Escape Velocity: Sarah Manguso in Conversation with Tess McNulty

“It's still a vast mystery to me how one can write knowing anything at all what they're about to write.”

Our partner podcast Novel Dialogue invites a novelist and a literary critic to talk about novels from every angle: how we read them, write them, publish them, and remember them. This season’s signature question is: “What is the first book you remember loving?”

What’s the truth and what’s a lie? What’s a memoir, what’s a novel, and what if both are just a series of “prose blocks”? This conversation between Sarah Manguso and Tess McNulty takes up questions of writing and veracity, trauma and memory. Sarah Manguso is the author of nine books, including three memoirs. Her first novel, Very Cold People, was named a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and her second novel, Liars, is forthcoming. Tess and Sarah discuss how the threshold between truth and fiction is often used to minimize writing by women and how characters can achieve escape velocity against the pull of violence and abuse. We learn that Sarah doesn’t imagine an audience when she writes—instead, writing articulates something felt in the body, something that remains “uncomfortable until it is so articulated.” From the Yankee thrift of book design and the writing of front matter, acknowledgements, and Sarah’s brilliant titles, we move to ’70s-era typography and wordplay with the answer to Season 7’s signature question.







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View a transcript of the episode here.





Mentioned in this Episode

By Sarah Manguso:


Also mentioned:


  • Hilary Mantel
  • Lord Byron, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad,” from an 1821 letter published in Volume 8 of Byron’s Letters and Journals, edited by Leslie A. Marchand.
  • Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game
Featured image: Cover of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin