How Cassandra floats: books that influenced Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho

By Galley Beggar Press

How Cassandra floats: books that influenced Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho

By Galley Beggar Press

“One she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in—and that is herself.”  

—Cassandra, in “A Society” from Monday or Tuesday, by Virginia Woolf


While I was writing After Sappho, I wanted to read books that re-imagined lives, histories, biographies, & intimacies in new forms. I looked for writers who were inventing ways to recount a whole life from a half-line, writers who sliced through the usual stories to get to the undersides, writers who had unmoored their books from categories like ‘historical fiction.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found that many of these writers were women. 


Anne Carson’s poem “Cassandra Float Can” begins, “Everywhere Cassandra ran Cassandra found she could float. How did she float?” These are five writers who taught me who Cassandra might be (she goes under many names), and, more importantly, how she can move fluidly through narrative. I admired these writers because they knew what to leave out and when to dive in. They could tell who was wayward and what had been left unsaid. I could not do what they could do, but when I looked up to them, I could see Cassandra above me, floating.

Selby Wynn Schwartz

After Sappho

Selby Wynn Schwartz


The Book of Salt

Monique Truong

£9.99 £9.49

This book arose from a scant, patronizing allusion in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook to some “Indo-Chinese” chefs employed at 27 rue de Fleurus, a household better known for Gertrude Stein’s literary genius. By turning the standard history of the Lost Generation inside out, Monique Truong creates space for a different queer (and post-colonial) narrative of 1920s-30s Paris. I was struck by the fact that Bình, the narrator of the novel, defines time as if it were floating: “… time can also be measured in terms of water, in terms of the distance traveled while drifting on it. When measured in this way, nearer and farther are the path of time’s movement, not continuously forward along a fast straight line. When measured in this way, time loops and curlicues, and at any given moment it can spiral me away…”

Family Lexicon

Natalia Ginzburg

£10.99 £10.44

Natalia Ginzburg sets her characters adrift with such a sure hand; anything might happen to them, but she is always there to catch them in the midst of it, exactly as they are. After a paragraph you feel that you have known her characters forever, and that you will follow them, fondly exasperated, through spoiled yogurts and snatches of opera into the tragedies of fascism. In the preface to this book, Natalia Ginzburg offers advice on reading histories as fictions: “I have written only what I remember. If read as a history, one will object to the infinite lacunae. Even though the story is real, I think one should read it as if it were a novel, and therefore not demand of it any more or less than a novel can offer.”

Orlando (Vintage Classics Woolf Series)

Virginia Woolf

£8.99 £8.54

Being both a book and its protagonist, Orlando is an utterly singular narrative form: a fictional biography, an intimate joke, a novel that outlives itself, a meditation on gender & genre. Near the end of the novel, after many daring feats of gender and literature, Orlando reflects: “everything was partly something else, and each gained an odd moving power from this union of itself and something not itself so that with this mixture of truth and falsehood her mind became like a forest in which things moved; lights and shadows changed, and one thing became another.”

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals

Saidiya Hartman

£11.99 £11.39

Saidiya Hartman calls her creative counter-histories “critical fabulations,” and in this book she delves into the experiences of young Black women at the turn of the twentieth century. With great tenderness, she places the perspectives of courageously rebellious Black women and girls at the center of a history that has often criminalized and silenced them. In the preface, she explains how she envisions “The Chorus” of her characters: “All the unnamed young women of the city trying to find a way to live an in search of beauty.”


Anne Carson

£20.00 £19.00

A constellation of chapbooks, Float is less a book than an archipelago of poems, lyric essays, and stunning glimpses of what Anne Carson thinks about. I adore these lines from the poem “Cassandra Float Can”: “Who is Cassandra? For a dime she will tell you that the swimming pool is full of blood. Like spacetime, she is nonlinear, nonnarrative and the most beautiful of Priam’s daughters according to Homer who says that when she stood up to prophesy she shone like a lamp in a bomb shelter.”

We use cookies and similar methods to recognize visitors and remember their preferences. We also use them to help detect unauthorized access or activity that violate our terms of service, as well as to analyze site traffic and performance for our own site improvement efforts. To learn more about these methods, including how to disable them view our Cookie Policy.