Hello Again, Rebecca Solnit


Rebecca Solnit, the essayist-turned-progressive-icon, at home in San Francisco. Credit Trent Davis Bailey

We have appreciated her in these pages over the years without really knowing anything about her, so thanks to Alice Gregory for this (may we just say that it seems odd to find it in the Entertainment section of the New York Times Magazine; why not the Arts section, or even the Politics section?):

How Rebecca Solnit Became the Voice of the Resistance

Subjects that the author and essayist Rebecca Solnit has written about, some at considerable length, include Irish history, atlases, Alzheimer’s, a traveling medical clinic, natural disasters, urban planning, tortoises, walking, gentrification, Yosemite National Park and Apple Inc.

‘‘There’s something interdisciplinary at best and wildly wandering at worst about how I think,’’ she told me recently over the phone from San Francisco, where she lives and works. ‘‘I am interested in almost everything, and it can sometimes seem like a burden.’’ She cited Virginia Woolf and Henry David Thoreau as the writers most important to her: ‘‘Each of them wrote exquisitely about experiential, immediate encounters with the tangible world but could also be very powerful political polemicists. And the arc of their work describes a space in which you can be both.’’

Those who have been reading her idiosyncratic writing since it was first published, in the mid-1980s, would agree that Solnit’s work is roaming, and would also say that it is rigorous and admirably self-directed in its scope and engrossments. She’s written several books about the American West, for example, including 1994’s ‘‘Savage Dreams: A Journey Into the Hidden Wars of the American West’’ and 2003’s ‘‘River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West.’’ But in the past few years, Solnit has acquired a new audience — younger, mostly female, more likely to read an article online than in print, and largely unaware of the strangeness or scale of her career.

It began with her 2008 essay ‘‘Men Explain Things to Me,’’ which was born of a now-famous anecdote: In 2003, Solnit was at a party in a chalet above Aspen, Colo., when the host of the party, upon learning that Solnit was an author, insisted on summarizing a book he had read a review of, ignoring her friend’s efforts to inform him that Solnit herself had written it. The essay is credited with inspiring the hashtag-ready term ‘‘mansplaining,’’ which is now used around the world; it’s on T-shirts, on Twitter, in the most casual of conversations. In 2014, Solnit turned ‘‘Men Explain Things to Me’’ into a book, which has, to date, sold about 90,000 copies. In a series of personal but unsentimental essays, she gave succinct shorthand to a familiar female experience that before had gone unarticulated, perhaps even unrecognized. Like Tom Wolfe’s ‘‘radical chic’’ or Nathan Rabin’s ‘‘manic pixie dream girl,’’ ‘‘mansplaining’’ quickly became a term as illuminating as it was descriptive…

Read the whole profile here.

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