Multiply/Divide, Wendy S. Walters
In the manner of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Wendy S. Walters deftly explores the psyches of cities such as Chicago, Manhattan, Portsmouth, and Washington D.C. Her approach is varied, intimate, and inventive. In “Cleveland,” she interviews an African-American playwright who draws great reviews, but can’t muster an audience. An on-air telephone chat between a DJ and his listeners drives a discussion of race and nutrition in “Chicago Radio.” In “Manhattanville” the author, out for a walk with her biracial son, is mistaken for his nanny. There’s even a fable, imagining a black takeover of Norway. All of these pieces explore societal questions–how eras of immense growth can leave us unable to prosper from that growth, how places intended for safety become fraught with danger, and how race and gender bias threaten our communities. Walters’s haunting utterances are beautifully precise estimations of a place and its people.
Wendy S. Walters is the author of two books of poems, Troy, Michigan and Longer I Wait, More You Love Me. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, Bookforum, The Iowa Review, and others. She is Associate Professor of creative writing at The New School University in New York.
Praise for Multiply/Divide:
"A poet's collection of prose that blurs the boundaries of fiction, memoir, and essay. . . .The juxtapositions within the collection are formally provocative. . . .Feelings of love and loneliness pervade this collection, through writing that seeks understanding of person and place through history and geography. A curious collection, as interesting for the way the pieces fit together as for the accomplishment of any one of them."
"Perhaps the book this year that best aligns itself with Kenneth Burke’s idea of stories as 'equipment for living,' Walters’s Multiply/Divide bends the boundaries of fiction, nonfiction, and lyrical essay, while at the same time crossing osmotically through the hyper-realities of American life—especially those guiding matters of race and gender."
“Piece by piece, Walters . . . explores the psyche of place and culture in the U.S., including insightful and powerful reflections on how race plays into both. As the subtitle suggests, the works in Multiply/Divide span the real and the surreal, with prose that is sometimes strange and convoluted, and sometimes straightforward and concise—and always powerful and thought provoking.”
—Shelf Awareness, starred review
“[H]er writing becomes direct and bodily. She narrates her own struggles with depression, relationships, sexuality and assault without ever demanding the reader’s pity.”
"Walters brandishes not only fierce moral imagination but, even more impressively, profound human complicity. I’m a besotted fan."
"Bold, quirky, intimate, experimental . . . the author both fearlessly discloses the personal and embeds her individuality in the larger dilemmas of the historical moment."
"Lyric invention, historical inquiry, elegy, allegory, dialogue, and confession: these essays are astonishing. Wendy S. Walters is a solitary traveler who contains and confronts multitudes. No contradiction goes unexplored; no question goes unasked. Complexities multiply and divide; new possibilities arise. This is a wondrous and uncanny book."
"An intense longing drives this spell-binding collection. . . . Exploring the full range of the essay’s forms, Walters discovers and names the often troubling ways race and class inform what it means to belong."
—Lacy M. Johnson
"Multiply/Divide is an urgent examination of the constructs—cities, selves, the groups we align ourselves with—that order our lives. Fittingly, Walters's collection is a hybrid blending fact and fiction, the personal and the political, in order to confront fully, free of the limitations of genre, just what it means to be disenfranchised in America. I recommend it highly."
—Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books
"What happens when you venture into the jungle of identity in America? If you’re Wendy S. Walters, you find yourself faced with too much, lacking “a singular source of outrage on which to fixate.” Across these thirteen essays—some journalistic, some personal, some even “fictional”—Walters struggles to understand her place in the world, just like we all do. What do race, class, and geography mean when trying to pinpoint who we are and what we feel? Walters doesn’t know, and neither do any of us. This is what makes Multiply/Divide so vital. These essays seem to respond to the great identity problems of contemporary America in real time, with Walters as accessible as a roommate coming home after a long day at work and turning on the news. So drink a beer, throw something at the TV, and stay up all night with her trying to sort it out—there’s catharsis in the confusion."
—Benjamin Rybeck, Brazos Bookstore
"In Multiply/Divide, Wendy S. Walters sifts through the weird, quietly horrifying wreckage that structural racism has left behind in everyday American life and presents something like a mythology, but stranger because of course it's real, and we've never known life without it. Her prose is clear as day, but only a poet could have written a book of essays like this. City by city, over radio waves and under the street, Walters shows us what should have been obvious: that nearly all of our heartbreak (and even our joy) is rooted in this particular mythology."
—Dan Poppick, Bookcourt Bookstore