17 June 2017

My blue correspondents: an extract from Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets’

Posted by Maggie Nelson

Our Author of the Month in June is Maggie Nelson, one of the most perpetually astonishing writers at work in America today. Read on for an extract from her unclassifiable book ‘Bluets’, published for the first time in the UK in June 2017.

At a job interview at a university, three men sitting across from me at a table. On my cv it says that I am currently working on a book about the color blue. I have been saying this for years without writing a word. It is, perhaps, my way of making my life feel “in progress” rather than a sleeve of ash falling off a lit cigarette. One of the men asks, Why blue? People ask me this question often. I never know how to respond. We don’t get to choose what or whom we love, I want to say. We just don’t get to choose.

I have enjoyed telling people that I am writing a book about blue without actually doing it. Mostly what happens in such cases is that people give you stories or leads or gifts, and then you can play with these things instead of with words. Over the past decade I have been given blue inks, paintings, postcards, dyes, bracelets, rocks, precious stones, watercolors, pigments, paperweights, goblets, and candies. I have been introduced to a man who had one of his front teeth replaced with lapis lazuli, solely because he loved the stone, and to another who worships blue so devoutly that he refuses to eat blue food and grows only blue and white flowers in his garden, which surrounds the blue ex-cathedral in which he lives. I have met a man who is the primary grower of organic indigo in the world, and another who sings Joni Mitchell’s Blue in heartbreaking drag, and another with the face of a derelict whose eyes literally leaked blue, and I called this one the prince of blue, which was, in fact, his name.

I think of these people as my blue correspondents, whose job it is to send me blue reports from the field.

But you talk of all this jauntily, when really it is more like you have been mortally ill, and these correspondents send pieces of blue news as if last-ditch hopes for a cure.

Bluets’ is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £10.99. Explore more of Maggie Nelson’s work through our booklist, or visit us in Bury Place to browse our display.