• excerpt • July 07, 2020

    Lady Romeo

    Charlotte Cushman was once called “the greatest living actress.” In the mid-nineteenth century this queer, Shakespearean performer was all the rage. Walt Whitman called her a genius, Louisa May Alcott had a stage-struck fit over her, Lincoln made her promise to perform for him (she did) and she impressed luminaries from Charles Dickens to Henry James. She rose from poverty to become America’s first celebrity, while specializing in ambitious women and transforming how we think of Shakespeare through her male roles like Hamlet and Romeo. After becoming an icon, Cushman lived openly with her female

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  • booklist • May 28, 2020

    Tech Support

    Welcome to part three of our ongoing series about supporting the literary community during the coronavirus pandemic. This week, we focus on independent bookstores and authors in need.

    Support Bookstores

    Most stores are taking orders directly or on platforms like Bookshop.org or IndieBound. Not sure where to start? Check out the titles from the latest issue of Bookforum.

    If you feel like living a bit dangerously (while still staying inside), put your faith in booksellers’ hands. Order a secondhand mystery bag from Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, a “surprise-me” paperback or hardcover from

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Notes from the Cave

    A FEW NIGHTS AGO, I WAS VISITED BY AN EMAIL. Back before the world gasped, my brother, the doctor, hardly ever wrote me anything beyond a “dinner Friday y/n,” and yet here he was, in the breathless thick of it, attaching a file of 7,241 words. I’d thought that he was far out in the boroughs intubating the sick or putting them through dialysis—and he was—but somehow he’d also found the time and adrenalized energy to put more language down on the screen than I, the ostensible writer, had managed to eke out in weeks, even months. The instructions that came at the top of the email explained, or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    What’s Happening?

    IN 1974 DORIS LESSING PUBLISHED MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR, a postapocalyptic novel narrated by an unnamed woman, almost entirely from inside her ground-floor apartment in an English suburb. In a state of suspended disbelief and detachment, the woman describes the events happening outside her window as society slowly collapses, intermittently dissociating from reality and lapsing into dream states. At first, the basic utilities begin to cut out, then the food supply runs short. Suddenly, rats are everywhere. Roving groups from neighboring areas pass through the yard, ostensibly escaping even worse

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Purity of the Heart Is to Follow One Thing

    SØREN KIERKEGAARD WAS AN EARNEST, brilliant, difficult, vituperative, sensitive, sickly emo brat whose statue in the Valhalla of Sad Young Literary Men is surely the size of a Bamiyan Buddha. He was a Christian whose devoutness was so idiosyncratic as to be functionally indistinct from heresy; who lived large on family money until the money ran out and then died so promptly that you’d almost think he planned the photo finish; who tried and failed to save Christianity from itself, but succeeded (without really trying) in founding “a new philosophical style, rooted in the inward drama of being

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Meditations in an Emergency

    DURING THE FIRST WEEKS of quarantine, I would become exasperated when I’d hear some expression of gratitude for the platforms and technologies keeping us socially connected, as though connection is only virtuous, or would be balm enough. It seemed apparent that the value of disconnection was an equally pressing lesson, a condition put before us to wrestle with, to practice, to sit with, and, perhaps, to learn from. Perhaps disconnection would even be essential to defining how and in what altered state we might arrive at the other side of this horrific, if expected, shakedown. Wanting role models

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  • print • Summer 2020

    The Other America

    IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION, a significant influence on Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s new memoir American Harvest, the first-century prophet John is beset by visions while in exile. He sees locusts with human faces, a slaughtered lamb, a dragon with seven heads. An angel promises to condemn those who refuse God’s teachings to a fiery abyss and guarantees the return of Jesus after his people have endured a series of trials. In time, the messenger says, the old world of strife will be destroyed, and a new world will replace it. There, God will dwell with his people in peace. “And he carried me away in

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  • print • Summer 2020

    THADDEUS MOSLEY

    The titles of Thaddeus Mosley’s recent wood sculptures are often plainly descriptive: There’s a curve in Curved Closure, branches in Branched Form, and an oval in Oval Continuity. This straightforward denotation of the works’ spatial and geometric character indicates Mosley’s matter-of-fact approach. At ninety-four, the self-taught artist isn’t inclined toward mystification or obscurity. In an essay by curator Brett Littman, included in this volume, Mosley recounts how in the 1950s he saw “decorative furniture with details like small birds and fish made out of wood” in a Pittsburgh department

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Coeur Values

    It’s the second week of March in Paris, and COVID-19 still hasn’t shut the city down. I am staying at the Hotel La Louisiane, the haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Cy Twombly, and more—an oddball historic dive in the heart of the Sixth Arrondissement. I spend my days retracing the steps of literary and art icons and reading in cafés. I’ve been asked to write about The Heart, Marc Petitjean’s new book about Frida Kahlo’s life in Paris in 1939, and it seems to haunt me at every step. I walk over the Seine by the Louvre, which was just closed down, and

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Women on the Verge

    For many of its participants, the women’s liberation movement represented a saving break with an unremittingly bleak past. A switch flipped at the end of the 1960s, and the culture flooded with light. Where once there had been only darkness—Ladies’ Home Journal, back-alley abortions, MRS degrees—now there was feminism: Kate Millett made the cover of Time, Shirley Chisholm made the ballot, and young women picketed bridal fairs and beauty pageants that they might have attended a year before. In 1971, fiction writer Tillie Olsen remarked with awe that “this movement in three years has accumulated

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Pass the Alt

    “In Athens, Georgia, in the 1980s, if you were young and willing to live without much money, anything seemed possible,” Grace Elizabeth Hale opens her new book Cool Town, about how the B-52s, R.E.M., Vic Chesnutt, and scads of lesser-known alternative-rock artists sprang out of one small southern college town four decades ago. My first impulse was to substitute the line Tolstoy might have written if Tolstoy had been really into rock bands: All local music scenes are the same, but every music scene is local in its own way. Young people coalesce around a few emerging performers or spaces or

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  • print • Summer 2020

    The Painting on the Wall

    In Murals of New York City, all of the Big Apple’s bygone eras seem to blend together. On the walls of Neoclassical courthouses and Art Deco airports, hallowed hotel bars and brick borough halls, we see the Rockefellers and Roosevelts still running things, and the Astaires, the Barrymores, and the Fitzgeralds forever flitting around. People smoked in restaurants, and artists—apparently—had studios in the attic of Grand Central Terminal. Graffiti didn’t yet have a name. The New School was still new, as was the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration paid for everything. It’s the Gilded Age,

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