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SUSAN HARLAN

WRITER/ENGLISH PROFESSOR

WINSTON-SALEM, NC

SUSAN HARLAN

OBJECTS. PLACES. MEMORIES. FUNNY THINGS.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Suitcase

On an ugly suitcase.
Queen Mob's Tea House Link to Story
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Old Bags

Penguin Travellers tapestry suitcase (soft-sided and small); brown mock-leather Samsonite suitcase, with monogram J.A.B. Samsonite Saturn tapestry shoulder bag in cream, pink, and brown; two Coach Stewardess bags – dark brown and tan, both scuffed. Susan Harlan’s writing has appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Paris Review Daily, The Toast, Roads & Kingdoms, The Common, The Morning News, Curbed, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Avidly, The Hairpin, Public Books, and The Awl.
The Brooklyn Quarterly Link to Story
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Miniature Blue Ridge Parkway Sign

I’m always looking over the key rings at gas stations because I collect souvenirs. I also collect fridge magnets and snow globes. I never met a gift shop I didn’t like. I have as many souvenirs as keys on my key ring, and most of them make me think of distant places, but my miniature Blue Ridge Parkway sign makes me think of home.
McSweeney's Quarterly Link to Story
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Some Lessons from Object Lessons

Christopher Schaberg, Anna Leahy, and Susan Harlan in conversation. The Object Lessons book is a particular kind of book: short and not properly academic, smart but accessible and lithe. What’s the draw for taking on this sort of more-than-essay, less-than-long-book? For the writer, how are the constraints of a short book frustrating or liberating, or both?
Essay Daily Link to Story
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The Iron-On Labels

In the late eighties, when I was twelve, I went to a camp called Walking G Ranch. My sisters went, too. It was in the mountains of California, in Taylorsville, but now I have to look that up on a map because when you’re a kid you never know where you are. It was a working ranch, and we all got up early in the morning to take care of the animals – milk the cows and feed the pigs their slop – and sometimes at night, my friend Anne and I slept in the hayloft.
The Common Link to Story
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The Grande Dame Who Collects History in One of New York's Oldest Homes

A woman with a cemetery. And a lot of chalkware Snow Whites.
Jezebel: Pictorial Link to Story
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Monsieur Zierold's guide to Paris: a snapshot of the city in the 1950s

(Reprinted from Public Books.)
The Guardian Link to Story

About

SUSAN HARLAN

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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www.susan-harlan.com

Skills

  • Teaching
  • Writing