How Rebecca Solnit Became the Voice of the Resistance

Solnit the oddball essayist was suddenly and unexpectedly a progressive icon, a wise female elder. Her writings on the environment, gender, human rights and violence against women, all of which went back decades, scattered among her many other subjects, seemed suddenly and remarkably prescient. Her work — both new and old — is much discussed on Twitter and cited in op-eds, and the books themselves — she’s published 10 in the last 10 years — hold prime real estate at bookstores across the country. Solnit writes a column for Harper’s Magazine and contributes regularly to The Guardian and the London Review of Books, as well as to Literary Hub, a website that she, at 56 and widely celebrated, has no reason to even know exists. She agrees to interviews, and posts long, magazine-ready treatises on Facebook, which are read and shared, effusively and often histrionically, by her 100,000-plus followers.

In other words, Solnit is a certain kind of celebrity, if a reluctant one. ‘‘I feel that it’s really important to not depend on all this in any sense and not let this define my worth or work,’’ she said on the phone. ‘‘I wrote ‘Hope in the Dark’ 14 years ago. Am I somehow better or smarter now than I was then?’’ The answer, of course, is no. Strange as it is to say, Solnit’s newfound popularity reveals more about her readers than it does her. That the book, and her other suddenly timely work, was not written in the last several months, but rather years prior, makes its ideas seem even truer, giving it the veneer of sacred text. She has become a Cassandra figure of the left, her writing, which seems magically to have long ago said the things that many Americans now most want to hear, consumed as both balm and rallying cry.

Solnit, of course, isn’t the first author of ideas that now seem eerily predictive. Figures from recent literary pasts are often reclaimed as voices of cultural presents. Three paragraphs published in 1998 by the late philosopher Richard Rorty, which seem to have foretold the outcome of the 2016 election, went viral last fall, sending sales of the scholarly book in which they originally appeared, ‘‘Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America,’’ soaring. Eileen Myles’s decades-old poetry has been seized upon lately by readers newly curious about and sensitive to discussions of gender fluidity. The art critic and novelist Chris Kraus, once an obscure favorite of female…

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