Jan Beatty

Jan Beatty’s sixth book, The Body Wars (2020), was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Books include Jackknife: New and Collected Poems (2018 Paterson Prize) named by Sandra Cisneros on LitHub as her favorite book of 2019. Awards include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Discovery/The Nation Prize finalist, Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, $10,000 Artists Grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation, and a $15,000 Creative Achievement Award in Literature from the Heinz Foundation. She directs creative writing and the Madwomen in the Attic Workshops at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is Distinguished Writer in Residence in the MFA program.

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American Bastard

Jan Beatty

Publication Date: October 19, 2021

$15.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 9781597098786


American Bastard is a lyrical inquiry into the experience of being a bastard in America. This memoir travels across literal continents—and continents of desire as Beatty finds her birthfather, a Canadian hockey player who’s won three Stanley Cups—and her birthmother, a working-class woman from Pittsburgh. This is not the whitewashed story, but the real story, where Beatty writes through complete erasure: loss of name and history, and a culture based on the currency of gratitude as expected payment from the adoptee. American Bastard sandblasts the exaltation of adoption in Western culture and the myth of the “chosen baby.” This journey into the relationship of place and body compels and unhinges, with the link between identity and blood history as its driving force. Beatty rescripts the order of things: the horizontal world of the birth table where babies are switched, the complex yard of the body where names and blood shift and revolt, and the actual story into the relationship of place and the insurrection of the body erased. Issues of class and struggle run throughout this book, this narrative river between blood and continents, between work and desire.


I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this one. I hadn’t known some live haunted by their own blood ghosts. It will be medicine for those wounded by their own births and illuminating for anyone who thought they understood notions of home and kin. It’s as if Beatty’s lived homesick for herself. American Bastard is as brutal and beautiful as Beatty’s poetry. A surgery of the self. Precise and invasive, exploratory and celebratory, debilitating and transformational.—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and A House of My Own: Stories from My Life

Jan Beatty’s American Bastard starts with a threat—with razorlike prose, she backs you up against the wall of your naïve assumptions. A monumental work of wild innovative storytelling, wholly original, American Bastard would be unbearable in its pain were it not rendered with such exquisite craft and beauty. As a reader, you’re either in or out; I suggest you stay in for one of the decade’s premier memoirs.—Sapphire, author of Push and The Kid

American Bastard dares and succeeds at reimaging and redefining memoir as a genre where stream of consciousness meets essay, meets magical realism, meets reportage, meets poetry to create an epic mosaic only possible through the literary genius of Jan Beatty. And as if that weren’t enough, an enthralling yet gracious exposé about adoption that confronts and educates us through a voice that is at times tender and broken, at times angry and fierce, but always unflinchingly honest with herself, the people in her life, and her readers.—Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Memoir


Jan Beatty, AMERICAN BASTARD author, interviewed on Skylight Books Podcast!

American Bastard is a lyrical inquiry into the experience of being a bastard in America. This memoir travels across literal continents–and continents of desire as Jan Beatty finds her birthfather, a Canadian hockey player who’s won three Stanley Cups–and her birthmother, a working-class woman from Pittsburgh. This is not the whitewashed story, but the real […]

Jan Beatty, author of AMERICAN BASTARD, guest writes for LitHub

I was born in Roselia Asylum and Maternity Hospital in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It was a “home for unwed mothers” where pregnant girls could stay until they had their babies, and then they would leave the babies there. I spent the first year of my life in the Roselia orphanage before I was […]

Jan Beatty interviewed by John Busbee on The Culture Buzz

American Bastard is a powerful memoir by Jan Beatty, sure to draw the reader into better understanding another’s journey. Jan provides a visceral walk in her shows, through which we all may recognize bits and pieces universal to us all, while also gaining a greater sense of empathy for the rough path others have had […]

Jan Beatty interviewed on The Downtown Writers Jam podcast!

Author Jan Beatty stopped by the Bunker to talk about her award-winning memoir, American Bastard. If you follow the show, you know that title alone was going to Brad interested. But, the two writers took a really deep dive into some difficult subjects: adoption, addiction, recovery, trauma, therapy, and the brokenness of some families. Just the little things that […]

Check out Jan Beatty’s interview with 90.5 WESA!

Who, a reader might ask, is Patrice Staiger, whose haunting epigram “This story begins at an impasse, since I am writing to you as someone who was never born?” prefaces Jan Beatty’s new memoir, “American Bastard”? “Staiger” is none other than a stand-in for Beatty herself, employing her birth name to set the tone for […]


AMERICAN BASTARD by Jan Beatty reviewed in International Swans!

We are taught that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We are taught that a girl who ventures on a quest to find her lost parents will become whole when she finds them; we are taught that this girl will find happiness. But the truth is, life doesn’t usually happen in […]

Jan Beatty’s new memoir AMERICAN BASTARD reviewed on Pittsburgh City Paper!

The cover photo shows a young girl smiling as she points a toy gun at the camera. At first glance, the book’s title seems to be American Badass. But the correct name of Jan Beatty’s memoir is American Bastard. Both titles ring true. Beatty, a poet and writer from Regent Square who was adopted just after birth, calls […]

AMERICAN BASTARD by Jan Beatty reviewed in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

“As an adoptee, one of the toughest things is the idea of shifting identities,” writes Jan Beatty in “American Bastard: A Memoir.”” “No one is who they say they are: The adopted parents are masquerading as the ‘real’ parents, the ‘real parents’ don’t seem to exist, the adoptee’s story is invisible, and the adoptee herself […]

AMERICAN BASTARD by Jan Beatty reviewed in On the Seawall!

Any baby, let alone a bastard baby, is born a mystery, and babies don’t come with directions. But Jan Beatty’s iconoclastic memoir American Bastard does come with directions. Here is how she tells us to read her story: “Try staying with the foreign idea that a baby is born, then sold to another person. Stay […]