or a photograph of the artist. Georgia O'Keeffe was a woman who was unafraid to be completely, 100% unabashedly herself. Does that sound like something you want to do? Then GET THIS BOOK NOW and let Karen Karbo show you how! If you're looking for an informative, funny, and truly inspirational read, I'd definitely recommend this book.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Danna W. Schaeffer on November 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Well, first of all, full disclosure: I loved Karen Karbo's Hepburn and Coco books, so I hardly came to this book unbiased. I gobbled this up in the same greedy way, half in prurient hope of finding out Georgia O'Keeffe secrets and half to find out ways to revolutionize my life. I read How Georgia Became O'Keeffe in one sitting and totally got what I came for. I really hadn't understood how original GOK was for her time and milieu, how she struck out on her own teaching in distant parts, to say nothing of painting exactly what she wanted. The Stieglitz thing is still mysterious, though Karbo does say "For all of his off-putting qualities, no one on earth believed in her vision and her genius more profoundly than did Stieglitz, and because of that he was irreplaceable." As for what is useful for the reader's own greedy self, the punchy list of verbs that make up the table of contents, like "defy," "grow," "adopt," "muddle," "embrace," are inspirational in themselves, and so are the GOK epigrams at the head of every chapter, like "Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant... making your unknown known is the important thing." (This is great news.) Of course, reading each chapter is essential; Karbo follows each compelling episode of GOK's life with a personal and often really funny riff of her own. It is the Karbo lens on O'Keeffe that makes the meaning and the fun in this book.

A final word: How Georgia Became O'Keeffe is a gorgeous physical specimen, a nice little handful, silky paper, yes, a pretty jacket, and a photograph or reproduction facing each chapter page. A succulent read in a succulent form.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By heidikins on August 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am heading to New Mexico for the first time in a few weeks and wanted to read up on Georgia O'Keefe before going to her adopted hometown. Karbo tells us a lot about herself, her search for O'Keefe, and her obsession with personal anecdotes and asides disguised as footnotes that have NO place in a biography. I find I learned more from a 1-hour TV special on O'Keefe than I did from this book. If I wanted to read a poorly written memoir on Karbo I would have purchased one, not a book that calls itself a biography of feminist American artist. It also seems that Karbo's definition of a "feminist" is a woman who doesn't care about makeup and pretty shoes and does whatever she wants. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO IT THAN THAT! Towards the end of this painful book Karbo describes meeting an O'Keefe expert, and she arrives at the interview (which required a crosscountry flight) without having read that expert's book, without any real set of questions, without any real preparation. And then she is shocked when the expert dismisses her as a complete amateur and the meeting not worth her time. This small section should be at the front of the book, or on the dust jacket to warn biography-seekers to pick another book and another author.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ann Hite on December 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In the eighties I considered Georgia O'Keeffe my mentor. I was a writer she was an artist in her nineties. I'd never seen her in person, but I loved her art. What I saw in her work was freedom, a freedom that existed for women if they jumped into life with both feet. I saw strength to strike out on one's own. I only read one biography and found it dull. Mostly I relied on her art: the bones, flowers, and skyscrapers. When I heard an interview with Karen Karbo on Writers on Writing, I decided maybe I'd see what she had to say about O'Keeffe. I'm so glad I did. This beautiful book is a celebration of art, women, and creativity. While the book gave me a new take on O'Keeffe, it also made me want to go back to my writing desk and create art, to step away and give myself the space. Loved this book and carried it with me every where I went. I am sad to say I've finished reading it. What a extraordinary talented writer. Thank you for this book!
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