skip to main content
Cover Samira Ingold Penquin Random House
Enlarge Icon
Credit: Courtesy of Samira Ingold and Penguin Random House

Jess Zimmerman subverts the dominant monster myth paradigm

Humans. Where to begin? Myth may be the place. Before we invented books, then movies, then the internet, to wield influence and entertain ourselves, we created myths. In many of these stories, there be monsters.

Author Jess Zimmerman loved Greek myths as a child. As an adult, she was drawn to unpack a question, personally and culturally. What was up with the female monsters? The result is her new book of essays Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology.

The essays blend memoir and critique to explore the messages women have absorbed over centuries of mythic tropes. The heroes were mostly men. Many of the monsters they fought were female, among them Medusa, Scylla, the Sirens, and the Harpies.

The story arcs demonstrated likely outcomes for monstrous women who display qualities like cunning and rage, grow too ambitious, are beautiful, or not, are sexual, or not, or pursue (The horror!) their own agency. These stories, mostly written by men when it came time to write, weren’t known for their happy endings. Zimmerman’s work seeks to subvert that narrative, and she has some serious fans. Here’s a snippet of the torrent of praise:

“Every one of these essays is muscular and dangerous, with a mouth full of teeth. Women and Other Monsters is sure to become a feminist classic.” - Carmen Maria Machado

“Jess Zimmerman’s writing is always intimate and fierce, piercing and warm. I loved Women and Other Monsters—I ate it up, and it felt a little like it devoured me right back.” - Scaachi Koul

“We are so long overdue for new mythologies about women and power. Jess’s book is a pitch-perfect antidote to the sexist hash of our traditional stories.” - Soraya Chemaly

Jess Zimmerman is the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature, “a nonprofit digital publisher with the mission to make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive.” She was joined in this conversation by Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race and Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.

The Elliott Bay Book Company presented their discussion on April 16.

Please note: This recording contains unedited language of an adult nature.