Carnegie Mellon + 2014


“Kathryn Rhett’s subtle, serpentine personal essays are utterly beguiling. They’re anchored in the themes of midlife — family, home, attachment, early losses. They affirm and celebrate the settled life, but there’s nothing smug about Rhett’s acceptance of her own maturity. She’s too honest not to confess her ambivalence. Why, she asks – for example — does living a responsible life somehow alienate us from ourselves?

Rhett’s prose is impeccable, but unpretentious. Her style is clear and fluid, her voice quiet, but absolutely distinctive. After reading the essays in SOUVENIR, I feel I know their author and her world. I would recognize her work anywhere, with no name attached.”  –Emily Fox Gordon, author of Book of Days, and The Mockingbird Years

Souvenir by Kathryn Rhett is a wonderful collection of travel essays, and it is also a wonderful collection of essays about the domestic. And it is a wonderful personal memoir. I’d admire it alone for the ways Rhett plays easily and fluidly with different genres and styles of nonfiction writing, and the way she doesn’t waver or lose her wit on deep matters. Its true strength, though, is that Souvenir is really beautifully written—sentence by sentence, page by page, there’s so much pleasure to be had from its sound sense and descriptive precision that you could almost read it like poetry.” —Andrew Levy, author of A Brain Wider than the Sky: A Migraine Diary and The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves

“In Kathryn Rhett’s elegant and perceptive Souvenir, a self-described ‘serial nester’ leaves on journeys real and imagined, guiding her lucky readers through landscapes as inviting as her essays. Whether traveling by land, sea, air, or Subaru, or into a past that ‘never leaves you,’ the destination is the same: the rich, varied terrain of the human heart.” —Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Tribal Knot and The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings

“Kathryn Rhett writes personal essays for grown-ups. At the least since Virginia Woolf appraised MIDDLEMARCH, critics have extolled the rare novel “written for grown-up people,” with George Eliot’s masterpiece as the apex. But where is the creative nonfiction so dear to the reader who has lived awhile? Kathryn Rhett writes it. In SOUVENIR, her impeccable reflections on life’s derailments and fulfillments, her wry yet open-minded observations remind and reveal how accumulated experiences, large and small, lay us low or lift us up in unexpected ways.” —Barbara Jones, Executive Editor, Henry Holt & Company

“Kathryn Rhett’s wondrous collection of essays, Souvenir, gathers reflections and remembrances from a complex web of memories. Her meditations roam over an American childhood that is resonant with family intimacy and wreckage both; she reweaves those raw desires of a young woman ready for sexuality and unknown adventures; and yet the recollections of Kathryn Rhett’s adult travels and domestic passage show that she has discovered new boundaries are always ever-present—to be understood, and if possible, transgressed and transcended. There is a natural, inevitable wisdom to these essays, and their surprises never cease.” —David St. John, author of The Auroras and nine other volumes of poetry and essays

Souvenir, a collection of autobiographical essays rooted in the present, investigates travel, staying put, and how it is that our experience of being here right now includes so much of being elsewhere at another time. How is it that getting blood drawn, egg-sitting the third grade science project, or searching for a missing uncle summons to mind whole personal or public histories? Rhett reconciles present to past in serious encounters with birth and death, alongside lighter observations. In a world that makes little sense except the sense we make of it, Souvenir plays with the dynamics of home and away, present and past, memory and story.