Date & Time
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Free and open to the public
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
Rachel Cohen will discuss "Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels." She will be joined in conversation by Maya Jasanoff and Vijay Seshadri.
Presented in partnership with FSG Live.
About the book: “About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and about a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author.” In the turbulent period around the birth of her first child and the death of her father, Rachel Cohen turned to Jane Austen to make sense of her new reality. For Cohen, simultaneously grief-stricken and buoyed by the birth of her daughter, reading Austen became her refuge and her ballast. She was able to reckon with difficult questions about mourning, memorializing, living in a household, paying attention to the world, reading, writing, and imagining through Austen’s novels. "Austen Years" is a deeply felt and sensitive examination of a writer’s relationship to reading, and to her own family, winding together memoir, criticism, and biographical and historical material about Austen herself. And like the sequence of Austen’s novels, the scope of "Austen Years" widens successively, with each chapter following one of Austen's novels. We begin with Cohen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she raises her small children and contemplates her father’s last letter, a moment paired with the grief of "Sense and Sensibility" and the social bonds of "Pride and Prejudice." Later, moving with her family to Chicago, Cohen grapples with her growing children, teaching, and her father’s legacy, all refracted through the denser, more complex "Mansfield Park" and "Emma." With unusual depth and fresh insight into Austen’s life and literature, and guided by Austen’s mournful and hopeful final novel, "Persuasion," Rachel Cohen’s "Austen Years" is a rare memoir of mourning and transcendence, a love letter to a literary master, and a powerful consideration of the odd process that merges our interior experiences with the world at large.
About the author: Rachel Cohen is the author of "Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels" (FSG, 2020); "Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade," and "A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists.' Her essays on artists and writers – their friendships, fallings out, and the work they make – have appeared in publications including the New Yorker, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Art in America, Apollo Magazine and Best American Essays. Cohen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and she is Professor of Practice in the Arts at the University of Chicago.
About the interlocutors: Maya Jasanoff's recent book is "The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World", and she won the NBCC Award for "Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World."
Vijay Seshadri's "3 Sections" won the Pulitzer Prize, and his new book "That Was Now, This is Then" is forthcoming from Graywolf in October.