Rebecca Solnit Talks Women, Activism, and Anger with Andi Zeisler

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Even if you’ve never heard of Rebecca Solnit, you know who she is. It was Solnit’s 2008 essay at the blog TomDigest that identified the concept we know today as mansplaining. (“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.”) But long before Solnit became a patron saint of the extremely online, she was an activist, a historian, a mapmaker, and a prolific author of books on a dizzying breadth of topics: the history of walking (2000’s Wanderlust); the motion-photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge (2004’s River of Shadows); the emerging evidence of climate change (2018’s Drowned River); and ambient cultural misogyny (2015’s essay collection Men Explain Things to Me).

Solnit’s new book of essays, titled Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (And Essays), connects the Trump administration, economic inequality, Indigenous history, police brutality, and gentrification gracefully, tying them together with meditations on American exceptionalism and the importance of precise language that gets right down to the lived facts of politics. Call Them By Their True Names doesn’t boil over with long-simmering ire on behalf of democracy and social justice, but rather deploys Solnit’s trademark precision, dry wit, and enduring optimism toward an absorbing whole. All the more reason to get her on the phone to talk about the role, and the necessity, of anger in a world that tosses up fresh outrages at least once a day.

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