On the last day of December, 2009 Kate Zambreno began a blog called Frances Farmer Is My Sister, arising from her obsession with the female modernists and her recent transplantation to Akron, Ohio, where her husband held a university job. Widely reposted, Zambreno’s blog became an outlet for her highly informed and passionate rants about the fates of the modernist “wives and mistresses.” In her blog entries, Zambreno reclaimed the traditionally pathologized biographies of Vivienne Eliot, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, and Zelda Fitzgerald: writers and artists themselves who served as male writers’ muses only to end their lives silenced, erased, and institutionalized. Over the course of two years, Frances Farmer Is My Sister helped create a community where today’s “toxic girls” could devise a new feminist discourse, writing in the margins and developing an alternative canon.
In Heroines, Zambreno extends the polemic begun on her blog into a dazzling, original work of literary scholarship. Combing theories that have dictated what literature should be and who is allowed to write it–from T. S. Eliot’s New Criticism to the writings of such mid-century intellectuals as Elizabeth Hardwick and Mary McCarthy to the occasional “girl-on-girl crime” of the Second Wave of feminism–she traces the genesis of a cultural template that consistently exiles female experience to the realm of the “minor,” and diagnoses women for transgressing social bounds. “ANXIETY: When she experiences it, it’s pathological,” writes Zambreno. “When he does, it’s existential.” By advancing the Girl-As-Philosopher, Zambreno reinvents feminism for her generation while providing a model for a newly subjectivized criticism.
STUFF PEOPLE SAID
Named one of the best books of 2012 by Laurie Penny in The New Statesman (“a lush, lyrical feminist memoir”), by Michele Filgate and Karolina Waclawiak at Salon, by Elissa Schappell at the Tin House blog (“a fuck-you to the Great American White Male Way”), by Tobias Carroll at Vol. 1 Brooklyn (“It’s punk as fuck, basically”), by Laura Pearson at Time Out Chicago (“a highly personal scholarly work (or is it a highly scholarly personal work?) unlike anything I’ve read before”), at The Nervous Breakdown, the ICA London blog, at Drawn&Quarterly bookstore, and by Verso Books. It was named by Flavorwire as “21 Books Written by and About Women That Every Man Should Read” (“enlightening and intense, it’s a must-read”) and one of the “50 Books That Define the Past 5 Years in Literature” (“It is an unforgettable read, and one that will no doubt continue to spark conversation for years to come.”) Named one of their favorite books of 2013 by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Bookslut (“heartbreaking and visionary”), by Miranda Popkey over at FSG’s blog (“I didn’t think I needed a feminist awakening, but reading this, on the plane to California for Thanksgiving, I felt like my skin was on fire.”), and by Martha Bayne over at the Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row section (“Heroines” reads with an almost physical urgency and has indelibly stained my own thinking about creativity and ambition.”)
“The writing in Heroines is sharp, visceral, self-avowedly furious, often brilliant…” Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Times Literary Supplement
“Zambreno doesn’t write with the measured voice of someone who can count on being listened to, but with the wail of someone confined to a shed.” – Sheila Heti, London Review of Books
“It is in her ‘counterattack against this censorship; that Zambreno is at her most exhilarating and eviscerating: rightfully unashamed to acknowledge that it began from a position of anger, Heroines is rigorous and confident, fiercely intelligent in its demand for a fairer way of reading, writing and writing about women—past, present and future.”—Juliet Jacques, New Statesman
“The first time I read the book, I finished it in two days, putting it down only when I was at work. Around this time, I began formulating a new project of my own, imagining the lost voices of women in a particular episode of history. Now I see that it is a reply to the central question of Heroines: whose stories are remembered, and whose are erased?”—Teow Lim Goh, The Philadelphia Review of Books
“I found Heroines so brave & thrilling & agitating.”—Katherine Angel, author of Unmastered: A Book on Desire Most Difficult to Tell
“Zambreno is a radical, and we need radicals.” –Elisa Gabbert, Open Letters Monthly
“Impassioned and intelligent, enraged and grieving and curious, Zambreno interrogates the lost (erased) history of women writers and muses — the Madwomen of Modernism — and explores her own development as a writer, woman and lover alongside such figures as Zelda Fitzgerald and Viv Eliot. Deeply entertaining, this is a hybrid of the most confessional memoir with the most intense scholarship. “—The Nervous Breakdown
“If you thought you knew a lot about the ‘wives’ of modernism and the various forms of silencing they suffered, Kate Zambreno’s Heroines will teach you more; if you didn’t know much, your mouth will fall open in enraged amazement. Zambreno admirably transforms copious research and personal experience into vernacular knowledge, then heats up the brew into a justified rant about dynamics that may have shape-shifted over the past 100 years but have (sadly) not disappeared. Bravo.”— Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets and The Art of Cruelty
“In her third book, Heroines, a genre-defying battle cry about forgotten and suppressed women in literature (as well as her role in the gendered story of her own life), Zambreno’s mirror is more relentless and reflective than ever. A scholarly treatise for readers who never cared about scholarship, and a memoir for those who have had enough with the insularity of simple confession, Heroines synthesizes the raw passion of a diary with the relevance and scope of nothing less than the history of literature. As 2012 nears a close, I’m hard-pressed to think of a book I’ve read this year that obsessed me more in the moment, rippled out as much into my daily life and conversations, or left more powerful aftershocks.”—Gina Frangello, The Rumpus
“Heroines is part literary criticism, part literary history, part memoir, part feminist polemic. In its form and in its writing, Heroines is what the author is trying to rescue and reclaim: to use Zambreno’s favourite words, it’s messy, girly, and excessive. It’s also sharp, finely-structured, and meticulously (voraciously) researched.” – Subashini Navaratnam at PopMatters
“Zambreno stages an impassioned encounter between the medicalised lives of Jane Bowles, Vivienne Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald and other Modernist wives and mistresses and her own struggles as a young woman and a writer. The book sizzles with combative, confessional wit as she deconstructs the toxic strategies that Anglo-US culture uses to dismiss or erase ‘the girl writing’. Brilliant and groundbreaking.” – David Kennedy, Times Higher Education
“Heroines gives itself permission to be the kind of work of criticism that sometimes has tears in its eyes, that is a little red in the face by the end of the argument because it just loves the books so much; it is so invested. It is these qualities that make the book feel vast, voluptuous, while at the same time focused. It is heavily researched, sharply observed. It Takes Up Space but it does so on its own terms. And that Zambreno sets this example and does so boldly is, for me, one of the most exciting things about the work.” – Aimee Wall at
“It should come as no surprise that her provocative new work, Heroines, published by Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents imprint next month, challenges easy categorization, this time by poetically swerving in and out of memoir, diary, fiction, literary history, criticism, and theory. With equal parts unabashed pathos and exceptional intelligence, Heroines foregrounds female subjectivity to produce an impressive and original work that examines the suppression of various female modernists in relation to Zambreno’s own complicated position as a writer and a wife.”—Christopher Higgs, The Paris Review online
“The book is startlingly insightful.”— Jezebel.com, “Books You Should Read: Heroines“
“A brave, enlightening, and brutally honest historical inquiry that will leave readers with an urgent desire to tell their own stories.”—Bitch magazine
“Zambreno’s form deliberately evokes the fleeting, fragmented nature of online communication: one passage astutely comments on Mary McCarthy just below a note claiming ‘I buy a NARS lipgloss called Orgasm.’ She ends with a tribute to her fellow literary bloggers, issuing a powerful clarion call for a supportive community of female writers who will fixate on their own experiences without shame and reject the “measuring rod” of the “Great American (Male) Novelist.” — Publishers Weekly
“Intensity and intelligence forge the baseline current that runs through and characterizes most of Kate Zambreno’s written work.”—The Millions, where Heroines was named one of the “Most Anticipated” Books of 2012.
OTHER STUFF AROUND THE BOOK
Roundtable at Necessary Fiction
Three-day online book club at Full Stop
Performance occurred around book in Toronto and in NYC.
Part of reading group through CCA/MAP magazine in Glasgow entitled “Sick Sick Sick: The Books of Ornery Women” (title taken from HEROINES) along with Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick, Katherine Angel’s Unmastered, and Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie.
INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE BOOK
With Chris Higgs at The Paris Review online
With Mary Borkowski at The New Inquiry
With Elizabeth Hall at Bomb blog.
With Gina Frangello at The Rumpus.
With Candace Opper at Bitch online.
With Michele Filgate at The Daily Beast.
With Rebekkah Dilts at RADAR online.
With Brad Listi at Other People podcast.
For publicity-related questions, contact Amanda Atkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ann Twiselton (email@example.com).