So We Can Glow
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 JOYCE CAROL OATES PRIZE
A lush, glittering short story collection exploring female obsession and desire by an award-winning author Roxane Gay calls "a consummate storyteller."
From Kentucky to the California desert, these forty-two short stories -- ranging from the 80's and 90's to present day -- expose the hearts of girls and women in moments of obsessive desire and fantasy, wildness and bad behavior, brokenness and fearlessness, and more.
On a hot July night, teenage girls sneak out of the house to meet their boyfriends by the train tracks. Members of a cult form an unsettling chorus as they proclaim their adoration for the same man. A woman luxuriates in a fantasy getaway to escape her past. A love story begins over cabbages in a grocery store, and a laundress's life is consumed by her obsession with a baseball star. After the death of a sister, two high school friends kiss all night and binge-watch Winona Ryder movies.
Leesa Cross-Smith's sensuous stories -- some long, some gone in a flash, some told over text and emails -- drench readers in nostalgia for summer nights and sultry days. They recall the intense friendships of teenage girls and the innate bonds between mothers, the first heady rush of desire, and the pure exhilaration of womanhood, all while holding up the wild souls of women so they can catch the light.
Praise For So We Can Glow: Stories…
—New York Times Book Review
"Leesa Cross-Smith is such a beguiling writer and her skills are on full display in So We Can Glow. These are stories about breathless love, lustful abandon, all that glitters, hot summers, cool pavement, sticky skin, beautifully beating hearts. There is such authenticity to these stories and nostalgia that is tempered with just enough of a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it is, not just how we hoped it might be. It's also refreshing to see a writer crafting stories that are so unapologetically for women, about women, a love letter to who we are, the best and worst of us, held high and true, so we can glow as brightly as we dare."—Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author
"Leesa Cross-Smith writes the way many people wish they could: ferociously, tenderly, and with a tremendous amount of heart. The stories contained in So We Can Glow showcase the very best of Cross-Smith's voice. They stick with readers long after the book is closed. This collection is tantalizing and Cross-Smith is a delight."—Kristen Arnett, New York Times bestselling author of Mostly Dead Things
"A joyous embracing of modern womanhood with all its pitfalls and landmines . . . This is short fiction that packs a wallop . . . It's easy to see more than a dash of everything good in these entertaining, spirited tales."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"The magic of So We Can Glow is that no matter who you are, no matter your circumstances, no matter your gender identity, when reading this book you become the girls and women in these pages. You hope their hopes, dream their dreams, fantasize and love alongside them. Leesa Cross-Smith is some sort of sorceress."—Rion Amilcar Scott, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize-winning author of Insurrections and The World Doesn't Require You
"I so admire these stirring, sexy, haunting stories about the darkest corners of women's inner lives. A treat for the soul and the senses, and funny too. Leesa Cross-Smith is a wonderful storyteller."—Alexia Arthurs, award-winning author of How to Love a Jamaican
"So We Can Glow is precise and yearning in all the right ways. Cross-Smith understands sex and lust and love and all the ways they can get crossed up. Inventive in form, drifting from poetry to prose to script to smartphone text to receipt, Cross-Smith explores our affections, how they flourish or, more often, unravel, and her writing delivers this wisdom with blunt honesty and sex appeal to spare. It brings into existence secrets we didn't even know we had."—JM Holmes, award-winning author of How Are You Going to Save Yourself
"These stories, brief but dense with emotion, will make you feel like you're falling in love -- again and again and again. They drop the reader into moments that feel soaked with longing, like strawberries in champagne. Through Cross-Smith's characters, we experience the messiness, the ache, but mostly the glory of female desire."—Amy Bonnaffons, author of The Regrets and The Wrong Heaven
"Different as they are, all the stories focus on the strange hearts of women and girls -- brave and broken, longing and loving -- and weave together to create this structurally playful and lyrically rich second collection."—The Millions, "Most Anticipated: The Great First Half 2020 Book Preview"
"Examines -- and delights in -- female obsession and desire . . . nodding to the complicated, indelible bonds between women."—Buzzfeed, "The Most Anticipated Books of 2020"
"If you're in need of some summer vibes, look no further than this short story collection from Leesa Cross-Smith . . .the characters in these stories are fully realized and compelling. With a magic mix of the bonds between women, sensual detail, a dash of nostalgia, and a lot of heart, this collection is an engrossing read that's perfect for bringing some light into winter."—Electric Literature
"[A] rich collection . . . follows women exploring desire, desperation, and despair. The brief opener, 'We, Moons,' an explosion of slam cadence, serves as a battle hymn of self-determination and sisterhood that thematically unites the subsequent narratives . . . The delightfully idiosyncratic prose distinguishes each of the narrator's points of view within common themes of love, friendship, sex, and loyalty. These stories showcase the wide range of Cross-Smith's talent."—Publishers Weekly
"A multifaceted picture of female desire."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Already lauded as an engrossing collection...From friendships to motherly bonds, Cross-Smith writes about the experiences of women in a way that will both tug at your heart and have you you kiki'ing as well."—Refinery29
"The stories . . . feature vivid sensory detail; the author has a gift for describing smells in particular and using them to conjure emotion...the language is rich and the sentiment fresh . . . brilliant writing and insight."—Kirkus Reviews
"So We Can Glow is a hurricane! ... [Leesa Cross-Smith] gives women their entire spectrum of being! They are interesting and gentle and mean and introspective! They do not exist because of men and in fact the men exist because of them. Amen."—Monet Thomas, Interviews Editor for The Rumpus
"Cross-Smith has the ability to draw you in as a reader and she uses EVERY damn word to grab your attention and not let it go. You can see not only yourself in her literary harem of characters, but your mother, aunts, friends, neighbors, and strangers. I find myself going back and re-reading her prose and discovering something new—a theme, a belief, some tidbit of lusty wisdom I believe is only meant for me. I can’t say enough good things about this book.”—Catherine Adel West, author of Saving Ruby King, Bookish
"Perfect for summer."—Southern Living
"The stories are full of emotion, and about women and the things that we struggle with."—Jasmine Guillory, The Oprah Magazine, "The Best Books to Read While Social Distancing, According to Authors"
"The 42 stories in the collection come together to celebrate the power of a woman's desires."—Woman's Day
"Cross-Smith is an author...with a thrilling talent for language. This is a book about womanhood in all its luscious, secret and confounding incarnations...Regardless of length, these stories unfold intelligently but organically. More poetry than prose, if you don't know what it's like to be a woman when you start reading, you'll have a pretty good idea by the end."—Chatelaine
"Whether they serve as inspiration or warnings, these stories remind us of the exhilarating possibilities that arise from being fun-loving, fearless, humanly flawed -- and female. They offer us permission to not take ourselves too seriously and to laugh, let go and move on so we can glow -- and grow."—Sisters from AARP
"Inventive. Authentic. Honest."—Craft Literary
"Leesa Cross-Smith is a consummate storyteller who uses her formidable talents to tell the oft-overlooked stories of people living in that great swath of place between the left and right coasts . . . Where she is most stunning is in the endings . . . creating crisp, evocative moments that will linger long after you've read this book's very last word."—Roxane Gay (praise for Every Kiss A War)
"A melodic debut . . . nuanced."—O, The Oprah Magazine, "Top Books of Summer" (praise for Whiskey & Ribbons)
"Cross-Smith's thrilling debut novel, Whiskey and Ribbons, is as immediate and compelling as music. Her three lovers tell their stories, each turning over what we think we know, creating a moving triptych on love, desire, and grief, and the unexpected families life makes for us."—Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night (praise for Whiskey & Ribbons)
"Beautiful and brutal, a gut-punch and a poem--I love this book. I love its characters, their complicated tangle of desire and grief. I love its craft, the back and forth dance between memory and possibility. I found myself talking aloud to Evangeline: Let go, I whispered. Or maybe she whispered it to me. I don't know. She's inside of me now, my head and my heart. I'll tell you what: Cross-Smith is a master."—Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life (praise for Whiskey & Ribbons)
Grand Central Publishing, 9781538715338, 256pp.
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. How does the first story, “We, Moons,” set the stage for the rest of the collection?
2. The author frequently returns to specific motifs, such as the moon, lip gloss, and summer heat. What other motifs and/or themes do you notice that link the stories together? What moods, emotions, or sensations do they evoke?
3. In “Teenage Dream Time Machine,” a mother observes that: “all the women our age…we were practically living the same life! We’re all connected…like magic.” Do you agree? If so, what bonds do you think tie women together?
4. The story “California, Keep Us” offers a different perspective on “Chateau Marmont, Champagne, Chanel.” How does “California, Keep Us” change your understanding of the characters?
5. What other stories are linked together? Why do you think the author chose to revisit those particular ones?
6. How does the play format of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” help to deepen or challenge your perception of the complicated relationships between the characters? How else does the author play with format in this collection, and why?
7. How do the forces of obsession and desire impact different women throughout the book?
8. What kinds of love—familial, platonic, romantic, or otherwise—do you see represented in this collection?
9. In what ways do you think certain stories and characters challenge or comply with our expectations of what it means to be a woman?
10. How does setting reflect or affect the characters’ behavior in various stories?
11. How does the final story, “A Girl Has Her Secrets,”wrap up the collection as a whole?
12. Which was your favorite story and why? Were there any that you found particularly moving or relatable?
13. Why do you think the author chose So We Can Glow for the title?