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“[An] often beautiful jewel of a book . . . Black’s power as a writer means she can take us with her to places that normally our minds would refuse to go.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Still Point of the Turning World comes an incisive memoir about how she came to question and redefine the concept of resilience after the trauma of her first child’s death.
“Congratulations on the resurrection of your life,” a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that time, her life had changed utterly: She left the marriage that fractured under the terrible weight of her son’s illness, got remarried to a man who she fell in love with while her son was dying, had a flourishing career, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But she rejected the idea that she was leaving her old life behind—that she had, in the manner of the mythical phoenix, risen from the ashes and been reborn into a new story, when she still carried so much of her old story with her. More to the point, she wanted to carry it with her. Everyone she met told her she was resilient, strong, courageous in ways they didn’t think they could be. But what did those words mean, really?
This book is an attempt to unpack the various notions of resilience that we carry as a culture. Drawing on contemporary psychology, neurology, etymology, literature, art, and self-help, Emily Rapp Black shows how we need a more complex understanding of this concept when applied to stories of loss and healing and overcoming the odds, knowing that we may be asked to rebuild and reimagine our lives at any moment, and often when we least expect it. Interwoven with lyrical, unforgettable personal vignettes from her life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher, Rapp Black creates a stunning tapestry that is full of wisdom and insight.
About the Author
Emily Rapp Black is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir and The Still Point of the Turning World. A former Fulbright scholar, she was educated at Harvard University, Trinity College-Dublin, Saint Olaf College, and the University of Texas-Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. A recent Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient, she has received awards and fellowships from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Fundación Valparaíso, and Bucknell University, where she was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence. Her work has appeared in Vogue, The New York Times, Salon, Slate, Time, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, O: The Oprah Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and many others. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review and frequently publishes scholarly work in the fields of disability studies, bioethics, and theological studies. She is currently associate professor of creative writing at the University of California-Riverside, where she also teaches medical narratives in the School of Medicine.
“A celebration of love, and life . . . as well as an investigation of what it means to be human . . . Black’s voice is singularly lyrical, singularly bracing. She is obsessed with the potency of language, offering favorite phrases and lines, sometimes contextualizing but more often quoting with the confidence of a reader who has made the sentences her own.”—Alta
“A book of rare power and grace . . . Reading this extraordinarily thoughtful writer and her luminous prose was, for me, sanctuary.”—Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club
“Sanctuary opens up the space between life and death in order to show us how love gets born over and over again—a fierce and unflinching love, a love that has to travel trauma and truth to evolve. Emily Rapp Black’s book is a precise and complex articulation of a journey that has nothing to do with the puny hero’s journey. It’s bigger than that. It’s the story of the relationship between creation and decreation as it lives in the bodies of women. This book will give us better ways to tell the stories of motherhood, desire, despair, resistance, and resilience. This book will change lives.”—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children
“Sanctuary is an absolute marvel—gorgeous and bold, astonishing in insight and unsparing in candor. With aching vulnerability and compassion, Emily Rapp Black maps the topography of heartrending loss and erects upon it a refuge of otherworldly resilience. As a writer, a mother, and a woman, Rapp Black is a profound inspiration—not because she’s fearless but because she’s courageous. To understand the distinction, read this beautiful book.”—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
“Every once in a while, a book comes along that ushers us to the very center of a profound truth that we don’t so much learn as recognize. Emily Rapp Black takes us there in Sanctuary, reminding us in achingly beautiful prose that pain and pleasure, grief and aliveness exist not apart but together in the dark matter, in the liminal space we occupy when we do what the living do: We love, we love, we love.”—Dani Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of Inheritance
“Not since When Breath Becomes Air has a memoir conveyed such profound loss alongside such luminous and life-affirming love. With exquisitely precise prose, Emily Rapp Black describes what it is like to mother a dead boy and an alive girl simultaneously: being pulled in both directions, juggling sorrow and guilt, but moving toward light and life. Sanctuary broke my heart and mended it, expanding it through truth and beauty.”—Adrienne Brodeur, author of Wild Game