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Maggie Nelson Lists Six Books that Inspired The Argonauts

By Harriet Staff


What to read after The Argonauts? Maggie Nelson recently visited The Library of America’s blog Reader’s Almanac and listed six books that influenced her newest work. More:

For the relaunch of our series of blog posts by contemporary fiction writers, essayists, poets, and historians, we reached out to Maggie Nelson to learn what classic works of American writing might have influenced her critically acclaimed new memoir The Argonauts.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. If you’re looking for an example of how to move between personal anecdote, trenchant political analysis, and urgent spiritual/ontological rumination, I doubt anyone bests Baldwin. His account of his meeting with Elijah Muhammad was, is, endlessly instructive to me, not only for its use of an encounter as a springboard for reflection, but also for Baldwin’s skill in saying exactly what he wants and needs to say without bending under the pressures of imagined readerships, some of whom might stand all too ready to misuse his critique. (I thought about this issue a lot when trying to figure out how to weight various critiques in The Argonauts.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essential Writings. People love to talk about unclassifiable creative nonfiction as a recent invention, but what on God’s green earth are Emerson’s essays? Genre-wise, and sentence by sentence, they are some of the strangest, most inspiring pieces of nonfiction that I know. (Nietzsche thought so too—how’s that for mind-blowing.)

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. First published in 1983, this collection feels fresh, relevant, and necessary every time I pick it up. Whenever people complain to me about the so-called “ivory towerness” of theory, I advise them to revisit the “theory in the flesh” articulated in these pages, which proves how some—perhaps most—people who come to analyze the intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality do so out of a need to make livable lives, and sometimes to survive.

Continue at Reader’s Almanac.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, June 12th, 2015 by Harriet Staff.