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Stu Levitan welcomes the cartoonist Alison Bechdel, whose long-awaited graphic memoir The Secret to Superhuman Strength comes out tomorrow and is already receiving rave reviews. It also features the extremely extensive coloring collaboration of her, wife, the artist Holly Rae Taylor. And on Thursday at 4 o’clock, Alison will be appearing at the Wisconsin Book Festival, in conversation with another best-selling memoirist, Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild.
“The unexamined life,” Socrates reportedly said during his trial for impiety, “is not worth living.” By that standard, as well as many others, Alison Bechdel has had a very worthwhile life. The Secret to Superhuman Strength, a decade-by-decade examination of her exuberant, sometimes excessive, pursuit of bodily and metaphysical fitness, is her third graphic memoir examining her life and that of her family. It follows Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, from 2006, about the strained relationship she had with her closeted gay father, and 2012’s Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama, about the strained relationship she had with her emotionally distant mother. Two years later, she was rewarded for those works by being awarded a McArthur Fellowship, the so-called “Genius Grant.” Fun Home: The Musical came to Broadway in 2015, winning 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
She began her literary career with the syndicated comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which ran from 1983 to 2008. It was in a 1985 strip that she popularized, but did not devise, the so-called Bechdel Test as a metric to measure the representation of women in fiction. She and Holly Rae Taylor live in Vermont, where she has also served as the state’s cartoonist laureate.
It is a great pleasure to welcome to Madison Bookbeat, Alison Bechdel.