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The influences behind Maggie Nelson's "The Argonauts"


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We recently excerpted a review of Maggie Nelson’s new book The Argonauts, which focuses on the travails of queer motherhood. Now the Library of America (of all places) has asked Nelson about what texts influenced her groundbreaking book. Among others, she cites James Baldwin and David Wojnarowicz:

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. If you’re looking for an example of how to move between personal anecdote, trenchant political analysis, and urgent spiritual/ontological rumination, I doubt anyone bests Baldwin. His account of his meeting with Elijah Muhammad was, is, endlessly instructive to me, not only for its use of an encounter as a springboard for reflection, but also for Baldwin’s skill in saying exactly what he wants and needs to say without bending under the pressures of imagined readerships, some of whom might stand all too ready to misuse his critique. (I thought about this issue a lot when trying to figure out how to weight various critiques in The Argonauts.)…

David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. I read this book when it came out in 1991. I was eighteen, and had just come of age in San Francisco, a city ravaged by AIDS, but I hardly knew what the hell had happened, what was happening. This book helped me to understand everything—about AIDS, about the brutality of normalcy, about how rage might be mobilized to sublime effect in writing, about queerness, about mortality, about friendship, about how hallucinogenic, poetic accounts of roadside encounters might be paired with utterly fierce condemnations of this country’s politics, and so much more.