Who better to shepherd us through a once-in-a-century pandemic than Rebecca Solnit? The prolific essayist, activist, and critic has long acted as a lodestar for progressives to follow in times of despair, providing encouragement to find Hope in the Dark (2004), as she did in a collection of essays after the beginning of the Iraq War, and demonstrating how human ingenuity can shine through in the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina in A Paradise Built in Hell (2009).
It’s not surprising, then, that Solnit has been widely sought in 2020 to dispense her trademark brand of radical hope that we will emerge in better, fairer shape after our Covid-19 nightmare. But the Solnit we meet in Recollections of My Non-Existence, a memoir which covers her early years of adulthood, is not the Solnit we know today. This is a nineteen-year-old loner trying to find her voice as a writer in San Francisco against the insistent drumbeat of the threat of male violence, a writer who is ‘unbearably anxious, preoccupied, indignant and exhausted’.