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July 21, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Sarah McCarry

Kate Hart
Sarah McCarry headshot
When I was first dipping a toe into the writing waters, I came across a blog called "The Rejectionist" and immediately became obsessed. It had wry but helpful posts like "In Which We Answer The Rhetorical Questions Posed By Your Queries" and "How to Have a Better Blog" and "Please Don't Summarize Your Entire Novel in the Subject Header Even If It's About Plastic Surgeons On a Rampage of Evil Which We Agree is Very Ex," but it was posts like "A Pictorial Essay on Vampire Habitats" and "Chloe Does the Tables" and "Thou Shalt Not Fall" that convinced me I should become friends with its author posthaste.

Naturally, I began to follow her around the internet read everything she wrote, which became easier when she gave in to my adoration sold a book. While I pestered her for an ARC eagerly awaited her publication day, she continued to write eviscerating pieces like "Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope of Someone Saying Something Intelligent?" and necessary pieces like "How to Publish Writers of Color: Some Basic Steps for White Folks In the Industry" and beautiful personal pieces like "Muscle Memory." I held my breath through her debut, All Our Pretty Songs, and breathed a sigh of relief when I honestly adored it and its follow up, Dirty Wings.

Last week saw the release of her third book, About A Girl, and I love it and its unapologetic main lady character almost as much as I love Sarah herself. Almost.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Sarah : I'm a writer. I'm also a publisher and an archivist and a printer and an all-out hustler for money; I do a lot of freelance work and I have a couple of day jobs. I've always been a writer, although it took me a really long time to admit that out loud; but early on I started thinking about paid work as the labor that allowed you to eat and pay rent while you did the work that was meaningful to you-in my case traveling and getting in trouble for a long time, and writing. I've had a million paid jobs, some of them amazing (overnight shift worker in a domestic violence shelter, member of a timber crew, print shop manager) and some of them not so much (food service and desks, mostly). The reality of being a writer for the vast majority of people is that you won't be able to make a living solely off your books, so it's good practice out of the gate to figure out things you are willing and able to do for money that leave you with enough room to also make work that you love. The things that are important to me are writing, art, community, love, travel, and overthrowing capitalism (not necessarily in that order), so I prioritize those projects and figure out how to make them happen. That's been my M.O. for a long time now: set up lofty goals, and then find a way to build ladders.

Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Badass
Kate: Do you have any creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Sarah : My most meaningful work also happens to be my creative outlet, which is pretty awesome. But I do a lot of other things, too-I print letterpress, and make zines and calendars, and I am diligent letter-writer. Clothes are a huge creative outlet for me. I read all the time. In my limited free time I like to lie about listening to goth music and thinking goth thoughts.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Sarah : My own brain, in a close tie with never having enough time.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Sarah : I have a pretty unassailable ego, to be honest. But I also work hard not to think of my life in terms of failure and success (not always successfully, ha); when I look back at moments that felt like setbacks at the time, a different opportunity always came along later that I wouldn't have found if my original plan had worked out. I think things happen for us when we're ready for them to happen, but when we think we're ready and when we're actually ready aren't always the same time.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Sarah : "I was trying to describe the Concrete Blonde album 'Bloodletting' to someone and finally said 'It's like if Sarah was a record.'"

Sarah McCarry and EinsteinKate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Sarah : I started working in domestic violence shelters, first as a volunteer and later as a staff person, when I was around 18, and I kept doing that work off and on for the next ten years or so, until I moved to New York. I went into it with this sort of delusional aspiration, as a sheltered middle-class white girl, that I was going to, I don't know, save people or something, and I deservedly got my ass handed to me on a platter. But once I put aside my own savior complex I was able to build the most incredible relationships with the women living in shelter and the women working in shelter, many of whom were queer women of color who taught me so much about intersectional feminism and social justice and the massive failures of the system we live in. That time in my life totally transformed me. The work itself, which was heartbreaking, because there are basically no options for poor women and children in danger and because we live in a country that routinely enforces those lack of options and then punishes women further for being without them, and which showed me first-hand how irrevocably racist and misogynist and putrid that system is. But also the friendships that I made doing that work, the generosity and patience of the women that I worked with, the radical compassion they brought to that job every day, their faith in each other and their faith in our clients. Everything that I've done since then, literally everything, has been informed by those women and that part of my life.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Sarah : I mean, just, like, do it. Say you're doing it. Be explicit about doing it. Go to the mat for other women. Insist that your own work matters and that art by women matters and work by women matters. And I mean all women: trans and queer and working-class and poor women, women of color, indigenous women, the women who sew your clothes and the women who make your iPhones, the women who are invisible to the dominant culture, women of all genders and bodies and lives and experiences. Love is not the only radical act, but it's a good start. Look for the women raising hell: those are the women whose solidarity you want to earn.

Sarah McCarry standing beside warning signKate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Sarah : Love yourself and trust yourself. Modesty and humility are overrated, but gratitude is priceless. And, as the punks say, you don't have to fuck people over to survive.


Sarah McCarry was born in Seattle and lives in New York. She is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About A Girl, and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Her work has been shortlisted for the James Tiptree, Jr. award and the Norton award and was the recipient of a fellowship from the MacDowell colony. She has written for Glamour, the New York Times Book Review, the Stranger, and Refinery29, among other places.

You can also find her at:

Twitter: @therejectionist
Instagram: sarahmccarry

Watch the Badass Ladies You Should Know website for Sarah's list of badass ladies YOU should know!


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