Author Archive

Exploring the Self in Orlando and The Puttermesser Papers

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Virginia Woolf and Cynthia Ozick both feature protagonists who flaunt societal gender-based expectations like marriage and children in their mock-biographies.

How Can We Be Happy in a World Full of Suffering?

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Olivia Laing, in her new novel, writes of a feeling that resonates: “She felt blank. She felt blank and mildly hysterical, she was itching to do something but it wasn’t clear what.”

Eudora Welty and Place in Storytelling

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In her essay “Place in Fiction,” originally delivered as a lecture at Duke in 1955, Eudora Welty almost immediately positions place as an antidote to broad generalizations about human experience.

Foreignness and Familiarity in Mavis Gallant’s “Mlle. Dias de Corta”

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Mavis Gallant’s “Mlle. Dias de Corta” unfolds more like a novel than a short story. It’s a second-person address to a tenant the narrator, an aging, xenophobic French widow, had twenty years before—a young actress, Alda Dias de Corta, whom the widow took in “for companionship rather than income.”

Reading Herzog in 2018

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Saul Bellow’s novel is often characterized as a rich portrait of a mind in crisis. It’s also an exploration of the role of history—and memory—in personal life.

Photography and Language in John McPhee’s “Under the Cloth”

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The view camera creates a particular kind of image through extreme pause and meticulous composition; by writing about a view camera, McPhee creates a particular kind of essay, one that uses the techniques of both view camera photography and narrative.

The Cocoon and the Vista: Rebecca Solnit and Czeslaw Milosz on Vastness

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Both Solnit and Milosz transform picturesque vistas into fully alive places on the page. Their methods are instructive not only for writing about place, but as tools for toggling between any set of Big Questions and the particulars of moving as a body through streets.

Writing Return: Birthplace and the Perils and Pleasures of Nostalgia

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I’ve often resisted writing about the place I was born. To write about birthplace is to open one’s writing up to a number of potential pitfalls. We feel strongly about the places we come from, and often for uninteresting, arbitrary, or vaguely narcissistic reasons.

Conversations about Trees: Engagement and Retreat in Brecht, Rich, and Marvell

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Nature offers the comforting suggestion of continuity, an awareness of scale; it can be both menacing and welcoming; it’s fertile ground for symbol and simile. However, in times of heightened political tension, poems about trees can feel like a cop-out, or especially irrelevant.

Time and Narrative Structure in Gina Berriault’s “The Infinite Passion of Expectation”

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The first time I read Gina Berriault’s story “The Infinite Passion of Expectation,” I experienced it as an inundation. The plot is strange but simple: a young waitress goes on frequent walks with an eccentric, aging psychologist, who eventually asks her to marry him—she’s unsure. The psychologist lives an