Virtual Toast #4: Elissa Schappell

Elissa Schappell deserves all of the toasts for her work with Tinhouse alone. 

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A portrait of Miss Schappell by Ashlynn Cedrone.

who is she?

Schappell is a writer of novels, short stories, essays, and the co-founder and editor-at-large of TinHouse


what’s her story?

Schappell earned her MFA from NYU and post-graduation went on to work under Graydon Carter (current Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief) at Spy magazine. She’s contributed to GQ, Vanity Fair, been a senior editor at the Paris Review, and co-founded her own literary magazine. Basically, she is lit mag royalty.

Her 2011 book of short stories, Blueprints for Building Better Girls, is concerned with the post-1960s, post-first-wave feminist women who were told that they could “have it all.” It is unrelenting in its critique of that phrase and in its representations of the complexities, despairs, and confounding contradictions of modern womanhood. One of the most moving stories follows a young woman struggling with anorexia whose relationship with her mother is intimately tied up with food and, necessarily, with heartbreak. The most important relationships in the book are almost always those between mothers and daughters.


what makes her toast-worthy?

In an interview in Slice Magazine, Schappell had some shrewd words to say on the matter of muses and the creative process that, after E and I’s creative motivation conversation on Tuesday, seemed particularly apt:

“In my twenties I realized that the muse is a bum. The muse only shows up when you bait her by putting your ass in the chair. She can only be lured to your side by the sound of pounding keys, the smell of paper and ink. At some point (I imagine it was when the telephone company cut off our service) I realized it was time for me to start taking my life and my writing seriously. People who are serious about their work show up to work, day or night.”

She also understands the critical importance of good teachers. In her words, “we all have a teacher, if we’re lucky, who saved us.”


what are we drinking?

Schappell has a lovely dry sense of humour that is evident in her writing and in her many interviews. She is also intimately tied to New York City – she studied there, teaches there, and writes and lives in Brooklyn. It just makes sense that we would pick a Dorothy Parker-inspired cocktail with which to toast Ms. Schappell. So with that in mind, I am going to recommend the classic gin martini. Finished with an olive, of course.

Though we must watch our intake when toasting. As Dorothy Parker said: “I love a martini–/But two at the most./Three, I’m under the table;/Four, I’m under the host.”


learn more:

  • This New York Times review of her book Blueprints for Building Better Girls will certainly entice you to purchase and devour it at your earliest convenience.
  • Read the rest of her interview in Slice Magazine.
  • And another interview in The Rumpus.
  • Check out TinHouse and also pay close attention to their Writer’s Workshops.
  • She’s a book editor for Vanity Fair so check out her latest post on books to read.

xox J

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