What You Become in Flight: A Memoir



"Poignant and exquisite"--The Los Angeles Review of Books
"An inspiring and powerful book"--Booklist
"A genuinely absorbing read"--Kirkus
"Revelatory, honest, and wondrous."--Chanel Miller, author of Know My Name

A lyrical and meditative memoir on the damage we inflict in the pursuit of perfection, the pain of losing our dreams, and the power of letting go of both.

With a promising career in classical ballet ahead of her, Ellen O'Connell Whittet was devastated when a misstep in rehearsal caused a career-ending injury. Ballet was the love of her life. She lived for her moments under the glare of the stage-lights--gliding through the air, pretending however fleetingly to effortlessly defy gravity.

Yet with a debilitating injury forcing her to reconsider her future, she also began to reconsider what she had taken for granted in her past. Beneath every perfect arabesque was a foot, disfigured by pointe shoes, stuffed--taped and bleeding--into a pink, silk slipper. Behind her ballerina's body was a young girl starving herself into a fragile collection of limbs. Within her love of ballet was a hatred of herself for struggling to achieve the perfection it demanded of her.

In this raw and redemptive debut memoir, Ellen O'Connell Whittet explores the silent suffering of the ballerina--and finds it emblematic of the violence that women quietly shoulder every day. For O'Connell Whittet, letting go of one meant confronting the other--only then was it possible to truly take flight.

Product Details

$17.99  $16.55
Melville House Publishing
Publish Date
April 14, 2020
5.6 X 0.7 X 8.1 inches | 0.55 pounds

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About the Author

Ellen O'Connell Whittet is an essayist and lecturer. Winner of the Virginia Faulkner Award, her work has appeared in Vulture, Paris Review, Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue, and Prairie Schooner. This is her first book.


"Revelatory, honest, and wondrous. This is a story of constant becoming. Ellen O'Connell Whittet shows us how to confront heartbreaking realities while remaining open. She teaches us the importance of paying homage to our past selves while growing. What You Become In Flight is about the power we harness when we let our losses inform us. I come away in celebration of life's nonlinear path and the ways we struggle and learn to occupy our bodies." --Chanel Miller, author of Know My Name

"I admire Ellen's care in chronicling loss, the body, movement, pain. Her writing is wide awake--prose that holds on as a mechanism for taking flight. Writing that comes up against our fears; that carries out a beautiful working through" --Durga Chew-Bose, author of Too Much and Not the Mood

"O'Connell Whittet's memoir explores what happens when we lose a dream we feel like we were destined for. Much more than a memoir about ballet, it is a memoir about being a woman with a body, about being a person with a hungry heart, someone searching for a place to belong. Whittet writes with astounding vulnerability and grace." --Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake

"An elegant and compelling k├╝nstlerroman that begins in the body and ends on the page." --Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart

"Enthralling, smart, inspiring ... Whittet guides us through relationships, passions, illnesses, and the biggest questions about what gives us the grace and strength required for everyday living. This is a beautiful book." --Tessa Fontaine, author of The Electric Woman

"Illuminating and lyrical. Fierce and delicate. Raw and romantic. A true work of art. This is a book not just for dancers, and not only for women. Rather, it's a gorgeous lesson to consume, leaving you full of the complex feeling of what it is to be lifted high, dropped hard, and then build yourself back up." --Mira Ptacin, author of The In-Betweens