Critical Essays Archive

Decoding the Silences in Corregidora

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Gayl Jones’s 1975 book positions language as an apparatus of control and power, a weapon used to continue cycles of oppression. It contends that silence—both literal and metaphorical—can create a future untainted by the past.

The Bass Rock’s Layered Use of Setting

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The use of place in Evie Wyld’s third novel underscores the constant nature of violence against women—that unchanging and immoveable landscape—and yet the capacity for women to band together in order to fight back shows that there may, indeed, be better days ahead.

Fragmentation and The Narrow Road to the Interior

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Kimiko Hahn’s 2006 poetry collection not only demonstrates the non-linear zuihitsu’s possibilities for relaying personal story, but also includes her meta-musings on genre and fragmentation itself, especially in terms of how “complete incompleteness” might serve as a haven for women artists—such subversions interrupt power, upset façade, and invite truth-telling.

A Family of Strangers in The Arsonists’ City

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Behind the straightforward family disagreement that underpins Hala Alyan’s new novel lies all the complications, subtleties, and dishonesties upon which families are founded, along with the fears, longings, and displacement more particular to immigrant households.

The Maternal Vision of Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson

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In the earliest years of parenting, the tensions between motherhood and artistic practice can feel insurmountable. Yet there are ways in which motherhood and the writing life are uniquely compatible.

The Many Narrative Layers of White Magic

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In her new collection, out this week, Elissa Washuta builds essays that repudiate traditional structures, layering her own stories on existing forms as a means to examine the traumatic, defining moments of her life.

The Reanimating Power of Epistolary Poetry

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Poetry is the process of happening, its reanimating force something experienced each time a poem is read in our heads, aloud, privately, or to others. The best poems—Rachel Mennies’s and Sumita Chakraborty’s poems—are made with such specificity, such unmistakable architecture, that hearing them is this experience, this happening.

To Tip the Balance

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The scope of grief is unimaginable. So is the scope of joy. Our first task is to pay attention, but Annie Dillard reminds us it doesn’t end there: our work is also to try to tip the balance.

The Maternal Gothic in The Push and Beloved

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Ashley Audrain and Toni Morrison use the maternal gothic form, which dwells on the threats posed both to and by children and mothers, upending idyllic, peaceful visions of maternal life, to explore how mothers are devalued and isolated by white, patriarchal power structures.

Hope in the Apocalypse

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Octavia Butler and Yoko Tawada balance the pain of life in a post-apocalyptic future with stories of human resilience, offering readers some spark of hope in a future that seems hopeless.