Purpura.Rough Likeness.jpg
Titles 1998-2018

Rough Likeness, Lia Purpura


Lia Purpura's essays are full of joy in the act of intense observation; they're also deliciously subversive and alert to the ways language gets locked and loaded by culture. These elegant, conversational excursions refuse to let a reader slide over anything, from the tiniest shards of beach glass to barren big-box wastelands. They detonate distractedness, superficiality, artificiality. In the process, Purpura inhabits many stances: metaphysician and biologist, sensualist and witness-all in service of illuminating that which Virginia Woolf called “moments of being”—previously unworded but palpably felt states of existence and knowing. Rough Likeness finds worlds in the minute, and crafts monuments to beauty and strangeness.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

Add To Cart
Purpura.Rough Likeness.jpg

Additional Info

Lia Purpura is the author of eight collections of essays, poems, and translations.  Her awards include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, NEA and Fulbright Fellowships, and four Pushcart prizes. On Looking (essays) was finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems and essays appear in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Orion, The Paris Review, Field and elsewhere. She lives in Baltimore, MD and is Writer in Residence at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a member of the core faculty at the Rainier Writing Workshop. It Shouldn’t Have been Beautiful, her latest collection of poems, has recently been published by Viking/Penguin.


“Lia Purpura’s Rough Likeness is all about looking: at a landscape, at language, at a sign. The truest-looking, though, comes on the inside, as Purpura goes beneath the surface, writing not just about what she sees but what it means.”
—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“In each of the book’s 18 brief pieces, she strives to capture subjects that seem to defy close study: an adjective, a buzzard, bits of beach glass, a warning sign. Yet she finds something insightful to say about each of them, in large part because she’s so careful with words, moving them as close as possible to those elusive truths.”
—Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Lia Purpura is at the forefront of the New Essay, and this latest book (her best) takes us much closer into the rough terrain of her quirky mind than she has ever gone before. The surprises and insights keep coming. Rough Likeness is an astonishment—a book to savor, read slowly, smile at, sigh at, and cherish."
—Phillip Lopate

"Lia Purpura is fierce. She creates a kind of word origami, folding phonemes and inquiries into intricate paper delights. Then she holds a magnifying glass over them, focusing her rapturous attentions through the lens, until twists of smoke appear, and geometries of flame, and sparks rain. If language is, as she suggests in one essay, ‘a game we all [agree] to play,’ then Purpura is at once a master of the game and a soulful, wild playmate."
—Leah Hager Cohen