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  • Inter-ReviewOn the Objects of Memory and Where Text Meets Image on the Page
  • A. Kendra Greene (bio) and Fowzia Karimi (bio)
Fateful reading: January 15, 2017. Right on its heels, illustration of Vagrants and Uncommon Visitors proposal: February 8, 2017.
Fowzia Karimi, Above Us the Milky Way deep vellum, 2020. 440 pages, cloth, $21.99.
A. Kendra Greene, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See penguin, 2020. 272 pages, cloth, $20.00.

I think we should start with the night we met. You were reading from what is now this book. Except when I say reading, you were at one end of a room in a private home, where the host would normally have her easel surrounded by reference images, a room that night so full I couldn't see you from the threshold on the opposite side. And above you, projected against the wall, a loop of glowing images: your paintings and illuminations and family photographs. And I remember for weeks afterward an almost physical response of wanting to keep reading a book that did not yet exist. But the first thing I said to you—had to say to you—was to prepare yourself. We were going to claim you for the essay. Is that how you remember it?


Yes, absolutely. But I should back up a little bit. Our mutual friends Kim and Merritt had generously put this reading on for me at Kim's house. A large group of their friends and acquaintances in the Dallas literary and [End Page 215] arts scenes were invited. Because I'd recently moved to Texas, I knew only a couple of people in the room. By recently, I mean a couple of years, during which time I was holed up in my home study, mourning the loss of my mother and working on my book. That evening was, in fact, the first time I'd been around such a large group of people, and the first time I'd shared work from the book since my move. And I was absolutely taken aback by the generosity of the group that took a stranger into their midst with such attentive warmth. So the evening is both a blur and has left an indelible mark in my memory. After the reading, the house was full of movement and sound. But a moment that stopped all that motion was you coming to sit next to me against that wall on which my illuminations had been projected. You sat down, you were forthright, you were earnest. I remember how that focused my attention on you as an individual among a crowd of people I'd just met. I clearly remember your words, "I am here to tell you, we are going to claim you for the essay!" I remember feeling resistance.

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It seemed very forward of me. But also, and here I am unwavering, very right. And not to take anything from you, or correct you, or to imply in any way that your work isn't exactly what you say it is. But the way you talk about memory and its functions and what can be known—how honestly and nimbly you grapple with the fact of uncertainty, the grace of encountering the unaccountable—it strikes me as a fundamentally essayistic move.


Memory is beautifully fallible, enters the realm of fiction immediately upon being set down on the page, in fact, not long after being recorded in the brain: on its second, third recall, perhaps? The chemistry that churns the brain's gears and wheels when a memory is recalled must surely use some of the same elements that the imagination uses when writing fiction. [End Page 216]

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I do love the essay as a form. I equate it with the experience of walking along a path while letting the mind wander and contract in turns, as one does on a walk. But there is always the path, and the focus it affords, to return to. There is a steadiness and assuredness inherent in the form, and apparent in your work...


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pp. 215-227
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