On Tuesday, author Chloe Caldwell announced her second collection of essays, I’ll Tell You in Person: Essays on Intimacy & Identity, is forthcoming from indie publishers Emily Books/Coffee House Press in 2016. Caldwell is one of those writers who, once you encounter her work, inspires you to read everything she’s written, akin to Leslie Jamison or Cheryl Strayed (who happens to be her friend and mentor). My best friend introduced me to Chloe’s first collection of essays, Legs Get Led Astray, and it’s a book I carry with me when I’m in need of comfort. Caldwell’s second book, a novella called Women, garnered critical acclaim (and an Instagram shoutout from Lena Dunham). She’ll show you her demons if you’ll show her yours–her style is deeply personal, almost confessional, but Chloe never seems to write from a place of exhibitionism. She’s simply honest, and in an age of Internet posturing, that feels important. Chloe writes about people who are important to her. She’s important to me, so I thought I’d share some of the things she’s taught me.
#1. Find a community of people who a) are great friends, and b) help you hone your craft: “Who Am I? Two Writers Talk About Life and Nonfiction.”
Chloe took to her personal blog and published four installments of a conversation between her and her good friend, the writer Frances Badalamenti. Rather than an interview, I thought the informal nature of this conversation would be a good introduction to her style.
#2. Be honest with yourself, even if it takes a while: “The Laziest Coming Out Story You’ve Ever Heard.”
When Women was published, Chloe found herself in a role she never expected: a voice within the LGBTQ+ community. Women’s unnamed protagonist falls for a butch woman, Finn. In an interview with BuzzFeed, she told Ashley C. Ford, “Part of me wants to have a label so bad because I’m actually also confused without them, but I’m still terrified by them…I’m OK with bisexual.” Many parts of this essay resonate with me: inwardly identifying as queer without officially “coming out,” going to Pride with her parents, discussions with friends about sexuality, being mistaken for straight, cycles of anxiety about not knowing oneself, etc. I think about this essay a lot, actually.
#3. Don’t be afraid to write about painful things: “Maggie and Me: My Last Days with the Legendary Maggie Estep.”
It’s hard to read Chloe’s essay about her late friend, the spoken word artist Maggie Estep, because you know what’s coming. Vice published Chloe’s piece about her friendship with Estep one year after she died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Many people knew Estep through her bold feminist poetry; here, Chloe talks about their text messages and yoga sessions, how her hero became her friend: “This is the blessing of being an artist: When you go you leave behind some fantastic trail, physical things that those who love you can cling to, to remember.”
#4. Interview your heroes: “Author Maggie Nelson on Fielding Nosy Questions About Queer Families: ‘You Have to Be Tough and Foxy.”
In her introduction to this piece, Chloe writes, “[The Argonauts] is the kind of book you feel desperate to share. You want them to love it as much as you do, but you also feel an urgent need to talk about it with others. I don’t envy many writers, but Maggie Nelson is my exception, and I’m okay with that.” I’m a proponent of reading the books recommended by my favorite writers, so I checked out The Argonauts from the library after reading this great interview with Nelson. The Argonauts is part journal, part poetry and part criticism–a form that seems apt to discuss queer relationships, gender and family.
#5: Some crazy shit might go down in your twenties: “Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.”
This is one of my favorite essays from Legs Get Led Astray. It reminds me of those relationships–friendships, primarily–that you have when you’re young, that are so close and deep, it’s impossible to distance yourself and think, this is as close as we’ll ever be. This is as good as it’ll get. They’re full-throttle. Chloe’s knack for small details is hypnotizing. Mix in a vibrant city and a decrepit, mythologized apartment, a stint of homelessness and you’re “Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.”
#6. Work at a bookstore: “Behind the Till.”
When I announced on Twitter that my local indie bookstore had hired me, Chloe was excited for me: “fun, congrats!! Everyone should work at a bookstore once in their life.” When she lived in New York City, Chloe lurked in the famed Strand bookstore, where her older brother and his friends worked. After moving to Portland, Chloe secures a job at Powell’s, where she checks her book’s stats every morning and hates to wear her nametag. Nevertheless, she enjoys her work and appreciates her fellow employees, whose attitudes prove far more compassionate than her brother’s compatriots.