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“Adrian’s writing remains hypnotic on every subject.”
—Tin House              
Dear Knausgaard

In a series of warm and often funny letters, Kim Adrian delivers a compelling feminist critique of the 6-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. The letters begin as a witty and entertaining response to a seminal work and transform over time into a fierce and powerful interrogation of the darker social and cultural forces informing Knausgaard’s project. Through its careful examination of the curious operations of intimacy demanded by all great literature, Dear Knausgaard ultimately provides a heartfelt celebration of the act of reading itself.


Author photo by James D. Carr
Kim Adrian is the author of two books of lyric criticism—Dear Knausgaard and Sock—and the editor of The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms, an anthology of lyric essays. Her 2018 memoir, The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet, uses the form of a glossary to tell the story of her mother's mental illness. It is a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist. Kim's essays and stories have appeared in Agni, Tin House, O Magazine, the Gettysburg Review, the Raritan Review, and many other places. Several shorter works have been listed as Notable or Distinguished in the Best American Essays, Best American Short Stories, and Pushcart Prize anthologies. Her writing has been supported by the Edward Albee Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writing Seminars, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, PEN/New England, The Ragdale Foundation, and others.
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Kim has taught creative writing at Brown University and currently leads online writing workshops independently, through Zoom. She is the creator of Write On, a free craft-focused newsletter for writers.

Reading Nancy Drew
"I think this notion that we have to separate the work from the writer is artificial and in reality nobody does that. We all have incredibly personal responses to literature."
"The object of the sock interests me precisely because it’s so ordinary. So ostensibly boring. What’s to say about a sock? (I liked that challenge.)"
"For me, an essay is an investigation, a very organic thing. Every sentence you commit to it opens up the field of discovery a little more and you basically let it work to take you where it needs to go."
"Although I'm happy whenever someone finds something beautiful in my work, I'm not personally interested anymore in writing beautifully. I'm interested in illuminating my subject, whatever that might be. It gives me a lot more energy to work in this way."
"Being a people pleaser can be a very dangerous proposition when it comes to writing."
"What Happens When You Write Karl Ove Knausgaard a Letter?"
LitHub (originally published on New Books Network)
"The Face Behind the Mask"
The Colin McEnroe Show, WNPR Connecticut Public Radio
"You Can Keep Your Socks On"
The Colin McEnroe Show, WNPR Connecticut Public Radio
"Kim Adrian Recommends" 
Poets & Writers

The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet
“Astonishing and inventive. . . . Memoir readers should not miss this singular offering.”
Shelf Awareness
“An utterly engaging investigation. . . . Illuminating, erudite, deeply intelligent.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Shell Game
“Pushes the boundaries of prose and opens up a whole new world.”
New Pages

"Ten Conversations about My Struggle" in The Gettysburg Review
Excerpted on LitHub | Notable Essay, Best American Essays 2020
Ten Conversations about My Struggle

Thursday, July 12th
At the little sushi restaurant near my husband’s new office, I fish a flat sliver of ice out of my water glass and rub it against the inside of my wrist. David asks how a person can get carpel tunnel from reading a book, and I take the final installment of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s novel My Struggle out of my backpack to show him, again, how thick it is.

"Mostly it happened at the beginning. When all the weight was in my right hand."

"Wow. Dedicated."

The waitress comes over to take our orders. David gets the eel bento box. I get the spicy tuna roll with flying fish roe.

"Actually, it goes pretty fast. His tone, diction, the whole energy of it—it’s very natural feeling. You’d like that aspect of things. You’d like his descriptions, I think."

"‘Like what?"

I pick up the brute (according to my kitchen scale it weighs three pounds) and start leafing, but—it’s weird—crammed as I know it is with incredible descriptions of the most ordinary, everyday activities—from making a cup of coffee, to holding an infant’s tiny bottom, to mowing a lawn—I can’t seem to find anything really terrific to read out loud.

continue reading longer excerpt online at LitHub | full essay available in v.32:no.1 of The Gettysburg Review

"Great Liberations: Writing Beyond the Academy" (with Anna Leahy) in Public Books
Great Liberations: Writing Beyond the Academy

Bridging scholarly and popular writing is what good essays have always done. Montaigne basically established the essay as a hybrid genre at the very start—equal parts personal and philosophical. I suspect the essay is experiencing its extraordinary renaissance at the moment because this kind of bridging impulse is suddenly understood to be important in a new way—even crucial, given that modern culture is so deeply fractured by specialization at almost every level, in nearly every field of human endeavor. The generalist (read “essayist”) has a special role in such a world: connecting ideas and illuminating hidden relationships between things. Work that bridges popular and academic writing belongs to this impulse. It’s nothing new. But it’s never been more necessary.

continue reading online at Public Books

"What to Read When You Want a Good Short Book" in The Rumpus
What to Read When You Want a Good Short Book

A short book can take you out of your life. A good short book interrupts the general rhythms/chromatics/energetics of your own existence. The best cast a kind of spell. And like a spell—or a dream—they’re capable of haunting your synapses long after you’ve read the last page.

full essay available on The Rumpus

"My Thoughts on Pâté" in Agni
My Thoughts on Pâté

What is consciousness? Is it in your head or is it something your head encounters? Is it in the world itself, can you touch it? Or does it touch you? Our brains are matter, of course, like rocks, or stars, or like that stick of butter melting in the sun on my kitchen counter. Our brains are things. Soft and greyish. Bumpy. They say electrical impulses carry our thoughts and these impulses jump from synapse to synapse. Sometimes deep paths are worn over long trails of synapses, and these constitute habitual thought, like rote memories or those odd connections that haunt you on a regular basis. For example, say there’s a certain stop sign at a certain street corner with a certain sticker on it with the name of a certain band that, for no reason you can think of, reminds you each and every time of your mother’s garden.

I bought a wheel of brie the other day and started thinking about these things. Brie isn’t even pâté, but it is French, and I suppose that must have tripped the process. I actually love pâté, but I haven’t eaten it for many, many years. I have ideas about why this might be. I even know the answer. I mean, I bet I know what Freud would say, if I ever had the opportunity—just speaking hypothetically—to discuss it with him. He would say that pâté reminds me of the goose, and the goose reminds me of Alain, and Alain reminds me of what he did to me—which by some people’s definitions might be called rape, although on this point I, myself, have never been a hundred percent certain. But really, they’re much, much more than that, my thoughts on pâté. For instance, pâté makes me think about the benefits of cruelty. And also about the love of sons for their mothers, and of daughters for their fathers. And it makes me think about the loneliness that’s wedged, like cotton, like some kind of dense packing material, between us all.

continue reading online at Agni 

"Toast" in Michigan Quarterly Review
Distinguished Story, Best American Short Stories 2014

One of the strangest memories I own is of wandering around an old-fashioned carnival, complete with the smells of popcorn, cotton candy, and oily, meat-scented smoke; there were games of chance, amusement rides, and dozens of bicolor tents housing such spectacles as the Strong Man, the Fat Lady, and the Bearded Girl. I must have been ten or eleven years old at the time, and on one side of me was my sister, holding my right hand, on the other was Darin, holding my left. Darin was the little boy who belonged to the woman who was supposed to be babysitting us—my sister and me—but who really, more often than not, left all three of us in front of the TV while she took naps and ran errands. The unspoken understanding was that my sister and I were, in fact, in charge of Darin whenever his mother wasn’t around. Her name was Dot, and she and Darin and Darin’s skinny, disgruntled father shared a tiny house with lots of wood paneling inside. It was a dark little place, and there was a wooden table in the kitchen, and ruffled, flower-print curtains hanging from the windows, and an itchy green couch in the living room. That’s about all I remember, except for the toast. Dot had a real talent for making toast, which is a matter of timing—which is always a gift, no matter the context. There was always an extra-long loaf of Wonder Bread on top of the fridge, and inside the fridge, a tub of salty, canary-colored margarine. And with these two ingredients, Dot made the best toast I’ve ever eaten. I was so grateful for that toast, I loved it so much. Darin, the dark house, Dot and her brooding depressions—the toast was worth it. Perhaps the toast was the reason why my sister and I never ratted on Dot—never complained to our mother that we weren’t really getting babysat, but were actually doing quite a bit of babysitting ourselves.

continue reading online at Michigan Quarterly Review

"Why Dim Sum Makes Me Feel Tender" in Seneca Review
Chinese translation in 作家(Writer Magazine)
Why Dim Sum Makes Me Feel Tender

In college I knew a boy who walked funny, and a wrestler with golden ringlets, and a Greek boy who danced like an angel, and I knew a boy whose mother killed herself with a heavy-duty electrical extension cord. I knew other boys in college, too, but for some reason these are the four I still occasionally remember with affection despite the fact that, in reality, I never actually got to know any of them all that well. To tell the truth, I don’t even remember most of their names.

The wrestler is the one I liked the best. He used to be able to put his enormous, wide-shouldered body into an empty green beer bottle. It was a magic trick of his. I don’t know how he managed it, but he’d set the audience — a bunch of drunken frat boys, their drunken girlfriends, and other partygoers, like myself, on one side of the room, himself on the other, and an empty bottle of Rolling Rock in the middle. Drunk as he might be (and I believe he sometimes achieved great heights of drunkenness), this boy always managed to maintain a reserve of mystery, even a quality of dignity, which is why I liked him so much and why he was able to fit inside a beer bottle. Of course, he didn’t really put himself inside the bottle. It was a kind of miming operation, or an optical illusion, or just the power of suggestion, but in any case, we all gasped whenever he slowly lowered one incredibly meaty leg (with its comparatively dainty foot, usually clad, as I remember it, in a white tennis shoe) into the bottle. And as he maneuvered his other incredibly meaty leg (at the end of which dangled another comparatively dainty foot in another white tennis shoe) into the bottle we laughed disbelievingly, perhaps even a little uneasily. And somewhere in the backs of our minds, as he wiggled his slim hips and slightly waspish waist past the neck of the bottle, and then struggled more and more desperately to pull in the rest of himself — his enormous chest and even more enormous shoulders, his beautifully sculpted arms decorated with a few plump and well-placed veins, and finally, his head, which was a silly and captivating thing with its sparkling blue eyes and great masses of shiny blond ringlets — we were all struck, I’m certain, by the poignant yet essentially pointless beauty of humanity.

continue reading online at Seneca Review

"Famous Cake" in Post Road
Famous Cake

He'd been watching the shadows lift away from the bedroom curtain for more than an hour when the old woman finally spat. Staring at the ceiling, a pillow wedged on either side of her head, Miranda said, "In China, people think it's good to spit." It sounded like she was trying to convince somebody. Under the sheet, her belly looked like a slightly deflated medicine ball. "I just don't know why she has to do it right under our window."

"At least she's punctual," said Mark, reaching for the alarm clock before it went off.

They lived on the second floor, which meant, of course, that you had to go up a flight of stairs to get to their apartment. But once you were inside, you were back on street-level, or almost street-level. Mezzanine. He liked this—the mechanics of living on a hill. The idea that you had to go up to go down. Two opera singers lived in their building; in the shower, he could hear their voices spiraling in the airshaft.

full story available in issue no.13 of Post Road

"The Cut" in Crazyhorse
The Cut

"Watch it! Watch it! Watch it!" said Linda, meaning a pothole.

"You think I don't see that?" said George, steering around it.

The unpaved road ran through dense woods filled with deer and wild turkeys. The turkeys—mottled black and white with long, tremulous wattles—made Linda feel religious. At least, that was what she said.

The modest house George and Linda Lockwood had been renting for nearly thirty years was cheaper than most of the other, fancier spreads on Long Point, since it was just an unfinished A-frame with plywood floors and kerosene lamps. But it was a perfect summer getaway, situated on a large saltwater lake across which a small family, such as theirs had been, or a robust older couple, such as they now liked to think of themselves, could sail or row or kayak (it was to far to swim) to the ocean.

continue reading online at Crazyhorse
"'Gooseberries' and Red Currants" in Tin House
"Gooseberries" and Red Currants

Once, about eight or nine years ago, I caught a glimpse of some wild red currants growing by the side of the road. The road traced the spine of a rolling, lightly wooded hill in West Virginia; my husband and I were on our way home from a wedding, and he was driving—forty, maybe fifty miles an hour—while I half dozed in the passenger seat. But my eyes must have been at least partially open, because I saw the berries dangling behind a thin screen of leaves and branches, glowing in a reaching bit of sunshine. And when I saw them, I felt some enormous thing—a feeling, you could call it for the sake of convenience, though it seemed much more than that—quickly rise in me and then, just as quickly, evaporate.

Twisting in my seat, I watched as the road unraveled behind us, but of course the berries were gone. And although I was strangely sad about this, I didn’t say anything to my husband, because I understood that there was no easy cure for the emptiness I felt; I knew that even if we turned back and found that same spot, those same berries—even if I picked handfuls of the tiny, ruby-red spheres and studied them for the rest of our twelve-hour trip home—whatever it was that had risen in me, then so painfully disappeared, could never be retrieved by such prosaic means.

continue reading online at Tin House

"How to Buy Peaches' in Tin House
Notable Essay, Best American Essays 2010
How to Buy Peaches

Marco Ferreri's 1973 movie, La Grand Bouffe, is a high-brow gross-out, an existentialist porn flick—elegant, funny, disturbing—that tells the story of four successful, professional middle-aged men who decide to eat themselves to death. Marcello, Ugo, Phillipe, and Michel set about enacting their suicide pact by taking off for Phillipe's opulent, decrepit country manse somewhere in the suburban outskirts of Burgundy. Once there, Ugo, a renowned chef, prepares over-the-top classical dishes decorated with ribbons of mayonnaise and quivering aspics, of the sort found in Larousse Gastronomique, for the orgy of morbid gluttony that follows.

I'm no stranger to the occasional pig-out myself, but only once in my life have I eaten as much (or nearly so) as these men do in a single sitting. It was Thanksgiving and I was at my mother's house. We were four adults and one toddler, the turkey weighed 23 pounds, and we ate it, most of it, with rutabaga and mashed potatoes; creamed spinach; slivered carrots; orange-scented cranberry sauce; sausage, sage, and cornmeal stuffing; giblet-studded gravy; chestnuts and brussels sprouts; and marshmallow-topped yams. I always eat a lot around my family—everybody in my family eats a lot around my family—because food is our secret code, our not-so-unusual substitute for other, more obvious expressions of love and affection....

continue reading online (scan)

"I Wish I Could Write Like Russell Edson" in Brevity
I Wish I could Write Like Russell Edson

I wish I could write like Russell Edson because then I could show my husband standing in the kitchen like a tree that lost its leaves all at once. Or like a rock in the living room that doesn’t notice the lichen. And my daughter would be a bird in the tree, and my son would spend hours climbing on the rock, inspecting the lichen and watching the bird. In this scenario, I might bake some cookies and spread a picnic blanket in the living room and lean against the rock, which might or might not moan, and when the children weren’t looking, I’d tell the rock how much I missed him. Also, if I wrote like Russell Edson, I could show the family I grew up in, in one of the houses I grew up in, which would be a helium-filled environment, which would explain why three of us were forever floating several feet above the ground, but which wouldn’t explain why the fourth one, the one that produced all the helium (a toxic variety), never floated, but instead forged a deeper and deeper relationship with gravity. At least, from up there, we’d be able to see the part in my mother’s hair, the paleness of which would remind us that she was vulnerable, as all human beings are vulnerable.

continue reading online at Brevity

"Questionnaire for My Grandfather" in The Gettysburg Review
Chinese translation in Yangtze River Series | Anthologized in YOU: Essays Devoted to the Second Person
Questionnaire for My Grandfather

Please answer all questions as simply as possible; do not use digression as a means of evasion. Feel free, however, to elaborate on the point at hand to a reasonable degree so as to provide the clearest and most informative answer you can. You may want to use your hands—or other body parts—to express yourself, if for some reason the answer to any given question does not present itself verbally to you. Do not lie. Any lies will render this questionnaire null and void and require that you submit to its inquiries again. (I am a patient person; I have asked these questions all my life. I can keep asking them.)

Is it true that you were born and raised in the port city of Göteberg, Sweden, toward the southwestern tip of that country at some point during the second or third decade of the last century?

Is it true, as family legend states, that you ran away from home at the age of thirteen?

Why did you run away?

Is it true that the means of your escape was provided by the Portuguese merchant marines? Did you (as for some reason I always imagine) climb on board that first ship in the Göteberg harbor shoeless and wearing woolen britches rather too short for you? Were you at that time (as for some reason I always imagine) carrying nothing but a small parcel of personal belongings wrapped in flannel cloth? Did this parcel contain the thick, lightly gilded, leather–bound Bible, a Swedish translation that my mother still has (protected by triplicate layers of plastic kitchen wrap) in her possession?

Is it also true that the broad Göteburg harbor was (as for some reason I am imagining right now) shining a deep sort of teal gray blue and that sunlight was scattershot across it like so many silver coins the day you left it behind?

continue reading online at The Gettysburg Review

"Knitting 101" in New World Writing
Knitting 101

1. Taking Chances
To the novice, the craft of knitting can seem a fussy and bewildering thing, but really, even fairly complex patterns are doable with nothing more than patience, diligence, and a modicum of skill. Still, one must always approach the activity of knitting with a keen sense of adventure. As one of the nicotine-infused salesladies who work at my local yarn shop once told me (disgusted by another customer’s fear of improvisation), “Knitting is all about taking chances!”

2. Materials
You will need, of course, a pair of needles and some yarn. There are many options in both departments, but steel needles are cold, noisy, and unyielding, while plastic ones are much too slick, providing little to no traction. I advise wooden needles. Bamboo is fine and generally cheap, though the cheaper the bamboo, the coarser the grain, which can be annoying, because after a while—say five- or six-hundred stitches—you will come know every groove, no matter how shallow, in those needle tips. My point is, look for a good brand. As far as yarn goes, cotton is for masochists. Ditto linen and silk. Cashmere is expensive and, though beautiful, does not last. Acrylics—we won’t go there. But wool smells good, is generally economical as well as forgiving and friendly, meaning that it will, to at least a limited extent, correct a whole range of knitters’ mistakes in the all-important area of tension, as it is both naturally elastic and grippy. This cannot be said of the other fibers. Be sure to buy a beautiful color—one that makes you happy, or sad, or some other interesting emotion. And take special care to consider the texture. It must be of a consistency that will not bore you, which doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like. Tweedy, chunky, overenthusiastically gorpy yarns are the most monotonous of all after only a few dozen rows. On the other hand, completely smooth, unvariegated yarns, particularly in unnaturally bright colors, have been known to make sensitive types faintly suicidal.

continue reading online at New World Writing

"The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet: Excerpts from a Memoir" in Agni
The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet (excerpts from a memoir)


“I just remember the Dairy Queen,” says Tracy. She and I try to talk every weekend, long distance: Boston to Chicago. Through the lace shawl I’ve draped over our bedroom window, the sun scatters irregular polka dots across the bed I share with my husband.

“What do you mean the Dairy Queen?”

“Before we went to the bakery on Sunday mornings, Dad and I used to stop to get ice cream. That’s why it took so long.”

“It did take a long time.”

“Oreo Blizzards. I just remember those. I don’t know how you keep all that other crap in your head. All those memories.”

“I don’t know how you don’t.”

It’s something we often discuss, my sister and I—the different ways we remember our childhoods. “There are worse,” says Tracy, and she would know, having taught social studies in a Chicago inner-city high school for nearly two decades, to students who have crack addicts for mothers and convicts for fathers, kids who get pregnant or shot dead before they’re halfway through freshman year. But I, for whatever reason, have always been clear about this: that time, those years—our childhoods—sucked. On this, I am adamant.

continue reading excerpt online at Agni 

"Last Cookies" in New World Writing
Last Cookies

To make last cookies, you first must make not-last cookies—Chocolate-Almond Biscotti, packed in a large tea tin. These you must give to your father to give to his sister at Christmastime, his sister having stayed home in New York City, as she was too ill to visit Boston for the holiday.

Of course, you can’t go so far as to call this a batch of “everyday” cookies, because your aunt is so sick, but they are at least vaguely feel-good cookies because while she’s lost her appetite for almost everything else, your aunt (whom you have always resembled) eats them one right after the other while lying on the couch in the apartment she shares with your father, attached to an oxygen tank and watching Dr. Phil with her nurse’s aide.

“She loves them,” your father tells you during your next phone conversation. “She can’t get enough!”

Last cookies come later. In fact, one of the primary ingredients for last cookies is procrastination born of active denial. It works like this: from the moment your father tells you how much your aunt loves the biscotti you made her, you resolve to make another, larger batch and send it off. Every day, you think, today’s the day I will make Aunt Karen an extra-extra large batch of Chocolate-Almond Biscotti!

continue reading online at New World Writing

"The Ritual" in O: the Oprah Magazine
The Ritual

I was seven months pregnant with my first child when I spotted a pair of bright turquoise baby socks pinned to a piece of twine above a pile of bok choy. The rich, rank smell of dried fish hung in the air, wafting from cardboard boxes heaped with desiccated sea creatures. This was in San Francisco's Chinatown, where green grocers sell clothespins and complexion creams—and socks.

I bought the tiny pair and, on the walk home, studied those socks in my palm, trying to imagine the child whose feet would soon fill them....

full essay available in August 2017 issue of O Magazine

"Inky" in The Maine Review
Literary Death Match winner, Boston 2013

By most people's lights, Inky wasn't much of a dog. Small, black, and strangely proportioned, she growled at young children, was suspicious of everyone, and nipped freely. Pointy about the snout and ears, the rest of her was more or less pickle-shaped, with a big sag in the middle because her back was so long and her legs were so short. So short that there were many places on her tubular trunk that she, herself, was never able to scratch. And I've sometimes wondered if this is what made her so cantankerous? A constant, nagging itch she could never satisfy? Whatever the reason, Inky was an unsociable creature. When strangers asked if she was friendly, we said "no." She smelled bad. She once broke someone's finger. She shed like a fiend and farted fearsomely. And yet, we loved her, my husband, my kids, and I, which is sort of curious, if you think about it—how love insists upon itself.

full essay available via Gale Literature Resource Center

"Five Photographs" in Ninth Letter
Special Mention, Pushcart Prize XXXIV
Five Photographs

The Baker Ward at Boston City Hospital greets visitors at its entrance with a big blue-and-white sign that reads: Welcome to the Psychiatric Emergency Center! My mother checked herself into this place about a month ago, although at this point—I'm not exactly sure how it worked—she's been committed which means she couldn't leave even if she wanted to. But I don't think she does.

They have her on high doses of lithium at Baker, also anti-psychotics, and she is experiencing one of the common side effects of the latter: the feeling that her skin is turning itself inside-out. Understandably, she finds this highly unpleasant, as she does many of the other problems caused by these drugs, such as drooling, thinning hair, and rapid weight gain. But none of these things, I think, bothers her quite so much as the fact that the hospital has no immediate plans for dealing with her many dental issues.

full essay available in v.6:no.1 of Ninth Letter

"Eight Photographs" in New Ohio Review
/nor Editors' Prize in Nonfiction | Special Mention, Pushcart Prize XXXIV
Eight Photographs

The current set of complications involves a three-unit bridge—the kind a dentist puts in your mouth. Actually, I'm talking about half of a six-unit bridge that at some point during my mother's cleaning rituals got cracked down the middle. In any case, my mother swallowed this thing while she was driving out from Chicago after my sister kicked her out. She was taking a handful of pills when the bridge, which was loose, dislodged and got swept down her esophagus.

You see, already, how complicated?

full essay available in issue no.4 of New Ohio Review
"The Matter of Translation: Wislawa Szymborska's 'Conversation with a Rock'" in The Gettysburg Review
The Matter of Translation: Wislawa Szymborska's "Conversation with a Rock"

1. Red and blue boxes
When I was a child, I had a beautiful book that fit perfectly in my hands. Its covers were squarish and addictively smooth, its binding a wide ribbon of coarse blue fabric, its pages thick and waxy. In simplified prose this book told child-length versions of various biblical tales. Our family was not religious, and by the time I was six or seven, I had already adopted my father's more or less aggressive atheism. Still this book fascinated me with its bisque-colored pages and tiny illustrations populated by chunky, impressionistic figures mournfully enacting terrible scenes. But mostly what drew me to the book were its tidy, hand-lettered blocks of prose, printed, for some reason, in an alternating, every-other-page pattern of blue and red ink.

Some children—my daughter, for instance, who, ever since looking at a book of religious paintings from the Louvre, has been obsessed with the story of Jesus—might have found endless fascination in the stories themselves or in the beautiful pictures: Mary, Joseph, and their sweet-faced donkey, plodding through an apricot-colored desert; Moses holding up two chalky-looking tablets, the same size and thickness as Necco wafers. But I dwelt on the words—I mean the actual slightly shaky, hand-drawn letters with their mysterious red and blue moods—which seemed to be another story, beyond the stories they told....

continue reading online at The Gettysburg Review

"A Prayer for the Future of Everything: On Oe Kenzaburo" in Raritan Review
A Prayer for the Future of Everything: On Oe Kenzaburo

"All writing is a form of prayer." —Keats

At twelve noon, on 15 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito's voice went out over the airwaves of Japan to announce his country's defeat in World War II. The emperor, who was considered a direct descendent of the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, spoke in archaic court language. Reception in many places was poor. These things made it difficult for most Japanese people, gathered around their radios, to understand what their ruler was saying. Still, the gist was clear: Japan was defeated. The country, which had fought a brutal expansionist war for nearly four years and which had lost more than three million of its citizens in that effort, had surrendered to the Allied Forces. These were the realities the emperor (whose voice the Japanese people were hearing for the first time) asked his subjects to accept. It was a moment that would burn itself into Japan's national consciousness, and render everything that had once seemed permanent and irrefutable about the Japanese national character—the country's regional dominance, the emperor's absolute rule, the ingrained code of ethics, Bushido, that advocates death over defeat—suddenly meaningless.

For one shy, stuttering ten-year-old boy growing up in a small village in the remote Shokoku province, Hirohito's announcement would constitute a profound loss of innocence and faith—the naive innocence of youth, perhaps, and an only halfhearted faith, but the purest versions of these things that he would ever know....

request full essay via ResearchGate

"Poe’s Death-Watches and the Architecture of Doubt" in New England Review
Reprinted in Poetry Criticism (v.198)
Poe’s Death-Watches and the Architecture of Doubt

I've been trying, for the past few weeks, to memorize Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." Decadent in its rhythms, deep purple in its emotion, crowded with Gothic details (velvet curtains, tufted cushions, tinkling sounds of seraphim), the poem is so sunk in Romanticism that the modern reader, with a generally much sparer sensibility, might find something closer to silliness than revelation in its famous lines.

"I can't believe you're so into that," my husband said the other night as I sat on the stairs near our kitchen, reading and rereading the poem out loud while he made dinner. "Just stay away from the fake English accent," he warned me. "That's the worst."

At the time, I was working on the third stanza, repeating over and over the first two lines of it, which I found nearly impossible to say without something very like a phony English accent; I just couldn't help indulging in a certain campiness when I recited the lines "And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain / Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before."....

request full essay via JSTOR
"On Valentin Papadin’s Teach Yourself to Be a Madman" in Tin House
On Valentin Papadin’s Teach Yourself to Be a Madman

Valentin Papadin's memoir Teach Yourself to be a Madman: Memories of a Young Russian Soldier looks like it's been put together with spit and shoe glue in somebody's poorly-lit basement. With its feeble ink (more gray than black) and photocopy-quality paper, the book as an object screams "remainder," which is exactly what it was when I bought it a couple of years after it was published (Burning Bush, 1993) in a warehouse-sized San Francisco chain store that specialized in such sad items. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I do it all the time, and amidst all those unwanted and over-hyped rejects, the cover of Papadin's memoir snagged my attention the way certain people do: with a subtle soul wink. Partly this had to do with the title, which is intriguing, of course, but also indicates my favorite kind of humor—flinty and black. Partly it had to do with the cover's unapologetically amateurish line drawing of a slouching jester wearing a large, belled hat and a sneer of exquisitely distilled contempt. And, lastly, there was Papadin himself—at least Papadin's 18-year-old self, who peers out of a small black and white photograph on the back cover sporting a buzz cut and high-necked military jacket. He has arranged his features in what should be a placid expression, but it's not quite: the corners of his mouth seem to twitch, as if on the brink of a wry smile, while his clenched jaw hints at something else—restraint?—despair?—restrained despair? Suffice it to say, I liked his face, bought the book (for all of a dollar), and started reading it on my walk home.

full essay available in #37 (v.10:no.1) of Tin House

"A Pickle of a Novel: Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H." in Tin House
A Pickle of a Novel: Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H.

Clarice Lispector's novel The Passion According to G.H. chronicles—in maddening detail—one woman's existential and alimentary encounter with a cockroach. Driven by a consuming curiosity and a "hellish love," this woman—a sheltered, upper-middle-class lady living in Rio de Janeiro and known only as G.H.—kills the roach, then eats part of it, and in so doing enters a state of "primary, divine glory." Lispector (who, although born in the Ukraine, lived most of her life in Brazil and wrote in Portuguese) was a philosopher as much as a writer. She considered herself an existentialist, and The Passion According to G.H. belongs to the same tradition as Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea in that it's true subject is neither G.H. nor the roach, but the slippery, painful juncture between individual consciousness and reality. In Lispector's arrangement, that juncture is represented by the unholy "Eucharist" of the cockroach's living plasma.

full essay availlable in no.35 (v.9:no.3) of Tin House


October 2, 2021
Haystack Book Festival

April 11, 2022
University of Hartford

June 10, 2021 Cambridge
Boston LitCrawl - "The Art of (Writing About) Reading"

April 1, 2021 Online
Arlington Author Salon - "Books about Books"

March 4, 2021 Online
AWP Conference - "Close Readings: Experiments in Bibliomemoir"

September 3, 2020 Online
Brookline Booksmith Reading

August 31, 2020 Online
Essay Daily Salon - "Books About Books"

March 12, 2019 NYC
PageTurners Series - "Head to Toe"

November 29, 2018 University of New Hampshire
Lecture and Reading for UNH Writers' Series

November 4, 2018 Denver
Counterpath Press Reading

November 3, 2018 Phoenix
NonfictioNOW Conference - "Writing the Hermit Crab Essay"

October 30, 2018 San Francisco
Green Apple Books Reading

October 18, 2018 NYC
Shakespeare & Co. Reading

October 2, 2018 Boston
Brookline Booksmith Reading

June 2, 2017 Reykjavik, Iceland
NonfictioNOW Conference - “Microhistories: Writing Deeply About Narrow Subjects.”

April 29, 2016 Boston
The Muse and the Marketplace Writers' Conference - "The Lyric Essay"

April 16, 2016 Boston
The Art of Life After Workshop Series - "Grounded Words: a Body-Centered Workshop for Survivors of Sexual Violence"

January 28, 2016 NYC
McNally Jackson Bookstore Object Lessons Reading

Kim's work is represented in the UK by Seren Adams of United Agents.

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