Introductions: Maggie Nelson
September 15, 2021
By Rebecca Hoogs, Interim Executive Director
It is an honor to welcome Maggie Nelson back to SAL. Maggie Nelson last graced our stage 2012 in our Poetry Series after her book, Bluets, became an instant cult classic. In 2015 she published The Argonauts, a hybrid memoir which was a bestseller and a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award. And tonight we are here to celebrate the publication of her latest work, a work of criticism, On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint.
On Freedom explores what Nelson calls the “knot of freedom and unfreedom.” In a profile of Maggie Nelson in the New York Times, Ismail Muhammad described On Freedom as, quote, “An argument for how we engage with objects of analysis—and one another—in a way that is principled but not rigid, that displays care for other people’s perceptions, paths and desires, and that has respect for that we cannot know.”
Reading this book, I was reminded of the quote: “A poem is about something the way a cat is about the house.” And indeed, this book is not so much on freedom as it is under it, or around it, besides it. In the middle of reading it, I paused to drive my son to third grade. On the way there, George Michael’s 1990 version of “Freedom” came on KEXP, and I joyfully sang along. When I got home I picked up the business section of the New York Times, which was running a story on a smartphone for conservatives, “Selling freedom in a phone.” Freedom was everywhere, or nowhere, but what was it?
This is the first event of our new season, and we begin again not where we thought we might be as a world. We are in a darker place, a more ambiguous place. A time of uncertainty, between-times. And yet so much of why we are in this moment seems to be because of very different definitions of freedom and unfreedom. Reading this book, and talking about it tonight, feels appropriate for the time. This book leads with curiosity and conversation, and doesn’t let us get stuck in the binaries.
We are so honored to host Maggie Nelson tonight, with her good friend Danzy Senna, for a conversation that will pick up the knot and help us see and admire its complexity.
Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction to open our 2021/22 Women You Need to Know (WYNK) Series with Maggie Nelson, in conversation with Danzy Senna, on September 14, 2021. Tickets to this online event are still available—get them here!