Women We Read This Week

Alice Bolin’s “The Oldest Story: Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show,” in the Los Angeles Review of Books

I like True Detective the way I like Bad Brains–I appreciate the artistry while at the same time maintaining criticism of of the inherent misogyny/homophobia/what-have-you. Unlike Bad Brains, though, I don’t think True Detective pushes any aesthetic or cultural boundaries, or really does anything new at all. The show is very well done same-old-same. Which is why I appreciated Alice Bolin’s smart, to-the-point, nails-it-on-the-bullseye essay dissecting the phenomenon she calls the Dead Girl Show. She places True Detective in a lineage of Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars and the American obsession with murder and incest, and reveals the implicit cultural message at the core of these narratives: “Externalizing the impulse to prey on young woman cleverly depicts it as both inevitable and beyond the control of men.” It’s a bro narrative, in case you didn’t notice–which doesn’t make it terrible, just means that we ought to take the time to tease it apart a little before we laud it. (And of course, it’d be lovely if room were made for other narratives. But that’s just a girl dreaming.) —Lauren

Eliza Griswold’s Cries of the Pashtun Women in Outside

In a feature in the latest issue of Outside, Eliza Griswold returns to Afghanistan after several years away to collect landays: short, powerful poems that are shared among rural Afghan women. The resulting story mixes Griswold’s memories of her previous, harrowing visits to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas with her search for the poems, and it’s a powerful piece. Here’s Griswold:

To ask a woman to sing a landay is to ask what has happened to her. If she agrees, in those two lines she’ll sing you the story of her life and of the places she comes from — places that, for me as for most of us, are impossible to go to. The lure of such danger may no longer drive me as it once did, but the fascination with borders, with traveling to the edge of a place, still has a pull. Before Thanksgiving 2012, I decided to return to the Afghan side of the border to collect landays. It was safer than the other side and as close as I’m likely ever to get to the region that haunts me like no other.

What I like best about the piece is the glimpse it provides into a world so many of us have never seen or heard – bringing us not just into the remote regions of a war-torn country, but into the women’s world within that region, a literal no-man’s-land. —Eva

Leslie Jamison and Roxane Gay’s conversation about the essay on Salon, moderated by Michele Filgate

Last year, I wrote a brief essay for Vela entitled “It’s Not Personal,” about the way in which writing by women that contains an “I” is often marginalized as “personal,” whereas writing by men that does the same is considered gutsy, quirky, courageous, or innovative. I struggled to find writing by women that contained a personal component yet wasn’t labeled as memoir. So I’ve been thrilled to see the reception that Leslie Jamison’s work has been receiving – I have yet to see it categorized as memoir – and the conversation that her writing has stirred up. Here, Jamison and essayist Roxane Gay discuss the essay as a form, the particular challenges and stigmas women essayists confront, and why “we’re in an age of beautiful essay writing.”

Their conversation gives me hope that women essayists are increasingly making room for themselves in that terrain between literary journalism and memoir, debunking the assumption that subjectivity in women’s work automatically renders it personal (a term so often placed in opposition to “serious”) and demanding to be treated with the same critical, intellectual consideration as men.

Jamison and Gay also raise questions about the nature of the essay and its balance of inward and outward focus: questions that I find consistently pertinent to my own work and to that we publish on Vela. As for the question of whether or not we’re in a golden age of women essayists, well, I think that all depends on who and what we’re reading and writing about – who have you read this week? –Sarah


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