The Red Kitchen:
A Memoir

Published by She Writes Press
Softcover $16.95 (264pp)

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What was it like growing up in your family? Mine was impeccable in public but behind closed doors—deeply flawed.

An unhappy mother and a secretive father turned me into a poignant and observant narrator for the family. I remember almost everything—save for one event that changed my life forever.

Like many women of my generation, no one asked me what dreams I had for the future. No one asked my mother either making this the story of two women who come-of-age—me at age forty, and my mother at age seventy-four.

Working on a graduate degree, I traveled to a tiny village in Kenya where I began to revive the imaginings I’d abandoned before an early marriage. Free of the role of wife and mother for the summer, and stripped of my life in the 1980’s at home, I faced both challenges and life-affirming experiences. I fell in love with a country, the landscape, and the people. These helped bring me to a new understanding of who I could be in the world and what more I wanted out of life.

A decade later, after my father’s death, I began the process of healing the long-standing contentious relationship with my mother and helped her thrive for the next twenty years.

The Red Kitchen explores the interplay of our primary emotions of love and hate, plus generational traits and dysfunction that make families like yours and mine so complex. It is these relationships that need healing and resolution.  Delightful characters like Ophelia, Grandma Rosie, and Uncle Paul add unconditional love into the chaos of my life. Inside the memoir resides honesty, adventure, disappointment, love, sex, and humor. More than DNA, far more than forgiveness or forgetting, this memoir demonstrates how it’s the human heart that connects us to each other.

Getting to Home

After more than 40 moves in her lifetime, Barbara Clarke settled in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. There she collaborated with an architect and a contractor to build a house. Getting to Home is a memoir that began as a saga of construction and became the basis for self-discovery.

Tracing her experience of building a house became not solely about the mechanics of construction, but about the mechanics of her mind and heart and where it took her. She was stripped down to her foundation and reconstructed. The result is the story of how a woman embarked on a journey and arrived at a new meaning of home.

Line Zero

“How Many Writing Books Does it Take?” was my first published print essay. I’m not sure the magazine survived hard times in the print world but it was a great collection of writers while it lasted.

In the debut print copy of Line Zero I considered the usual books that writers have stashed here and there. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird seems to be like the bible for many writers, me included. But then I discovered Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. What a gem!

I almost never read a book without thinking about Carolyn’s chapter “Charming Notes.” Is this book a candidate for a charming note to send to the author? I often do. And when all else fails on any given writing day I “fake it until I can make it” ala Carolyn’s laugh-out-loud advice in “Pretend to Be a Writer.”

While some writers dreamed about being on Oprah, I dreamed about having Carolyn review my book in The Washington Post where she was a reviewer for 27 years. Since she was not one to suffer fools or mince words, I hoped that she would love it.

There was no one like her—funny, acerbic, kind, an acquaintance by email, encouraging, sooo smart—and one-of-a-kind, even old school in the best sense of the word for writers and book lovers. To honor Carolyn and to keep her work alive since her death in 2016 I chose Carolyn’s stunning quote for my website. I miss her.

Full Grown People

For my first online publication I couldn’t have been luckier than to appear in Full Grown People: The Other Awkward Age. I wrote a memoir piece about my mother. Here’s a bit from “Good Vibrations.”

When I was nine, the Big Talk with my mother consisted of her buying me the book On Being Born, which contained not one mention of how people “did it.” Ten years later, my mother’s second attempt at instruction came shortly before I walked down the aisle. She offered this as my sendoff: “Sex can be beautiful.”

With the advent of the women’s movement and the freedom to have intimate talks with women and men, I enjoyed a good lover or two. Unlike the women of my mother’s era, I knew how to take care of my sexual needs with or without a partner. A bonus was frequenting, without the slightest embarrassment, the paraphernalia treasure house in Berkeley called Good Vibrations.

You’ll be able to read the entire “Good Vibrations” adapted for the memoir as Chapter 22 in The Red KitchenEnjoy!

Memory into Memoir ~
An Anthology

The Red Wheelbarrow Writers give voice to the 2013 award from Flavorwire as one of the top 20 “Great American Cities for Writers.” Through classes and workshops and book-loving events, the first anthology emerged. My chapter in Memory into Memoir is an homage to Grace Paley. Over a cup of tea she encouraged me to keep on writing my family stories. “Thank you, Grace Paley” describes this life-changing chance encounter.

So Much Depends Upon…

In 2018, the Red Wheelbarrow Writers publish their second anthology—So Much Depends Upon…. Thirty-two local writers are chosen for the memoir and short fiction. I was honored to have “Tis the Season” selected. It describes the on-again-off-again nature of the Christmas holidays of my childhood. “This is how we do it—like the weatherman on the radio—storm approaching, it could be a big one, and then it passes.”

True Stories – The Narrative Project
Volume I

The 25 authors in the Volume One came to the “Narrative Project” with stories burning to be told. During the course of the nine months of classes, and working with critique partners, we received the help to bring our stories–and for many their memoirs–into the world. My story, “In the Red Kitchen,” opens my forthcoming memoir The Opposite of Hate. You can find out more by clicking on Publications on this website.


After keeping a secret for fifty years, uncovering what actually happened was like a trail to the top of a mountain I was ill-prepared to climb. What took me so long to tell after being sworn to silence at the age of six? And how could I be sure I wasn’t making up the one vivid memory I had of the shameful and terrifying incident of abuse from my father? Where had this memory been hiding all those years? And why tell it now in the memoir The Red Kitchen?

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Barbara L. Clarke