Ellena Savage

Text Publishing Co
3 March 2020


Ellena Savage

Sometimes I think it’s possible to live with anything. That we’re wired to survive-survive-survive, to grip onto the gnarliest thread until life is pried from our bones. Other times I think, it’s not possible to live at all. Not at all.

Blueberries could be described as a collection of essays, the closest term available for a book that resists classification; a blend of personal essay, polemic, prose poetry, true-crime journalism and confession that considers a fragmented life, reflecting on what it means to be a woman, a body, an artist. It is both a memoir and an interrogation of memoir. It is a new horizon in storytelling.

In crystalline prose, Ellena Savage explores the essential questions of the examined life - what is it to desire? What is it to accommodate oneself to the world? And at what cost?    


To make a living as an author, Ellena Savage writes, you need to have a diverse portfolio. As an editor, academic, teacher, critic, literary event host (among other things), Ellena Savage has had to live at least a double life. In an essay titled ‘Antimemoir’ she writes that the ‘swinging, smiling author me’ pitched the book proposal for Blueberries with ‘Hey … You can bet on me to write a thought-provoking commercially successful essay collection!’ but inwardly she felt shame and doubt, ‘Was I a serious enough person to call my work autotheory? (No.)’. Whether or not Blueberries is a personal essay collection, memoir or antimemoir, it perhaps works best as an answer to the question ‘What kind of body makes a memoir?’.

The first essay, ‘Yellow City’, was originally published as a chapbook and it documents, day by day, a trip Savage took to Lisbon to track down the police file and court documents of a sexual assault she had reported eleven years earlier. Back then, she had to leave Portugal before the end of the trial and had never found out the verdict. The writing here is compelling, spare and elegant. Savage weaves in prose poetry and her philosophical and honest interrogation of the situation often takes the reader down a surprising path.

Another essay splits the page in two. On one side are a series of vignettes titled ‘Holidays with Men’ which Savage had published in a zine years earlier. On the other side of the page she writes about her experience of reading at the zine’s launch and the events that had led up to the writing of the work. The essay as a whole becomes an examination of cultural capital, travel discourse and a materialist critique of the threat of physical violence.

Ellena Savage has produced a collection that defies categorisation but is fervently experiential, candid and original.

Kara Nicholson is part of the online Readings team.

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