All We Knew But Couldn’t Say


Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction

Joanne Vannicola grew up in a violent home with a physically abusive father and a mother who had no sexual boundaries.

After being pressured to leave home at fourteen, and after fifteen years of estrangement, Joanne learns that her mother is dying. Compelled to reconnect, she visits with her, unearthing a trove of devastating secrets.

Joanne relates her journey from child performer to Emmy Award–winning actor, from hiding in the closet to embracing her own sexuality, from conflicted daughter and sibling to independent woman. All We Knew But Couldn’t Say is a testament to survival, love, and the belief that it is possible to love the broken, and to love fully, even with a broken heart.


Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction


What skill and mastery Vannicola employs, particularly in the face of her most brutal moments, which others may not have survived...Vannicola does this work with grace, skill and grit, which makes this novel truly one of a time when it is most needed.

Lambda Literary

A story fit for this time and the landscape of our culture. Incredibly raw, moving, and honest. Joanne has survived so much and come out triumphant. A book worth reading.

Denys Arcand, Oscar-winning filmmaker

Joanne Vannicola weaves a compelling narrative about hardship, survival, and resilience that reminds all of us about the enduring importance of forgiveness, family acceptance, and love.

Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO, GLAAD

What you need to know about All We Knew But Couldn’t Say is how brilliantly Joanne Vannicola says what couldn’t be said. She writes about mayhem and emotional violence with such precision that it’s like becoming mesmerized by a tornado moving directly towards you. Becoming an actor may have been Joanne Vannicola’s first step in avoiding the path of destructive forces heading her way, but it’s her writing that feels like a storm contained. This is a story you won’t soon forget.

David Layton, author and Diaspora Dialogues mentor

I am completely gutted by reading Joanne's beautifully penned heart-wrenching memoir. When every important relationship that shapes us is broken and lacking in nurturing love, it stands as a testament to the power of becoming whole. Raw, unflinching, brave and important, it makes me grateful to know that a voice with this power and honesty is sharing her truth with us all.

Cynthia Dale, actor

Jo Vannicola’s memoir is shocking, upsetting and occasionally graphic, yet what sets it apart from other similar accounts is an underlying sense of optimism. Out of despair there has emerged a beautifully written account, where the author has not only come through the tribulations of her early life, but become a leading voice for the overlooked and the marginalized. I cannot recommend it enough.

Linda Riley, Publisher, DIVA Magazine

This frank, sometimes harrowing, always inspiring memoir should be mandatory reading for all — for those afraid of being true to themselves or anyone who needs a hero that demonstrates what personal courage and determination can do.

Colin Mochrie, actor and comedian

Stark. Unflinchingly honest and filled with a type of determination that is seen in LGBTQ people who want more than just survival.

Roland Emmerich, Director, Producer

In this moving memoir, Joanne Vannicola writes herself — and so many of us who have experienced oppression and trauma —onto the page. As a writer, I enjoyed her beautiful, well-paced and evocative storytelling. As a therapist and survivor, I found myself pausing and nodding as she articulated so well her deep and layered understandings of trauma and marginalization. Throughout, I found myself rooting for and cheering on the young girl, actor, activist, and woman of this story.

Farzana Doctor, author of Six Metres of Pavement

Joanne writes the way she lives, with heart and hope and honesty. A must read.

Helen Shaver, actor and director

The book has a cinematic feel to it...All We Knew But Couldn’t Say is a story about someone figuring out their own identity and claiming it, pushing past layers of abuse, confusion and cultural resistance to define themselves as non-binary long before there was a word for it.

NOW Magazine

About the Author