Writing the Self: Heidi Julavits, Maggie Nelson, and Sarah Manguso
Tuesday November 17, 2015
Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts), Sarah Manguso (Ongoingness: The End of a Diary), and Heidi Julavits (The Folded Clock) have written three of the most critically acclaimed books of the year. Filled with meditations on time, motherhood, identity, and desire, each volume seems to be in conversation with the other two, while still being wholly original and groundbreaking. The authors came together for an evening of discussion about their often intensely personal work and how they turn a critical eye on themselves.
About The Argonauts
At The Argonauts' center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge, who is fluidly gendered. Nelson describes the complexities and joys of becoming a stepmother to Harry’s son, as well as her journey to conceive the child who they are now raising together. Writing in the spirit of critics like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson’s experience serves as a way to explore how iconic thinkers and theorists have tried to untie the vexing knots that limit the way we talk about gender and the domestic institutions of marriage and childbirth. Perfect for fans of Eula Biss, Leslie Jamison, and Anne Carson, The Argonauts is a must-read for literati, academics, and anyone interested in the new contours of the contemporary American family.
About Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
In her third book that continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay, Sarah Manguso confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years. “I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,” she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, now 800,000 words, had become a kind of spiritual practice.Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time. Ongoingness is a spare, meditative work that stands in stark contrast to the volubility of the diary—it is a haunting account of mortality and impermanence, of how we struggle to find clarity amid the chaos of time that rushes around and over and through us.
About The Folded Clock
Like many young people, Heidi Julavits kept a diary. Decades later she found her old diaries in a storage bin, and hoped to discover the early evidence of the person (and writer) she’d since become. Instead, "The actual diaries revealed me to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor." The entries are daily chronicles of anxieties about grades, looks, boys, and popularity. After reading the confessions of her past self, writes Julavits, "I want to good-naturedly laugh at this person. I want to but I can't. What she wanted then is scarcely different from what I want today."
Thus was born a desire to try again, to chronicle her daily life as a forty-something woman, wife, mother, and writer. The dazzling result is The Folded Clock, in which the diary form becomes a meditation on time and self, youth and aging, betrayal and loyalty, friendship and romance, faith and fate, marriage and family, desire and death, gossip and secrets, art and ambition. Concealed beneath the minute obsession with “dailiness” are sharply observed moments of cultural criticism and emotionally driven philosophical queries. In keeping with the spirit of a diary, the tone is confessional, sometimes shockingly so, as the focus shifts from the woman she wants to be to the woman she may have become.
Julavits's spirited sense of humor about her foibles and misadventures, combined with her ceaseless intelligence and curiosity, explode the typically confessional diary form. The Folded Clock is as playful as it is brilliant, a tour de force by one of the most gifted prose stylists in American letters.
Maggie Nelson is a poet, critic, and nonfiction author of books such as The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, Bluets, and Jane: A Murder. She teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Sarah Manguso is the author of two memoirs, The Guardians and The Two Kinds of Decay, two poetry collections, and a short story collection. Her essays have appeared in Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and the New York Times Magazine. Born and raised near Boston, she was educated at Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Los Angeles.
Heidi Julavits is the author of, most recently, The Folded Clock: A Diary, as well as four critically acclaimed novels (The Vanishers, The Uses of Enchantment, The Effect of Living Backwards, and The Mineral Palace). She is also the co- editor, with Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton, of the New York Times bestseller Women in Clothes. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, McSweeney’s, and The Best American Short Stories, among other places. She's a founding editor of The Believer magazine and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Manhattan, where she teaches at Columbia University. She was born and raised in Portland, Maine.
This event was funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.