Heather Radke on the Profundity of Our Unruly Bodies
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Heather Radke joins Jordan to talk about Butts: A Backstory, the playful invitation of the book’s title, the general unruliness of bodies, and the joys of a JSTOR deep-dive.
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From the conversation:
Heather Radke: A thing that I kept finding and I took such delight in over and over again is just the ways that human bodies—and honestly probably animal bodies too—resist our weird human need to categorize and order and manage.
One of the things I really loved when I was talking to this woman, Abigail, who helped me to understand all that stuff about sizing, she said this thing, “bodies are unruly.” I loved that. Yeah, bodies are unruly. They’re not going to let us be interchangeable parts on a car. That’s not how it works. All of our bodies are specific and strange, and the desire to fit them into racial categories or into size categories or to manage them, to make them knowable in this industrial-age way—they won’t let us! Our bodies just will not let us do that. I think that can make us all feel very bad, and that’s kind of where it’s gone.
But there’s this other way you can go with it, which is like, isn’t that kind of fun and funny and amazing that our bodies do that for us? They let us be specific and weird and different, and if we could celebrate that and be excited about it, that would actually be kind of profound.
Heather Radke is the author of Butts: A Backstory as well as an essayist, journalist, and contributing editor and reporter at Radiolab, the Peabody Award–winning program from WNYC. She has written for publications including The Believer, Longreads, and The Paris Review, and she teaches at Columbia University’s creative writing MFA Program. Before becoming a writer, Heather worked as a curator at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago.