Alice Bolin
Photo courtesy Idyllwild Arts Foundation

“Everyone loves the dead girl,” writes Alice Bolin in her new collection, “Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession” (William Morrow/HarperCollins).

It’s a provocative claim that leaves Bolin, a University of Memphis visiting assistant professor of English, with some ’splaining to do — perhaps during her appearance on the Idyllwild Arts campus at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in the Fireside Room at Nelson Dining Hall.

In a recent New York Times (https://tinyurl.com/y8holfac), Carina Chocano’s review of Bolin’s “deliciously dry, moody” book suggested that the dead girl is “a blank slate onto which a male protagonist can project his fantasies, mostly about himself.”

Bolin is remembered as dry but not moody by Idyllwild Arts students and colleagues who enjoyed her stint as poet-in-residence from 2014 to 2016. For all her good humor, though, Bolin was unsettled enough by the first year of HBO’s popular “True Detective” series to publish the well-received essay that led to her book.

She argued that “The Dead Girl Show” — “Twin Peaks” and “Pretty Little Liars” girls are other examples — relies on “two odd, contradictory messages for women”: girls are “wild, vulnerable creatures who need to be protected from the power of their own sexualities.” Yet they must “trust no dad” because “father figures and male authorities hold a sinister interest in controlling girl bodies and harming them.”

Provocative, indeed, as well as challenging. Bolin’s incisive, wide-ranging intelligence won’t permit her to avoid challenges. Anyone who visits the Idyllwild Arts campus on Oct. 4 to listen to her read will hear the challenge, and the intelligence.

Bolin lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Special areas of interest for her critical essays about literature, country music and popular culture include murder, makeup, social media, poetry and 20th century women writers.

She earned her master’s in fine arts in poetry from the University of Montana, has published many poems and stories, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession” is her first book.

Admission is free and open to the public.

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