Author Archives

“The Anger of Women is an Earth-shattering Thing”: Lidia Yuknavitch on Resisting the Hero Narrative and the Body as a Generator of Stories. Books

Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | March 2020 | 15 minutes (3,519 words)

Lidia Yuknavitch’s disquieting new collection of short stories, Verge, is often bleak, yet also exquisitely hopeful. Her characters, largely women, are on the edge of death, humiliation, relocation, mercy, self-harm — as well as a new kinship with themselves.

In “The Pull,” two sisters flee their war-torn country. When their raft falters far from a safe shore, the sisters know their strong swimmer bodies are the only way to save both themselves and the “family of strangers” onboard with them. The young girl in “The Organ Runner” is transporting black-market human organs when she’s confronted with saving the life of a “donor,” who is a former bully. The woman in search of “the most perfect wound” in “A Woman Signifying” carefully, gloriously, burns her face on the radiator. These stories are taut and precise; at times like fairy tales in their measured yet majestic scope. They are hard punches and sweetheart hugs, somehow as one.

Yuknavitch often wiggles into those dark spaces so many of us prefer to avoid. Take her memoir The Chronology of Water, which opens with the stillbirth of her daughter and carries us, with unflinching intimacy, through physical and sexual abuse as well as drug and alcohol addiction. The Small Backs of Children delves into the brutal aftermath of war. And The Book of Joan depicts a decimated Earth with a pod of now-sexless humans living in a hodgepodge space station and carving stories into their own skin.

And yet there is beauty. Dazzling beauty. This Yuknavitch never lets us forget.

Her self-generated motto is “make art in the face of fuck” — meaning the harder the world becomes, the more we need to create art of any sort. And the upside of a lot of fuck these days is that we’re graced with more of Yuknavitch’s.

We spoke over Skype about different ways of communicating, the end of the hero, and how women can harness their anger. Read more…

‘I Was Being Used in Slivers and Slices’: On Feminism at Odds With Evangelical Faith

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Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | October 2019 | 19 minutes (5,214 words)


I first became aware of Cameron Dezen Hammon during a group reading at Powell’s when she filled in for Alexander Chee at the last moment. Lithe and ridiculously hip, her voice as smooth as glass, as soon as she started speaking, I was mesmerized. Cameron read from the first chapter of her book This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession in which, as worship leader for an evangelical megachurch, she’s guiding the congregation through the flashy funeral of a young girl. Increasingly conflicted about her role as a woman within the church Cameron writes, “We’re both objects in this space, the eighteen-year-old girl and me, two different kinds of painted dolls. We are lit and arranged and positioned to scaffold the belief that women are to be seen in specific, prescribed ways.”

When I finally got my hands on the galleys several months later, I remained enthralled. Cameron’s prose is lean, whittled, spectacularly exact. Yet her world is achingly alive. At twenty-six, a half-Jewish New Yorker, Cameron is baptized into a charismatic evangelicalism in the frigid waters of Coney Island’s Atlantic Ocean during a lightning storm. Soon she’s speaking in tongues and giving testimony and feeling as if she’s, at last, found family. A gifted and ambitious singer, she falls in love with a fellow musician, Matt, and they settle in Texas where they have a child; together they become more and more immersed in various evangelical churches — even serving as missionaries for several months in Budapest — until Cameron and her magnificent voice move up the ranks to worship pastor. Read more…

‘Brokenness and Holiness Really Go Together’: Darcey Steinke on Menopause

Nefertiti, 14th century B.C., dark granite bust.(Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | June 2019 | 19 minutes (5,308 words)

By the time I finished reading Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life I had over nine pages of questions for author Darcey Steinke. She does, after all, explore a variety of topics through the lens of menopause: Sex; grief; the patriarchy; whales, gorillas, horses, and elephants; God; art; the transgender community; and, of course, women’s bodies, along with our minds, our spirits, our anger, and our animalness. She braids all of this into sparse, patient prose that’s somehow lush and explosive, not to mention formidable and exquisitely sensitive to all beings. [Read an excerpt from Flash Count Diary on Longreads.]

I first met Darcey back in the day, when I was a newbie writer and she was my scorchingly cool teacher. Dirty blonde hair, black tights, oozing brilliance, confidence and a bit of the daredevil, she kind of scared me. As it turns out, she is all of that — and also gigantically kind, funny, generous, and wise. The perfect combination to pull off a book like this.

Darcey’s menopausal journey begins with hot flashes so intense she, a minister’s daughter, believes God must be visiting her and ends with the bone-deep realization of her place within the divinity of nature. “I pray to the body, I pray to the lake, I pray to the whale,” she writes. In between she explores why there is so much scarcity and shame around menopause. Read more…

‘I Knew It Was Not My Correct Life, Because It Asked Me To Mute My Voice.’

Getty / Unsplash / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | February 2019 | 15 minutes (4,177 words)


I first stumbled across Reema Zaman on Facebook where each week she posts Love Letter Monday in which she discusses her life, both the hardships and successes, in an unabashedly self-loving manner. At first it caught me by surprise. I was so unaccustomed to hearing a woman speak well of herself — it felt, well, wrong. But soon enough I found myself sneaking back as if the words were contraband and the act of reading them a necessary revolution. The posts also contain an outpouring of love for the reader. A clarion call for women to turn “wound into wisdom” and “pain into poetry.” To be the authors of their own lives.

Her new memoir I Am Yours continues the call. In an evolving age-specific voice, Reema guides the reader through her life from a childhood in Bangladesh and Thailand with a domineering and unpredictable father, through anorexia and rape while living with roommates in Manhattan and navigating an often degrading and even dangerous life as an actress and model, to emotional abuse while living in a dilapidated barn in the middle of no-cell-phone-service woods with her then husband until, at age thirty, she at last lands a room of her own.

Reema’s prose is as ablaze as her heart. Lyrical, precise, in places frothing with desire or rage or faith, Reema’s unbridling of her tightly-watched self-suppressed voice is not an easy task. Yet it’s an essential one. These are hard stories, let loose at last with grace, sagacity, and dollops of clever humor. At its heart, I Am Yours is a story of hope. Read more…

A Place to Stay, Untouched by Death

Unsplash / Pexels / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Jane Ratcliffe | Longreads | October 2018 | 12 minutes (2,950 words)


A place to stay untouched by death
Does not exist.
It does not exist in space, it does not exist in the ocean,
Nor if you stay in the middle of a mountain. 


When my mother grew quite ill and it became clear she would soon die, we brought her from the hospital to my parents’ house where they’d lived for nearly 50 years. My father, brother, niece, and I moved the dining-room table and chairs into the living room and hospice came in and set up one of those heavy, mechanical beds with cold metal side rails and a device that moved the head and feet up and down. It was an ugly bed. How many people before my mom had died in it, I wondered. It came with a sparse, lumpy mattress. My mom was skinny as a blade of grass by then and needed padding for her jutting bones. So we purchased an additional mattress to rest on top of her existing one; a mattress that would be hers alone, upon which no one, besides her, would die.

My parents grew up working class in London during World War II where they acquired a lifelong frugality. Inspire by one of the more popular war slogans, “Make Do and Mend,” they reused cooking oil, saved aluminum foil, and sewed up holes in our socks. So, it wasn’t a surprise to discover the Marimekko sheets of my late teen years in my parents’ linen closet. I was 54 then, but the background white on those sheets was still crisp and bright; the pinks and oranges and yellows of the flowers still exuberant. There were no other twin sheets in the house, so as my mom rested in her favorite velvet chair in the family room, my dad and I made up the bed with them. It was February, so we placed one blanket on top and folded another near where her feet, now tender in their slouchy socks, would rest.

And there it was: My mother’s death bed. All done up in my college dorm sheets.

My mind raced through the things that had happened on those sheets. Things that didn’t belong to this moment. I remembered my parents moving me into my college dorm in 1980. My mom always said that the moment all my belongings were in my room, I shushed them away. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. I remember unpacking my brand-new sheets, freshly laundered by my mom, and together, the three of us, making my bed. I remember them being so proud of me: There I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. My mom’s education had ended at age 12 when her school was bombed and my dad’s at 14 when he began his apprenticeship in the tool and dye trade. Such was England in those days.

I was struck by this repurposing of an object for a completely unexpected use. Back when I was 18, screwing my boyfriend on those sheets, slipping between them after a late night at the clubs, over-sleeping for classes sandwiched in them, eating junk food and studying for exams, books sprawled on top of them, sharing secrets with best friends with the sheets tucked around our knees, I could never have imagined my mom would die nestled between them.

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