My Body Is a Book of Rules
As Elissa Washuta makes the transition from college kid to independent adult, she finds herself overwhelmed by the calamities piling up in her brain. When her mood-stabilizing medications aren t threatening her life, they re shoving her from depression to mania and back in the space of an hour. Her crisis of American Indian identity bleeds into other areas of self-doubt; mental illness, sexual trauma, ethnic identity, and independence become intertwined. Sifting through the scraps of her past in seventeen formally inventive chapters, Washuta aligns the strictures of her Catholic school education with
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About the AuthorElissa Washuta, a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, was born in New Jersey and now lives in Seattle. She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington in 2009 and has been the recipient of an Artist Trust GAP Award, a Potlatch Fund Native Arts Grant, a 4Culture Grant, and a Made at Hugo House Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Third Coast. She is an adviser and lecturer in American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. My Body Is a Book of Rules is her first book.
Radio Interview: Elissa Washuta talks about and reads from her memoir, My Body is a Book of Rules. --Montana Public Radio
You should have [My Body Is a Book of Rules] on your radar now. . . . Washuta's story is . . . an ultra-modern take on contemporary femininity, mental illness, and identity.
--Cosmopolitan, "12 Memoirs by Women That Will Get You Through Anything"
In Body, Washuta shows why younger voices and voices outside the mainstream matter. They show us the immediate implications of our current culture on our psyches, bodies, and hearts. In her refusal to apologize or sugarcoat her thoughts and behavior, and her refusal to let others off the hook for their actions, Washuta forces us to reflect on our own experiences and draw the connections.
The reader is strapped to a rollercoaster narrative... [as] Washuta tries to manage her expected identity and her own shaky sense of self.
I have nothing but admiration for My Body is a Book of Rules, the shimmering new autobiography by Elissa Washuta: Open, ruthless, and more self-critical than any other non-fiction writer I've read recently. The book is both dark and hilarious, sometimes in the same sentence. Even when the events of the narrative seem to repeat themselves, it isn't an editorial oversight or sloppy writing; the repetitions are signals of what matters, the writer picking them up again, holding them at a different angle, searching for new answers. It feels honest and intimate. Maggie Nelson writes in The Argonauts: "I do not yet understand the relationship between writing and happiness, or writing and holding." Washuta writes with the same urgency and fiery curiosity. A gift for those who appreciate a good autobiography and fine, precise writing.
--Tin House Magazine
I regret my "Naughty Native" Halloween Costume, by Elissa Washuta in Salon
My Body is a Book of Rules is not a traditional memoir. Through linked essays set in her early 20s, she tells the story of her bipolar diagnosis and its early treatment alongside "coming around to the fact" that she was raped and then sexually assaulted. She set out to intentionally write a book that couldn't be easily pinned down, and in doing so has given us an intimate and unflinching look into the nuances of identity and culture.
--Samantha Updegrave for Bitch Magazine
My Body is a Book of Rules' is a collection of calamities -- bitterly funny, fierce, sometimes crass and sometimes heartbreaking."
-Barbara Lloyd McMichael for The Seattle Times
This debut memoir from the independent publisher Red Hen Press isn't for the faint of heart. Washuta's honest and lyrical language as well as her subject matter -- her struggles with bipolar disorder and coping with the effects of rape -- will gut you, but it's the rawness of this work that makes it worth reading. Washuta's form, including revised psychiatrists' notes, annotated research papers on the use of the term "hooking up," summaries of prescription medications, and a Match.com profile, is inventive and invites the reader into the author's chaotic brain. The book perfectly articulates the difficulties navigating the path toward adulthood while coping with trauma and mental illness.
--Melissa Duclos for Bustle
Washuta lays bare all of her pain and frustration in a staggeringly personal memoir that will leave a deep impression on readers. Primarily chronicling her college years and shortly thereafter, Washuta has a lot to write about. After a childhood that was "as close to perfect as any can possibly be," she set off for college, where her struggles to fit in as a scholarship Native American student with Caucasian features forced her to continuously defend her ethnicity, which led to personal questions about identity. Facing a long-overdue bipolar diagnosis and the resultant search for effective medications, Washuta spiraled into a confusing medley of alcohol abuse, depression, and physical illness. Then she suffered a shocking date rape that left nearly overwhelming emotional wounds and sent her into years of pondering the nature of sex and violence. With a style reminiscent of works by Lidia Yuknavitch and Kate Zambreno, Washuta rails against herself, the world, and those who have brought her pain. She searches and yearns for answers in this brutally honest and utterly unforgettable narrative.
-- Colleen Mondor
My Body is a Book of Rules, is a work of art, organizationally and emotionally. The reader rides the rollercoaster life of a young woman who identifies as "Cowlitz/Watlala, European-American and bipolar." She excavates these categories in a unique way that is intricately and skillfully structured, but seamless and captivating for her readers.
PEN America Interview