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Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

Virginia Woolf’s entreaties in A Room of One’s Own were directed to women, urging them to write. To write all kinds of books, to write whatever they wish. She said: “When I ask you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large.”

The authors of two recent essay collections are living Woolf’s legacy. Jericho Parms and Durga Chew-Bose acknowledge the footprints that precede them, and their successful debuts are a gift to today’s readers.

I was struck repeatedly in Jericho Parms’s collection, Lost Wax, by word constructions and rhythms that brought Woolf to mind, especially in her contemplations of memory and the self. It was no surprise to read in an interview: “I first fell in love with the essay and the unending possibility of the form from reading the works of Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, James Baldwin, and Virginia Woolf.” She mentions Moments of Being as a major influence, and it’s evident in reflections about her own life.

The final essay in Lost Wax is “Immortal Wound,” in which Parms ponders a dead luna moth and relates it to human mortality, to the recognition that one can expire “in a moment unobserved, as if it never came to pass.” Woolf had witnessed her moth’s death, and Parms says, “I envied Woolf her day moth zigzagging against a windowpane.”

The title of Durga Chew-Bose’s book of essays, Too Much and Not the Mood, comes from Woolf’s diary entry of April 11, 1931. Woolf is bogged down in making corrections to a number of her articles. She’s working with a faulty pen, for starters, “And not much to say, or rather too much & not the mood.”

The prose in these essays evokes Woolf’s interiority and love of language. I underlined phrase after phrase, passage after passage, as Chew-Bose, like a moth herself, lights here and there, pausing on family and friendship, on James Baldwin and Nina Simone and the young Al Pacino, on her name and her voice and her skin color.

The opening essay, “Heart Museum,” is a 90-page abstract meditation, in which she likens writing to body language, to “a woman narrowing her eyes to express incredulity,” to “an elbow propped on the edge of a table when you’re wrapping up an argument,” to “a closed pistachio shell.” In which she describes her version of happiness as “curling up inside the bends of parentheses,” and in which the odds and ends on a friend’s dressing table represent “a parish of miscellany,” “a village of items.”

The essay is alive and well, and women’s writing in all genres is more wide-ranging and abundant than even Virginia Woolf might have imagined.

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Alice Lowe, a contributor to Blogging Woolf and a prolific essay writer, has a new essay in Stonecoast Review. In it, she pays homage to her muse, Virginia Woolf, and reflects on her new tattoo, aging and writing.

You can read more about it on Alice’s blog: Seventy | Alice Lowe — still writing

 

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susan sellers

Susan Seller

Susan Sellers will present “Virginia Woolf and the Essay” Wednesday, April 26, at 1 p.m. as part of the Virginia Woolf Talks, Cambridge, presented by Literature Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College.

The talk will be held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. It is free and open to all, town and gown. Enquiries: tt206@cam.ac.uk

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Fire and Stone by Priscilla Long is an outstanding collection of personal essays encompassingfire-stone Priscilla’s life and family, her reflections on being an activist in Boston in the sixties, forays into science, literary influences, and more. Disclosure: In addition to being a remarkable writer, Priscilla is a good friend and my writing mentor.

I enjoyed reading in her essay “Throwing Stones” about how she “entered into the shadowy realm of American rebellion, into the sixties of pickets and protests and street marches and flag burnings … and danced all night and marched against the war and read Gramsci and Marx and Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf….”

But I was surprised when I found references to Mrs. Dalloway in two more essays in the same section: “The Musician” and “Dressing.” I knew Priscilla admired Woolf’s work, but I didn’t think she’d been a significant influence. So I asked her, “What’s with this?” She replied that she had written the essays at different times, had assembled the collection in a fitting order, but hadn’t realized there were Woolf references in three closely-sequenced essays.

When I delved into Woolf references in contemporary fiction* several years ago, I noted how they often were positioned to identify a time or a milieu in young women’s lives. They do that in Priscilla’s essays, but these aren’t fiction—Priscilla and her feminist cohort were reading A Room of One’s Own; young women were pondering the life and times of Clarissa Dalloway. I still find fictional references, and I read a number of personal essays every week. I frequently come across writers’ tributes to Woolf’s influence, or references to her novels or characters. Posters still hang in dorm rooms; Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are on many a beside table of many a woman, young and old, in fiction and in life.

*Editor’s Note: Alice Lowe’s monograph, Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction, is available from Cecil Woolf Publishers. You can also find more posts about Woolf in contemporary fiction.

 

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Susan Sellers

Susan Sellers

The Eighteenth Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture, “Woolf and the Essay” by Susan Sellers, Professor of English and Related Literature, St Andrews University, and General Editor of the Cambridge University Press Edition of  the Works of Virginia Woolf, will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday 28 January 2017 at the Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. See map and directions.

The lecture is sponsored by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain. The cost is £15 for Society Members and £20 for non-members. The event includes a wine reception following the lecture and a copy of the lecture when printed.  Bookings are available via the Institute of English Studies website.

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gell062309

Aaron Gell will edit the male-centered blog, Beta Male.

A recent article by Jia Tolentino on the feminist blog Jezebel.com titled, “Sheesh, There’s a Reason Women Are ‘Totally Crushing It’ at the Confessional Essay” channels Woolf several times as Tolentino analyzes the future existence of a “new pop-up blog at New York Magazine, a six-week project called Beta Male.”

This new “pop-up blog” will highlight men’s writing, (and presumably, celebrate “beta males”) with a particular interest in the male confessional essay.

The editor of the new blog, Aaron Gell, who is the executive director of Maxim.com, sent out a call for submissions which Leah Finnegan published at Genius.com. Gell calls for men to “demonstrate” that they too can be “introspective” like women writers:

Among the many areas in which women are just totally crushing it lately (sheesh, women!) is the confessional essay. We would like to demonstrate that men can be introspective and self-aware, too. So by all means, whatever you pitch me, try to include a personal essay idea or two. These can be about sex and relationships, family, work, friendships, race, art, beauty, obsession, the body, war, childhood celebrity crushes, parenthood, butt play and/or shoes.

Tolentino alludes to (and links to) Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own several times as she questions the “outlets available for men to confess things about their personal lives online” and the confessional nature of women’s writing. Tolentino writes:

And as we are now in a cultural moment where people are—thankfully—interested in learning about social structures and what life is like for people who have suffered greater hardships, we have, to mixed effect, progressed on the personal essay front from “A Room of One’s Own” into sort of “A Room of One’s Own, Wallpapered With Identity and the Particular Difficult Things It Brings.”

Do men need a new room of their own in which to write and publish?

Or is the whole world their room?

Read Tolentino’s full post here.

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Composer Brian Mark has set Virginia Woolf’s essay, “Craftsmanship,” to music. The piece was  broadcast on 29 April 1937 as part of BBC Radio’s “Words Fail Me” series.

With “A Eulogy to Words,” he has fulfilled an eight-year ambition to create a piece for chamber orchestra and electronics. It is written for London’s Royal Academy of Music and conducted by Michael Alexander Young.

Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org called it “the best thing since the Solar System set to Bach and Carl Sagan adapted as a three-movement choral suite.”

Have a listen and tell us what you think of the piece, which runs nearly 10 minutes, in the comments section below.

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