"White Magic": Elissa Washuta uses words to astound and amaze

April 7, 2021

"White Magic": Elissa Washuta uses words to astound and amaze

Black, white and red illustration

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome to the stage Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at The Ohio State University, Elissa Washuta. Her act for the evening will be her book, White Magic.

*Thunderous applause* 

At least, that’s how I imagine an on-stage reception for Washuta’s new book. Even though we are still nearly month away from its release on April 27, the applause from readers who received advanced copies has already been ringing throughout the internet.  

“It’s unlike any other book out there and will certainly launch Washuta’s meteoric rise.”—BookPage 

“In a lesser writer’s hands, this’d be a mess, but Washuta is thoroughly gifted on the page—imagination, intelligence, candor, wit, precision.”—Stefan Milne, Seattle Met

“… White Magic is a delight and a challenge.”—Danielle Ballantyne, Foreword Magazine 

In a starred review, Kirkus echoed the sentiments of other reviewers, calling White Magic a “fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman's search for meaning.”  

Headshot of Assistant Professor Elissa Washuta
Photo by Marcus Jackson

According to Washuta herself, “White Magic is a collection of intertwined personal essays about land, heartbreak and how I became a powerful witch.” Not to be confused with popular culture conceptions of witchcraft, Washuta, a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, found herself drawn to the spirits her ancestors looked to and the traditions of magic they practiced. This magic-centered book takes us all on Washuta’s journey of walking towards healing and finding meaning in the world around her.  

No specific moment inspired White Magic, Washuta says. Rather, she writes a bit compulsively, using her writing as a way to understand her own self and her world. Once she felt like she knew where the book was headed, she decided to use the form of the essay to make sense of her “self-destructive romantic relationship patterns.” 

On a technical level, Washuta describes this book as an encyclopedic collection of memories and cultural artifacts. She also commented that she sees the book as “a successful experiment in using the narrative element of time in a new way and in employing motifs to evoke the feeling of wonder at magic that is the core concern of the book.”  

Her second full-length book to be released, White Magic proved difficult to write. “A second book is pretty much universally hard to write, from what I understand,” she says. “The process becomes real; it’s weighed down by the knowledge that there is difficulty and heartbreak ahead. And being a better writer often makes the writing harder.” For many years of the drafting process, she also juggled multiple part-time jobs on top of her writing.  

Once Washuta began teaching at Ohio State, she found that focusing her work life on creative writing improved her mental capacity to write alongside working, and the summer of 2018 provided time to focus only on writing.  

During the many years she spent drafting this book, Washuta initially kept trying to find ways to make her writing "palatable and easy." However, she ultimately chose a more experimental route, seeking to write a book that she would be satisfied with if it were the last book she ever wrote. And these experiments paid off: while Washuta expected some of them might "fall flat," they ended up being her favorite parts of the book, a sentiment shared by her advance readers. 

As she shares White Magic with the world, she hopes that “the book will evoke, for readers who can identify with this story of falling for the wrong men, the feeling of searching for signs that everything will be okay.” 

Additionally, she hopes that the reader will walk away from her book simply impressed. While she admits that writers are usually not supposed to say that, her book’s relationship to magic is the reason she feels that this hope is appropriate. “…[M]agicians feature prominently in this book, and they’re pretty open about the fact that they want to amaze and astound. I would be delighted if readers felt like they’d just attended a magic show. That’s all I want,” Washuta says.  

After the release of White Magic, she will be going on a virtual book tour. For years, Washuta has looked forward to an in-person book tour, and she admitted that the loss of that format is a bit heartbreaking. However, she is not letting this quell her excitement about the tour and is looking forward to being able to participate in so many events in such a short period of time. “I’m going to be talking to a dream line-up of friends. I just can’t wait to see them and talk to them!” she adds. She is also looking forward to potentially being able to do an in-person tour when the paperback version of White Magic releases, although the date for that release is unknown at this time.  

White Magic will be out on April 27, 2021. Check out publisher Tin House's website to learn more!

By Callia Steiner

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