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Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag


From the author of The Friend, winner of the 2018 National Book Award.
"The masterpiece of the ‘I knew Susan’ minigenre" – A.O. Scott, The New York Times

A poignant, intimate memoir of one of America’s most esteemed and fascinating cultural figures, and a deeply felt tribute.

Sigrid Nunez was an aspiring writer when she first met Susan Sontag, already a legendary figure known for her polemical essays, blinding intelligence, and edgy personal style. Sontag introduced Nunez to her son, the writer David Rieff, and the two began dating. Soon Nunez moved into the apartment that Rieff and Sontag shared. As Sontag told Nunez, “Who says we have to live like everyone else?”

Sontag’s influence on Nunez, who went on to become a successful novelist, would be profound. Described by Nunez as “a natural mentor” who saw educating others as both a moral obligation and a source of endless pleasure, Sontag inevitably infected those around her with her many cultural and intellectual passions. In this poignant, intimate memoir, Nunez speaks of her gratitude for having had, as an early model, “someone who held such an exalted, unironic view of the writer’s vocation.”

Published more than six years after Sontag’s death, Sempre Susan is a startlingly truthful portrait of this outsized personality, who made being an intellectual a glamorous occupation.

"A fresh and touching book…[Nunez’s] genuine curiosity about her own experience—her memories of love lost, youth and youth lost—is the quality that gives this book an elegant, almost compulsive readability." –The New York Review of Books

"A loving memoir, full of arresting details and an occasionally spirited defense of her mentor…Sontag [once] remarked that all her work says ‘be serious, be passionate, wake up.’ Clearly someone was listening." –The Los Angeles Times

"Susan Sontag roars to life…As magnetic and complicated as Sontag herself, Nunez’s homage is both critical and compassionate…[an] elegantly crafted chronicle of a young writer’s artistic education." –Vanity Fair

"Nunez, an uncompromising talent in her own right, offers the most vibrant and multifaceted portrait of Sontag to date."—Vogue

"Nunez has constructed a eulogy that mythologizes and humanizes one of the most intimidating figures of contemporary culture."—The Boston Globe

"Sempre Susan doesn’t just evoke Susan Sontag, the person, with hard-won sympathy, insight, and cool; it contains (in a very tiny space) material for an entire novel of idealism and disillusionment….this memoir captures the spirit of her times."—The Paris Review, Staff Picks 

"Sontag once wrote about feeling estranged from the ‘Susan Sontag’ who stood on the spine of the books she had written. In Nunez’s Sempre Susan, the gap between the writer and the person who wrote the books is made all the more vividly real—a reminder of the extraordinary transformative work that goes into writing in the first place."—Slate

"Nunez, now a fine novelist, has written a clear-eyed tribute…With an eye for the telling detail, this intimate and occasionally raw portrait makes it plain that despite all Sontag’s public renown, much of her was entirely mysterious." –The Economist 

"A wonderful novelist remembers Susan Sontag as a writer, mentor, woman, friend and enthusiastic lover of a vanished New York." –Katha Pollitt, The Nation’s Summer Reading List 

"Nunez’s book is an elegy for a great woman and the company she kept, the vanished salon where she was the center."—The New York Observer

"A boldly intimate, stingingly frank, and genuinely fascinating memoir."—Booklist

"Graceful, respectful and achingly honest."—Kirkus

"Sigrid Nunez’s intimate portrayal of Susan Sontag will fascinate both ardent Sontag fans and those who have never read her work. This memoir is at once a window into the writing life in general, an examination of the complexities of one artist in particular, and a tribute to the lost intellectual New York City of the 1970s. Remarkably, it’s as honest as it is affectionate and as sad as it is charming."—Curtis Sittenfeld

"Sempre Susan is written with quiet authority, flashes of poetry, and a steady accumulation of startling, precise details, some apocryphal (Sontag didn’t know what a dragonfly was? drank blood as a child?), until by the end Sontag the Myth comes to life. What is amazing about this wonderful book is that by the end we know as much about Nunez as we do about Sontag, by the very focus of her attention, by her perception of the myth, by her compassionate interpretation."—Nick Flynn

"This detailed, nuanced account of the more private side of a complex, contradictory public figure is told with even-handed good humor and more than a little compassion. Utterly absorbing."—Lydia Davis

"The best thing written about Sontag."—Edmund White

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