Bonnet Rippers.


(Illustration by Roxanna Bikadoroff

“More Titillated Than Thou.” I’ve got a new article in the summer issue of The Baffler (No. 28) about the wild popularity of Amish romance novels. It was super fun to read the books and to work again with editor Chris Lehmann who really deserves a heap of credit for making the piece as fun and punchy as it is. Thanks to The Paris Review and Arts & Letters Daily for picking it up! You can read it here, and here’s a clip:

Fiction, after all, is fiction—it offers escape from the strictures of our individual experiences and worldviews. But to enter the world of Amish fiction is to wholly leave behind the world as it exists. I don’t just mean ringing phones, CNN, computer screens, and interminable commutes—although, yes, these are technologies that the Amish live without (albeit with more exceptions than you’d imagine)—but more fundamentally, the world of crime, racism, 50 percent divorce rates, unwanted pregnancies, systemic pollution, same-sex marriage, college tuition fees, healthcare reform, endless war, and political gridlock. All the complexities of contemporary life are absent. It’s as if the evangelical authors have airbrushed their own ideal world onto the Amish vernacular, gently erasing the sharp, contested edges of the pietist denominational tradition.

Reading, February 8.

Please join us! I’ll be reading on February 8 at Radiator Gallery as part of a new show curated by Elisabeth Smolarz and Jamie Diamond. You can find details below and here.

Opening Jan 23 6-9pm
Show Jan 23 – Feb 27
Special Event: Reading Feb 8 2-4 pm

Artists: Micah Danges, Jamie Diamond, Jeff Fichera, Maria Lynch, Elisabeth Smolarz, Weston Teruya & Andrea Wolf.

Writers: Hossannah Asuncion, Christian Hawkey, Hari Kunzru, Ann Neumann & Uljana Wolf.

Curated by: Elisabeth Smolarz and Jamie Diamond

Radiator Arts is pleased to present cake, dolls, gift bags and other things; a group exhibition of the works of Micah Danges, Jamie Diamond, Jeff Fichera, Maria Lynch, Elisabeth Smolarz, Weston Teruya & Andrea Wolf. Employing a variety of media including photography, painting, sculpture and video, each of the artists in this show examines object-hood and it’s relationship to representation, the uncanny and memory.

Our everyday lives are populated and beautified by objects: we collect, organize and fetishize. They are symbols of our desires, surfaces for our projections and vehicles for our memories. By collaborating, constructing, displacing and documenting, each of the works in the show attempt to subvert our vernacular relationship to objects, collapse the temporary and permanent, past and present narratives and confuse ideas of fact and fiction.

Upcoming Events, October 2014

I’ll be reading at two events this month. Please come say hello!


Monday, October 13

Greenlight Books, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

Launch of the Guernica magazine Annual

With readings by Nick Flynn, Rachel Riederer, Saeed Jones, Ann Neumann

And a Q&A with Guernica Editor in Chief Michael Archer

7:30 pm


Sunday, October 26

Unnameable Books, 600 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn

With readings by Dania Rajendra, Nathan Schneider and Ann Neumann*

Hosted by Robert Eshelman

6 pm

*I’ll be reading from my forthcoming book, to be published by Beacon Press next year

Responding to Letters.

What a week! The response to my op-ed in last week’s New York Times Sunday Review has been overwhelming–and for the most part, phenomenal. People have written from all over the country to share their stories, strategies and encouragement. Thank you!

A few letters, however, and a segment on the Diane Rehm show on Tuesday, have convinced me that the framing of the conversation about natural gas is dangerously wrong. Here’s my response to a really nasty letter I received two days ago. I’m posting it because it pulls apart that erroneous frame (and because the letter pissed me off). I’ve edited it slightly.


Dear XXX,

Sorry it took me so long to respond to your letter, forwarded via the NYT and in response to my op-ed last Sunday about fracked natural gas infrastructure. I’m on book deadline and, as you can imagine, my inbox has been filled with op-ed responses (strangely, with most negative responses coming from angry men telling me what I don’t know, and positive ones coming mostly from women across the country who are engaged in the same work my sister is–preventing seizure of her property).

At first, I wasn’t sure your letter was legitimate. The tone, content and structure seemed somewhat incongruent with your credentials (listed in detail at the top of your letter). However, I’ve made the decision to respond to every email I receive.

My point is this: “Natural” gas is a ruse that distracts us from preferable (economic, ecological) methods of weening ourselves off non-renewable energy sources. We’re being sold the story that fracking is progress, the future, that it puts America back on top thanks to “Yankee ingenuity.”

I counter that frame, largely because it is developed by those who benefit (gas/oil corporations) and because it wrongly limits our thinking about alternatives. The benefits of natural gas are overstated and oversold. The job creation numbers are inflated and temporary; cheaper gas only further entrenches us in non-renewable systems; gas has a duration of only 35 years (less when manufacturing and exports kick in) and our investment in it is short sighted; co2 emissions should not be the only metric we use to determine clean (pipelines, post-fracking water, methane are pollution too); new gas infrastructure like pipelines and plants serve gas and oil corporations, not the citizens who are bearing their burden at the expense of clean water, air, soil, at the expense of public and private land, and at the bodily risk of leaks and explosions.

I reject your argument that my opposition to new natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for coal. Minnesota is doing a fine job with solar and wind (and while it’s converting coal plants to gas, its example shows that new gas infrastructure is a short-sighted waste). I reject your argument that my opposition to natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for the Keystone pipeline, nuclear power or any other non-renewable resource. I find your either-or argument to be too narrow for a conversation about the nation’s energy future. All renewable alternatives should be further developed and expanded.

As to your nimby comment, I oppose this pipeline, regardless of where Williams attempts to put it. To your inaccurate point that I prefer the development of public lands over private: this pipeline will pass through conserved/preserved property, which I oppose. And for the record, all NYT op-eds are rigorously fact-checked. Too, you would benefit from further research into the use of eminent domain in pipeline cases across the country.

I find directives from others that landowners and general citizens with concerns for their health, environment and well-being should quietly take installation of pipelines on the chin for the good for the country (or rather, for the good of gas corporations) to be paternal and naive. They’re also privileged: do you have a pipeline on your property?

I find your comment that I haven’t “given the matter much thought” to be demeaning. And I find your uninformed insinuation that I have not engaged in other energy activism to be irrelevant and illogical. You assert that, because this is a democracy and I am a citizen, I am in part responsible for our existing energy systems but, as you must know, the process that has created this current system was highly undemocratic (and in many ways unethically coercive), just as the process for approving new natural gas infrastructure is. (Besides, democracy is historically, notoriously inept at protecting minority rights.)

Your reference to global and worldwide needs implies that natural gas exports will be good for the US and the world. They may help us geopolitically, they may briefly boost the national GDP–but in the long run, they will put us behind by distracting us from developing alternative sources of energy. Currently, long-term natural resources (the environment we depend on) are being rampantly destroyed by natural gas industrialization; your letter only demonstrates the kind of short-sighted, narrow fervor that is fueling it.

You seem to misunderstand power in the US. Williams and other corporations, whose bottom line is profit, are claiming “public good” for extraction and transport of resources that they increasingly wish to export, via seizure of public and private property and endangerment of air, water and soil purity. Of course I blame Williams and other corporations for the use of eminent domain, as much as I blame complicit federal agencies, and our local, state and federal legislators. Building and/or expanding natural gas infrastructure in the US only ensures that we will pay most dearly for corporations’ gains for decades to come.

Thank you for reading and writing. Best,



We’re All Getting Fracked.

I have an op-ed in The New York Times today that I hope you will all read when you can. It’s about an issue that is now dear to my heart: a pipeline for natural gas is barreling through my home county, Lancaster, Pa.

You can read the op-ed here.

A special thanks to Jessica Lustig, Kiera Feldman and my entire writing group, and all the friends and strangers who have taken the time to read, share and comment.

Screen shot 2014-07-13 at 7.16.26 PM

Spring Sprung.

I just got back from India which means I’m constantly groggy with jet lag. But it’s been a tremendous spring with lots of new writing and events. It helps to sum it all up; proof that I’ve been happily busy.  

The best and brightest news is that the book I’ve been researching for about 6 years will… become a book! SITTING VIGIL: IN SEARCH OF A GOOD DEATH will be published by Beacon Press in 2015. No small thanks goes to my brilliant agent, Laurie Abkemeier, for finding me, for believing in this project from the beginning, and for holding my hand through the process. I’m so tickled. And I’m so on lock-down. The deadline for the manuscript is this fall.

A host of other little successes and articles have kept me busy. Here are some links:

My time in India straddled the conclusion of the national election in which the Congress party, in power almost uninterruptedly since the time of Indian independence in 1947, was defeated by the BJP. The new Prime Minister, Modi, represents an extraordinary overthrow of political philosophy. I wrote about Modi, and an Indian yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, who aided Modi’s election, for Killing the Buddha,“Whose ‘India First’?”.

As a new contributing nonfiction editor at the online literary magazine, Guernica, I was lucky enough to help edit an article by academic Wendy Pearlman on the Syrian uprising and how it has affected individual lives there. Read Pearlman’s “Fathers of Revolution” when you can. It’s stunning.

In April I got to read, along with Alia Malek and Erika Anderson, at a Big Umbrella/Guernica sponsored event. It was fantastic fun–even though I was nervous to be reading… about kidneys. I read “What’s a Kidney Worth?” one of the earlier installments of my column at The Revealer, a publication of The Center for Religion and Media at New York University. Writing the monthly “The Patient Body” column has been pure joy. And it’s ongoing so keep an eye on The Revealer if “issues at the intersection of religion and media” are your thing.

I wrote two book reviews for Bookforum this spring. The first (FEB/MAR 2014) was of Megan Hustad’s More than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments and the second (APR/MAY 2014) was of Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you don’t subscribe to Bookforum, well, you should. Both, so far, are only in print.

On April 3 I was honored to speak at Colgate University’s Lambert Institute for Civic and Global Affairs. Hamilton, New York, is so charming and the drive up and back were so gorgeous. But the best part was meeting faculty and students who were perfect, curious and insightful hosts.

For Guernica’s special issue on the American South in March, I wrote about the increasingly Southern practice of execution. You should check out the entire issue, which will soon become an ebook, here.

In February I got to write about marijuana and hospice for OnFaith. Here’s a little excerpt: “The ironies of how we regulate moral behavior were not lost on me. Nor would they have been lost on most anyone who happened to observe our smoking through the window of her luxurious apartment on Central Park West.”

Also in February I was asked to present a talk for the Columbia University Seminar on Death. The conversation was so lively and smart that I came away with insights that continue to inform my work.

A special issue on End of Life was printed by the New York Law School Review in February. You can read my contribution, “The Limits of Autonomy: Force-Feedings in Catholic Hospitals and Prisons” online.

Now on to summer!

Living with Class

Wednesday is the pub date for a new book I’ve got an essay in, Living with Class: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Material Culture. My essay, “Dying with Class,” is about race, class, and hospice use.

I’m delighted to be alongside these contributors!

Here’s the publisher’s page:

Here’s the amazon page:

Here’s the table of contents:

Introduction: Working Class; Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz

1. Class Dismissed: The Issue Is Accountability; bell hooks
2. Letter from a Lovelorn Pre-Radical: Looking Forward and Backward at Martin Luther King Jr.; Kevin Bruyneel,
3. In Search of a New Left, Then and Now; Dick Howard
4. The Status of Class; Stanley Aronowitz
5. ‘Fix the Tired’: Cultural Politics and the Struggle for Shorter Hours; Kristin Lawler
6. Literary and Real Life Salesmen and the Performance of Class; Jon Dietrick
7. Money Changes Everything?: African American Class-Based Attitudes toward LBGT Issues; Ravi K. Perry, Yasmiyn Irizarry, and Timothy J. Fair
8. Democracy without Class: Investigating the Political Unconscious of the United States; M. Lane Bruner
9. Re-Forming Class: Wealth, Culture, and Identity in South Africa; Lisa Nell
10. Whiteness as Currency: Rethinking the Exchange Rate; Emily M. Drew
11. Dying with Class: Race, Religion, and the Commodification of a Good Death; Ann Neumann
12. New Materialisms and Digital Culture: Productive Labor and the Software Wars; Ted Kafala
13. Feminist Theory and the Critique of Class; Robin Truth Goodman
14. Criminal Class; Eric Anthamatten
15. Consuming Class: Identity & Power through the Commodification of Bourgeois Culture, Celebrity, and Glamour; Raúl Rubio
16. When Prosperity Is Built on Poverty, There Can Be No Foundation for Peace, as Poverty and Peace Don’t Stand Hand in Hand; Pepi Leistyna
17. Solon the Athenian and the Origins of Class Struggle; Thomas Thorp
18. Memories of Class and Youth in the Age of Disposability; Henry A. Giroux


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.