Searching for Souvenirs at Dollywood

Souvenirs are, in many ways, generic, particularly the mass-produced variety you buy at a theme park, as opposed to a seashell you might bring home from a trip to the beach. But, like Dolly herself, souvenirs can embody contradictions. If they are seemingly impersonal, they can also be personal. They can be material memories. There is something talismanic about them. And something ineffable, as if they might have powers that language does not. Once you’re home, a souvenir might be the only thing that remains from your trip, a reminder of the irrecoverable. Souvenirs try to transform an experience into an object.
Racked National Link to Story

Going Through Blanche DuBois’s Luggage

There is no piece of luggage quite like Blanche DuBois’s trunk in A Streetcar Named Desire. This object contains the life, or the life traces, of one of Tennessee Williams’s most enduring characters. Actors love Blanche for the same reason that they love Hamlet: she is an actor, and she understands what actors understand—that artifice is not the opposite of truth but a means of achieving it.
The Paris Review Link to Story

How to Read Caves

When I was a kid, I went on a class trip to Moaning Cavern in the Gold Country of California. Moaning Cavern. The name was horrifying: the sense that this place moaned, that it had a voice. We had to walk down into the earth, down a metal spiral staircase that was enclosed like a cage, and I was sure that the stairs would collapse, and I would fall, just like Alice in the rabbit hole, her pale blue skirt billowing out into a parachute, into nothing.
Literary Hub Link to Story

In Praise of the Book Tower

“I don’t think book towers would work for me,” wrote one reader. “I would go completely bonkers with the books stacked everywhere,” said another. Bonkers, I thought. I have driven this woman mad. I was reading the comments section of the “House Tour” of my North Carolina home on the design site Apartment Therapy.
Literary Hub Link to Story

The Retreat

Last year, I opted out of Thanksgiving. I had never failed to celebrate a major holiday before. When I used to live in New York City, I was accustomed to spending Thanksgivings with friends and their families as my own family was far away in California.
The Morning News Link to Story

Notes Concerning the Objects That Are On My Front Porch

It was a careful process, and sometimes I put things out there and thought about it for an hour, or a day, and then brought them back inside and stuffed them in a closet or a drawer.Sometimes they were not right; they seemed to push back against the universe. But then other things were right, and they knew that they should be out there on the porch, in the night air, and they tucked themselves into this world and stayed there.
The Bitter Southerner Link to Story

Holiday in Queens

When I’m back in the city and on the subway, I tend to look at my book or at my feet and the feet of other people. I note the different kinds of shoes, their colors and states of wear. Today is December 23, so there are shopping bags by all the shoes, held fast between lower legs and sometimes kicked out of the way of people coming and going.
The Common Link to Story

Lady Macbeth's Murderous Mansion of Blood and Death

An excerpt from DECORATING A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN (Abrams, 2018).
The Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare & Beyond Link to Story

A Poem About Your University’s New and Totally Not Time-Wasting Review Process for Tenure and Promotion

McSweeney's Internet Tendency Link to Story

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Polar Bears

The polar bear’s reader is a friend, not an adversary like a seal, not a spectator like a slow and boring penguin. Fiction that isn’t a polar bear’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money, or possibly a lot of waterfowl. Never use the word then as a conjunction—we polar bears have and for this purpose.
Queen Mob's Tea House Link to Story

The Newspaper Clippings

Last June, I cleared out my childhood bedroom in Sacramento. My parents were selling the house that my sisters and I grew up in, and although I had claimed most of the things I wanted over the last 22 years, there were still a number of boxes in my closet. I had never thrown the boxes away because they were filled with pictures, letters, postcards, notebooks, matchbooks, ticket stubs, coins, and all manner of souvenirs of youth, but I also had never moved them to any of my post-college homes: Seattle, London, New York City, and North Carolina.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn Link to Story

Your Friendly Trader Joe’s Cashier Inquires About Your Plans

“You have any plans for what you would do if you inherited a million dollars?”. “You have any plans for what you would do if you got gravely ill?”. “You have any plans to have kids or just like one kid if that is all you want?”. “You have any plans to take out a second mortgage on your house?”. “You have any plans to travel to the Great Pyramid of Giza?”.
Queen Mob's Tea House Link to Story



Susan Harlan is a writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, who is particularly interested in the relationship between place, memory, and objects. Her essays have appeared in publications including The Guardian US, The Paris Review Daily, Guernica, Roads & Kingdoms, The Morning News, The Awl, Curbed, Racked, Atlas Obscura, The Common, The Toast, Nowhere, Literary Hub, The Bitter Southerner, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Avidly, and Public Books. She also writes about feminist issues for venues such as Jezebel, Literary Mothers, The Feminist Wire, DAME, Skirt!, The Hairpin, The Establishment, Queen Mob's Tea House, The Belladonna, The South Carolina Review, and The Manifest-Station. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from New York University and an M.A. in English Renaissance theater history from King’s College London and teaches English at Wake Forest University. Her book Luggage was published in the Bloomsbury series Object Lessons in March 2018. Her book Decorating a Room of One's Own, a humorous mash-up of home design reportage and literary homes based on her column for The Toast, will be published by Abrams in October 2018.

She is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary Management.

Photo credit Sarah Torretta Klock.



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