Deb Olin Unferth on Gertrude Stein


“Once Mabel Dodge’s little boy said he would like to fly from the terrace to the lower garden. Do, said Mabel.”—Gertrude Stein

I loved that she discarded the comma. I loved that she made fun of the War. I loved that she loved to repeat herself—ten thousand times. I loved that, for her, narrative was like throwing a net around a sound, that to record the patter of a person told you all about them. I loved that she never had children. I loved that she was a lesbian. I loved that she lived through both Wars in Paris, apparently not noticing she was Jewish. I loved that she wrote so so so much and when no one would publish her, I loved that she published herself. I loved her philosophical games. I loved that she wrote Alice’s autobiography. I loved her misuse of capitals. I loved that her tone was mocking, bright, funny, wrong. I loved that she wrote everything outrageously, from tiny Tender Buttons to monstrous Making of Americans. I loved that she wrote a mystery that started with such electric promise and slowly came to pieces—unclear crimes, no one to solve them, too many suspects.


  • Excitability, Diane Williams
  • All Souls, Christine Schutt
  • To the Lighthouse, Orlando, Virginia Woolf
  • Collected Stories, The Violent Bear It Away, Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
  • Why Did I Ever, Mary Robison
  • Collected Stories, The End of the Story, Lydia Davis
  • Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon
  • My Sister’s Hand in Mine, Jane Bowles
  • Plot, Claudia Rankine
  • S*PeRM**K*T  and Sleeping with the Dictionary, Harryette Mullen
  • The Hearing Trumpet, Leonora Carrington
  • Grapefruit, Yoko Ono
  • Honored Guest, Joy Williams
  • The Lover, Margarite Duras
  • Collected Stories, Amy Hempel
  • Salvador, Joan Didion
  • Diana and Nikon, Janet Malcolm
  • Just Kids, Patti Smith

Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the memoir Revolution, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Critics Choice; the story collection Minor Robberies; and the novel Vacation, winner of the Cabell First Novel Award. Her work appears in Harper’s, The New York Times, McSweeney’s, The Boston Review, NOON, The Believer, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She has received three Pushcart Prizes and a Creative Capital Grant for Innovative Literature.