Poets & Writers

THE GENRE OF RESISTANCE

Sarah Viren

Mine (University of New Mexico Press, March), a collection of personal, lyric, and investigative essays about ownership—the corporeal, the familial, and the intellectual in form—as well as the realities of loss and isolation and the idea of belonging and home. Agent: None. Editor: Elise McHugh. First printing: 750.

I started writing as a newspaper reporter, and at first I loved that job—except for one part: I never got to speak. I wrote about crazy, horrible things—plant explosions, police brutality, attacks on holiday yard art—and yet I wasn’t allowed to say what I thought about those things or how they reminded me of something, which reminded me of something else, which would eventually remind me that we’re all human, and damaged, and beautiful, and one day we’ll die.

So I became an essayist, and for a little while I was happy.

But then one day I read that the best essays sound like a conversation with a friend, that an essayist should be relatable and likable. And I thought, “Shit.” Because how relatable am I? I’m a woman. I’m queer. I’m drawn to odd and often contemptible people.

At that point I was tinkering with an essay about the years during which I lived among the furniture of a man who had killed his neighbor—and maybe also his wife and his best friend. The man was a millionaire named Robert Durst who had been cross-dressing at the time to avoid recognition, and my essay tried to untangle the empathy I felt for Durst, how I was so lonely then, and I assumed he must feel lonely too.

After writing about Durst, I started an essay on Bonnie and Clyde reen-actors, and then one on ex-gays, one on stalkers, on self-mutilation, a dead opossum, sexual abuse, and murder ballads. I got pregnant and wrote a letter to a woman in prison for murdering her teenage children. Then, just as I began to write that woman, I lost my pregnancy. So that essay ended

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