Recent Work & Favorites

Feminize Your Canon: Alice Dunbar-Nelson

In April 1895, the up-and-coming poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whom Frederick Douglass had dubbed “the most promising young colored man in America,” saw a poem by a young writer, Alice Ruth Moore, accompanied by a photograph in which she appeared stylish and beautiful. He wrote to her immediately at her home on Palmyra Street in New Orleans, expressing his admiration, and they began an intense epistolary courtship that lasted two years. The Dunbars embodied the aspirational ideal of the educated, cultured African American, allowed access to the white halls of fame and power as long as they were willing to remain, flattened and fixed, in the roles of representatives of their race.

Feminize Your Canon: Fanny Fern

In 1854, one of America’s most popular newspaper columnists, the pseudonymous Fanny Fern, published “Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of The Present Time,” an autobiographical novel so thinly veiled as to be downright scandalous. In a preface, Fern announced that her book was “entirely at variance with all set rules for novel-writing,” eschewing an intricate plot, elaborate descriptions, and cliff-hanging suspense. Instead, the author likened herself to a casual visitor, dropping by unannounced with gossip to share—and, clearly, some scores to settle.

From 'Emma' to Natalie Portman, a dress can be worth a thousand words

When Greta Gerwig’s widely beloved “Little Women” won its sole Oscar this year for costume design, the victory for Jacqueline Durran was shadowed by frustration from fans, who thought the movie was being recognized only for its stereotypically feminine qualities. For a film that turns on its heroines’ struggles to be treated as artists, not ornaments, it could be seen as an ironic accolade. But that critique itself takes costumes at face value.

Jenny Offill: ‘I no longer felt like it wasn’t my fight’

It’s early January and freezing cold in New York when I meet Jenny Offill to talk about her new novel, Weather – an innocuous title for something that feels less innocuous every day. A couple of weeks earlier, the temperature was warm and spring-like. These fluctuations in the weather, and the warming trends they reveal, are increasingly unsettling reminders of the climate crisis, and they form the backbone of Offill’s latest novel, the follow-up to 2014’s bestselling Dept. of Speculation.

Unearthing London’s history from a muddy riverbank

A mudlark — a person who scavenges for treasure in the muck and rubbish of a riverbank — sounds like a character from a Shakespearean comedy, flitting between the extremes of filth and magic. In her quirky memoir of modern mudlarking, Lara Maik­lem travels from west to east along the Thames, from Teddington to Tilbury, reflecting on London’s long and layered history as revealed in the detritus thrown up by the water.

Feminize Your Canon: Mary Heaton Vorse

Our column Feminize Your Canon explores the lives of underrated and underread female authors. Originally begun by Emma Garman, it will now be written by Joanna Scutts. Mary Heaton Vorse, prolific novelist, journalist, and labor activist, spent most of her long life trying to escape her upper-middle-class origins. The heroine of her 1918 novel ’ calls the inescapability of a bourgeois upbringing life’s “blue serge lining”—a reference to the practical fabric that protected the inside of coats.

The Radical Roots of Emma Watson’s ‘Self-Partnership’

Most reactions to Watson’s “self-partnering” framed it as a slightly silly term for a personal choice. But it’s more than that. In her Vogue interview, Watson pointed to the “bloody influx of subliminal messaging” — in advertising, media, and society at large — telling women they are incomplete by themselves. This messaging is deliberate and well-entrenched: As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we haven’t yet fully exorcised the patriarchal ghosts that peg a woman’s existence to that of her father or husband. To overtly reject this — to, yes, “self-partner” — is, quietly, a radical act.

Team Scott vs Team Zelda (PDF)

“People always believe the best story” wrote Zelda Fitzgerald in her novel Save Me the Waltz in 1932. For a long time, that story of the Fitzgeralds starred a brilliant, self-destructive golden boy tethered to a golden girl, whose glamour eventually dulled into madness. Then in 1970, Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A biography twisted the kaleidoscope and a new story tumbled into view, one in which a brilliant woman was overshadowed, plundered and abandoned by her husband.
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