At AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair) in Minneapolis this past April, I was hungry to find new essayists. A panelist recommended Elissa Washuta’s My Body is a Book of Rules. I wandered over to Red Hen Press’ table to pick it up, only to find that Washuta herself was standing by, ready and willing to chat. I hadn’t read her book yet, of course, but I told her I was embarking on my own essay collection, and she wished me ‘wonderful words and structural magic’ in her inscription.
I wish that when I had met her, I could have told her about the ravenousness with which I have devoured her book, a heartbreaking and sly collection of essays, chat logs, medication lists, Internet profiles, historical discourses, bibliographies, and diary entries that illustrate the author’s struggles with bipolar disorder and sexual assault. Believe me—I know it sounds a little devastating. But in truth, Washuta’s collection is painstakingly researched—from religious stories to pharmaceutical side effects and, perhaps most interestingly, the history of her hereditary tribe, the Cascade Indians.
That research and context helped this essay collection show me something I didn’t expect. Instead of feeling lonely or depressed at the book’s end, I ended up feeling a keen, almost comforting understanding of how personal tragedy and pain can communicate richly with universal misfortune. Perhaps we cannot avoid hardship in this world, but if we are lucky, we can look to facts and history, as Washuta has smartly done here, and find unexpected meaning in the hits we take.”