Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography
Longlisted for The Orwell Prize for Political Writing
An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent
In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas. She tells of being poor, hopeful, and adrift in the city that became her great teacher, and of the small apartment that, when she was nineteen, became the home in which she transformed herself. She explores the forces that liberated her as a person and as a writer--books themselves; the gay community that presented a new model of what else gender, family, and joy could mean; and her eventual arrival in the spacious landscapes and overlooked conflicts of the American West.
Beyond being a memoir, Solnit's book is also a passionate argument: that women are not just impacted by personal experience, but by membership in a society where violence against women pervades. Looking back, she describes how she came to recognize that her own experiences of harassment and menace were inseparable from the systemic problem of who has a voice, or rather who is heard and respected and who is silenced--and how she was galvanized to use her own voice for change.
Author and activist Solnit (Whose Story Is This?) writes in this enlightening, nonlinear memoir of her life as a poor young woman in 1980s San Francisco and her development as a writer and feminist thinker. As a teen, Solnit fled a volatile home life to forge her path. She rented an apartment in a black neighborhood ("I was the first white person to live in the building in seventeen years") and acquired a writing desk from a friend who was nearly murdered by an ex ("Someone tried to silence her. Then she gave me a platform for my voice"). While in graduate school, she worked at a museum which informed the writing of her first book, Secret Exhibition and struggled to be heard in a world that favored male writers. In fluid, vivid prose, she recalls the terror she experienced while walking the streets alone, not knowing if she'd be attacked or raped, and considers how negative representations of women in art affect creative output ("How do you make art when the art that's all around you keeps telling you to shut up and wash the dishes?"). Along the way, she highlights her publishing achievements, including the viral essay "Men Explain Things to Me," which inspired the term mansplaining. This is a thinking person's book about writing, female identity, and freedom by a powerful and motivating voice for change.