After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz’s reimagining of the lives of 19th and 20th century women artists, activists and sapphists is a book I’ve always wanted to read. (And it’s just been longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize.)
Sappho, an Ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, was often called “the Poetess”. Plato called her the tenth Muse. Her writing is intimate, lyrical and sensual. It is unapologetically erotic, and mostly directed towards women. She’s been called history’s first lesbian.
Who among us lesbians hasn’t wanted to be loved by Sappho, be loved in the Sapphic way? To be Sappho – as in, as Wynn Schwartz writes in the prologue, “inside ourselves”, “sky pouring over”, “leaves of trees shivering”, “everything trembling”, “move when nothing touches”; as in the Sapphic fragment “the opposite / … daring”?
I remember the first time I became Sappho too.
A novel in fragments
After Sappho is a novel in fragments or cascading vignettes. It rolls like water, like waves, introducing the reader to numerous feminists, writers, sapphists, activists and artists from the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is through their work and how they determine to live their own lives that they carve out a way to take control, become themselves, and inspire others to do…