Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson (born 1973) is an American writer. She is generally described as a genre-busting writer defying classification, working in autobiography, art criticism, theory, scholarship, and poetry. Nelson has been the recipient of a 2016 MacArthur Fellowship[1], a 2012 Creative Capital Literature Fellowship[2], a 2011 NEA Fellowship in Poetry[3], and a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction. Other honors include the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism and a 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant.

Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson at the San Francisco Public Library
Born1973 (age 4546)
Alma mater
  • Non-fiction
  • poetry
  • memoir
  • theory
Notable awardsMacArthur Fellow
SpouseHarry Dodge

Life and career

Nelson grew up in the Bay Area. She studied English at Wesleyan University, where she was taught by Annie Dillard. After college, she lived in New York City, where she trained as a dancer, worked at the Poetry Project of St. Mark’s Church, and studied informally with writer Eileen Myles. In 2004 she obtained a Ph.D. in English Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she studied with Wayne Koestenbaum and Eve Sedgwick, among others.

Nelson is the author of several critically acclaimed books of nonfiction and poetry. She also writes frequently on art, including essays on artists Sarah Lucas[4], Matthew Barney[5], Carolee Schneemann[6], A. L. Steiner[7], Kara Walker,[8] and Rachel Harrison[9].

Nelson has taught about writing, critical theory, art, aesthetics, and literature, at the Graduate Writing Program of the New School, Wesleyan University, Pratt Institute of Arts, and CalArts. Currently she is a Professor of English at USC.

Nelson is married to the artist Harry Dodge. They live with their family in Los Angeles.


The Argonauts (2015) won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism[10] and was a New York Times best-seller. It is a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, family-making, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language[11]. Nelson has described it as reflecting 20 years of living with and learning from feminist and queer theory.

The Art of Cruelty (2011), a work of cultural, art, and literary criticism, was featured on the front cover of the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times[12] and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year[13]. The book covers a wide range of topics, from Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings, from the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art, and offers a model of how one might balance strong ethical convictions with an equally strong appreciation for work that tests the limits of taste, taboo, and permissibility.[14] Bluets (2009) is an unclassifiable book of prose written in numbered segments that deals with pain, pleasure, heartbreak, and the consolations of philosophy, all through the lens of the color blue.[15] It quickly became a cult classic, and was named by Bookforum as one of the 10 best books of the past 20 years.[16]

Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (2007) is a scholarly book about gender and Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s through the 1980s. It focuses on the work of painter Joan Mitchell, poets Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Frank O’Hara, and poets Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, and Eileen Myles.[17] In 2008 the book was awarded the Susanne M. Glasscock Award for Interdisciplinary Scholarship.[18]

The Red Parts (2007) and Jane: A Murder (2005) both contend with the murder of Nelson’s aunt Jane near Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969.[19] Jane: A Murder (2005) explores the nature of this haunting incident via a collage of poetry, prose, dream-accounts, and documentary sources, including local and national newspapers, related “true crime” books, and fragments from Jane’s own diaries. Part elegy, part memoir, detective story, part meditation on sexual violence, and part conversation between the living and the dead, Jane is widely recognized as having expanded the notion of what poetry can do—what kind of stories it can tell, and how it can tell them.[20] It was a finalist for the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir.[21]

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial (2007) picks up where Jane left off, offering a prose account of the trial of a new suspect in Jane’s murder 36 years after the fact. Written in plain, trenchant prose reminiscent of Joan Didion, The Red Parts is a coming of age story, a documentary account of a trial, and a provocative essay interrogating the American obsession with violence and missing white women, and the nature of grief, justice, and empathy.[22]

Nelson’s collections of poetry include Something Bright, Then Holes (2007), The Latest Winter (2003), and Shiner (2001).


Nelson's work has included writing on art, feminism, queerness, sexual violence, the history of the avant-garde, aesthetic theory and philosophy.

Awards and honors


  • Shiner (Hanging Loose Press, 2001). OCLC 45223536
  • The Latest Winter (Hanging Loose Press, 2003). OCLC 50868215
  • Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005). OCLC 57506563
  • The Red Parts: A Memoir (Free Press, 2007). OCLC 71275645
  • Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull, 2007). OCLC 148844319
  • Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (University of Iowa Press, 2007). OCLC 609313973
  • Bluets (Wave Books, 2009). OCLC 303931395
  • The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011). OCLC 668194794
  • The Argonauts (Graywolf Press 2015). OCLC 889165103


  1. "MacArthur Fellows Program, Maggie Nelson, Class of 2016".
  2. "Creative Capital Literature Fellowship, Maggie Nelson".
  3. "NEA Literature Fellowships 2011, Maggie Nelson".
  4. Nelson, Maggie. “No excuses.” In Massimiliano Gioni and Margot Norton eds., Sarah Lucas: au naturel. New York: New Museum, 2018.
  5. Nelson, Maggie. “On Porousness, Perversity, and Pharmocopornographia: Matthew Barney’s OTTO Trilogy.” In Matthew Barney: OTTO Trilogy. New York: Gladstone Gallery, 2016.
  6. Nelson, Maggie. “The Reënchantment of Carolee Schneemann.” The New Yorker. March 15, 2019.
  7. Nelson, Maggie. “Puppies and Babies by A. L. Steiner.” In A.L. Steiner, Puppies & Babies, limited edition zine. Los Angeles: Otherwild.
  8. Nelson, Maggie. “On Kara Walker,” the New School for Social Research, NYC, NY.
  9. Nelson, Maggie. “Eighteen Theses on Rachel Harrison.” In David Joselit and Elisabeth Sussman eds., Rachel Harrison life hack. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2019.
  10. National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners for Publishing Year 2015. March 17, 2016.
  12. Laura Kipnis. "Why is Contemporary Art Addicted to Violence?" New York Times Sunday Book Review. July 14, 2011.
  13. 100 Notable Books of 2011. New York Times Sunday Book Review. November 21, 2011.
  16. Bookforum's 10 Favorites. The Oyster Review. October 2015.
  18. Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship Tenth Annual Prize (2008).
  21. PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir, 2006 Literary Award Winners.
  23. MFA Program News and Events Archived 2011-11-12 at the Wayback Machine
  24. National Endowment of the Arts 2011 Poetry Fellows Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine
  25. "100 Notable Books of 2015". The New York Times. 2015-11-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-09.
  26. Alexandra Alter (March 17, 2016). "'The Sellout' Wins National Book Critics Circle's Fiction Award". New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  27. "Maggie Nelson — MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2016-09-22.
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