Ladies Night at the Dreamland

Sonja Livingston

An award-winning essayist explores the lives of some of America’s most interesting and obscure women


“A vibrant and textured creation of women throughout history, some of them famous, others notable for the bravery of their more private lives. Line by line, the writing sings. What a marvelous collection of essays. What a glorious celebration.”
—Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever

“A swirling, wise dream of a book, filled with gorgeous writing and a poignant crowd of characters, rescued from the stream of history with ardent insight.”
—Harriet Scott Chessman, author of The Beauty of Ordinary Things

"These essays—sometimes charming, sometimes searing, always revealing—investigate history, gender, and the bittersweet stories of those often veiled or suppressed. Livingston writes with a gentle and inquiring spirit, a keen intellect, and a deeply compelling lyrical voice."
—Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

"Radiant essays inspired by 'slivers and bits' of real women's lives. . . . The author calls her startlingly original essays literary nonfiction, but some read more like historical fiction, spun as they are from documented sources; and some—a brief evocation of Virginia Dare, for example—read like lyrical prose poems. . . . Wise, fresh, captivating essays."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"What's remarkable about [Livingston's] latest work is how she's captured the ability to sustain engaging narratives through such vividly reflexive poetic prose."
—Hans Rollman, PopMatters

"Livingston engages her subjects in a deeply personal way, bringing her own fascination, sympathy, and identification with them into her accounts. . . . Livingston's visceral understanding of the myriad ways the world confines women and destroys them, robbing them of the fullness of what they might have been, gives the stories in Ladies Night a power they wouldn't otherwise have."
—Maria Browning,

“[Livingston’s] prose — gorgeous, sensual, lyrical — makes entering these essays as easy as playing dress-up: dip your feet into those satin T-strap shoes, wrap yourself into that green turban, squint your eyes and try to peek through the cracks. . . . Are these essays, then? They might be defined as lyric essays. Some, however, read like entries in a dream journal, or prose poems. . . . Livingston makes a case for her agenda throughout: this book — part memoir, part history, part invention — is her attempt to slip inside another life, or 20, in a search for connection, understanding, and emotional truth. And isn’t that the quest of all literature? Isn’t it, regardless of genre, an inquiry into the heart and mind of the Other? In Ladies Night at the Dreamland, the ladies in question (all those others) are apparitions — as is the author herself, fading in and out, haunting these pages.”
—Sariah Dorbin, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Livingston’s own presence at the Dreamland makes her subjects feel like people we have always known. The compulsion to save women from obscurity is common in fiction, from historical novels about the wives of famous men to short-story collections like Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women. In nonfiction, women’s histories typically appear as straightforward biography. Working in the creative nonfiction genre allows Livingston to situate her experience of womanhood amidst the lives of other women from other times and places."
—Kim Kankiewicz, Colorado Review

“Livingston is an accomplished master of ceremonies calling forth history, evoking mood, and provoking thought.”
—Sam Pickering, The Georgia Review

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At the Dreamland, women and girls flicker from the shadows to take their proper place in the spotlight. In this lyrical collection, Sonja Livingston weaves together strands of research and imagination to conjure figures from history, literature, legend, and personal memory. The result is a series of essays that highlight lives as varied, troubled, and spirited as America itself.

Harnessing the power of language, Livingston breathes life into subjects who lived extraordinary lives— as rule-breakers, victims, or those whose differences made them cultural curiosities—bringing together those who slipped through the world largely unseen with those whose images were fleeting or faulty so that they, too, remained relatively obscure. Included are Alice Mitchell, a Memphis society girl who murdered her female lover in 1892; Maria Spelterini, who crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 1876; May Fielding, a “white slave girl” buried in a Victorian cemetery; Valaida Snow, a Harlem Renaissance trumpeter; a child exhibited as Darwin’s Missing Link; the sculptors’ model Audrey Munson; a Crow warrior; victims of a 1970s serial killer; the Fox Sisters; and many more.

Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction

Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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List price: $19.95

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Sonja Livingston is an assistant professor in the MFA Program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her first book, Ghostbread (Georgia), won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of the recent essay collection Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses.