Thirty writers consider the myriad ways a human body can exist in the world in Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves. The thoughtful essays in this anthology, brought together by Catapult editors Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile, touch on everything from death, eating disorders and racism to sex and taking self-portraits while transitioning, but one theme connects them all: how these writers celebrate the existence of their bodies, and what these revelations can tell us about ourselves.
In the opening essay, “The Crematorium,” the late poet Nina Riggs gently folds soft waves of grief and perceptive humor into the details of preparing her mother’s body for cremation. In “Smother Me,” essayist and fiction writer Natalie Lima describes her sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing experiences of dating as a fat woman, including the particular desire her body arouses in men—and the power she has over them. In novelist Bryan Washington’s essay, “View From the Football Field,” readers are rewarded with an intimate look at what it’s like to grow up playing football in Texas as a Black teenager. Poet and novelist Destiny Birdsong serves up a blistering critique of medical racism in “Karen Medicine.” Author Jess Zimmerman begins her essay “It Doesn’t Hurt, It Hurts All the Time” by exploring the sensation of pain before pivoting to a powerful depiction of the ways our society has been traumatized by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of the essays in this collection are poignant, and readers will find its diverse list of contributors especially refreshing. That, coupled with the sharp quality of the writing, makes Body Language a standout work. Its dedication to showcasing a multitude of voices and perspectives adds excitement to the reading experience; as you turn the pages, you never know what you’ll read or learn about next.
In writer and editor Hannah Walhout’s essay, “Attack of the Six-Foot Woman,” she explains how being a tall woman has defined her life. She writes, “This exhausting state of being perpetually noticed often made me not want to be noticed at all.” This theme—taking up space, perhaps more than society allows—underpins many of the essays throughout Body Language, which work together to present the central contradiction of life in a physical body. As Walhout puts it, “We do not have inherent control over our own bodies. In fact, human bodies are sometimes not what they appear and have endless potential for change.”