Longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN/Jean Stein Award
A TIME, NPR, New York Public Library, Lit Hub, Book Riot, and Entropy Best Book of the Year
“Beguiling and haunting. . . . Washuta's voice sears itself onto the skin.” —The New York Times Book Review
Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.
In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—TwinPeaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.
Bracingly honest and powerfully affecting, White Magic establishes Elissa Washuta as one of our best living essayists.
About the Author
Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a nonfiction writer. She is the author of Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. With Theresa Warburton, she is co-editor of the anthology Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the Ohio State University.
Necessary and magical.
Exactly what you need right now.
— O, The Oprah Magazine
A web of honest examination of self and context. . . . A vibration that asks the body to listen, and rewards it for doing so.
— The Seattle Times
Nobody in the country uses more innovative nonfiction forms than Washuta.
— The Stranger
A well of invention and imagination.
— The Believer
A fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman's search for meaning.
— Kirkus, Starred Review
Her skill at transforming writing clichés and well-worn cultural signifiers into fresh insights is alchemical.
— The A.V. Club
— Book Riot
Seamless and scalding.
Incantatory, impassioned. . . . [A] wholly magical look at learning how to recognize the power that rests within you.
Resonant and weighty.
An innovative and deeply felt work to sink into.
— The Millions
As an essay collection, White Magic is as beautifully complex as it is illuminating. Washuta is a conjurer here, able to effortlessly showcase her talents while simultaneously pulling you close, as if she might suddenly reveal all her secrets. She is a genius at the art of subtle misdirection. Reading this book felt like being shown an expertly performed magic trick: deftly, flawlessly. No loose threads revealed. The work is funny and wry, it's thought-provoking and tender. It's a sleight of hand performed by a true master of the craft. White Magic is magnificent and Elissa Washuta is spellbinding. There is no one else like her.
— Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things
Elissa Washuta is exactly the writer we need right now: as funny as she is formidable a thinker, as thoughtful as she is inventive—her scrutiny is a fearless tool, every subject whittled to its truest form. White Magic is a bracingly original work that enthralled me in a hypnosis on the other side of which I was changed for the better, more likely to trust my own strange intelligence.
— Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart, Abandon Me, & Girlhood
White magic, red magic, Stevie Nicks magic—this is Elissa Washuta magic, which is a spell carved from a life, written in blood, and sealed in an honesty I can hardly fathom.
— Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indian
In brilliant, clear-eyed prose, Elissa Washuta maps a magical passage into (and back out of) the underworld, through knotty legacies of violence and longing and love. Part history, part riddle, part portal: this book worked on me like a spell. I've never read anything like White Magic, and will be returning to it again and again.
— Claire Comstock-Gay, author of Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars
You're going to feel like you’re drownfloating reading this diary of pain and meditation and wish for magic where every word helps Elissa Washuta’s soul return to her body. White Magic is as haunting as the work of Beckylane’s Where The Rivers Join and as eerily hypnotic as Kate Schatz’s Rid of Me. These pages are windows into a black lodge where Twin Peaks and Fleetwood Mac are on repeat—sometimes forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes in blackout blur. I stand in awe of everything here. What an incredible and wounding read.
— Richard Van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed and Godless but Loyal to Heaven