Finalist for the PEN Open Book Award
Longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Award
A TIME, NPR, New York Public Library, Lit Hub, Book Riot, and Entropy Best Book of the Year
"Beguiling and haunting. . . . Washuta's voice sears itself onto the skin." —The New York Times Book Review
Bracingly honest and powerfully affecting, White Magic establishes Elissa Washuta as one of our best living essayists.
Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.
In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.
Washuta (My Body Is a Book of Rules), a creative writing professor at Ohio State, offers in this collection of tender reckonings "a book about how my heart was broken" and her attempts to heal it. Washuta recounts her struggles with sobriety, relationships, and the "tyrannical rule" of PTSD in her life. In search of healing, Washuta, a Native woman and occult enthusiast, examined the differences between "white magic" and misaligned, "malicious" black magic, and sought out "a version of the occult that isn't built on plunder." In "Little Lies," Washuta reflects on a D.A.R.E. drunk-driving ad soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac and Phil Collins, and "The Spirit Cabinet" is an episodic collection of "synchronicities" often about her ex-boyfriend, featuring quotes from magician David Blaine. The most eloquent section highlights her grief moving through a world built on violence toward Native peoples: "I have lost my land, my language," she writes. Her prose is crisp and precise, and the references hit spot-on (such as her fascination with the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who travels through the underworld, and with Twin Peaks, "a show about the unexplained, the mystical, and the cycles of violence and neglect to which women find themselves tethered"). Fans of the personal essay are in for a treat.