Seattle Public Library: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore with Jordy Rosenberg — 'Touching the Art'

A daringly observant memoir about intergenerational trauma, fine art, and compartmentalization.

The Seattle Public Library and Third Place Books are pleased to welcome local author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore for a discussion of her memoir, Touching the Art. Sycamore will be joined in conversation by author Jordy Rosenberg. This event is free and open to the public. 

Venue: Seattle Public Library (Central Branch), Microsoft Auditorium, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
Time: 7pm (Doors open 6:30pm)

This event is free and open to the public. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book, or request a hold at your local library.


About Touching the Art. . .

A mixture of memoir, biography, criticism, and social history, Touching the Art is queer icon and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s interrogation of the possibilities of artistic striving, the limits of the middle-class mindset, the legacy of familial abandonment, and what art can and cannot do.

Taking the form of a self-directed research project, Sycamore recounts the legacy of her fraught relationship with her late grandmother, an abstract artist from Baltimore who encouraged Mattilda as a young artist, then disparaged Mattilda’s work as “vulgar” and a “waste of talent” once it became unapologetically queer.

As she sorts through her grandmother Gladys’s paintings and handmade paperworks, Sycamore examines the creative impulse itself. In fragments evoking the movements of memory, she searches for Gladys’s place within the trajectories of midcentury modernism and Abstract Expressionism, Jewish assimilation and white flight, intergenerational trauma and class striving.

Sycamore writes, “Art is never just art, it is a history of feeling, a gap between sensations, a safety valve, an escape hatch, a sudden shift in the body, a clipboard full of flowers, a welcome mat flipped over and back, over and back, welcome.”

Refusing easy answers in search of an embodied truth, Sycamore upends propriety to touch the art and feel everything that comes through.

Praise for Touching the Art. . .

Ms., A Most Anticipated Title of the Year
The Stranger, A Must Read Book of Fall

"Sycamore creates a mosaic of art and humanity, flaws and all."
—Sarah Neilson, The Seattle Times

"Unapologetic and reflective, Sycamore's memoir invokes the very nature of art and the mindset of the artist, noting, 'When you allow your work to express what you see, sometimes your work expresses more than you know.' Queer artists will find much to ponder in this outspoken, deeply felt examination of creativity, family, betrayal, and independent expression."
—Jim Piechota, The Bay Area Reporter

“[Touching the Art] blurs the lines of genre convention and polyvocality by assembling a multivoiced collage of texture, feeling, and evidence . . . Sycamore paints with language, using it as a device to translate her grandmother’s canvases into multisensory descriptions that branch off into various sites of memory, analysis, and juxtaposed quotations, modeling how inseparable art and life are . . . [Touching the Art] asks us to place our hand and tongue directly on the painting, to know that it becomes ours through this contact, and that both we and the artwork will be changed by our touch.”
—Sam Sax, The Believer

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the author of The Freezer Door, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, one of Oprah Magazine’s Best LGBTQ Books of 2020, and a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. She’s the author of three novels and three nonfiction titles, and the editor of six nonfiction anthologies, most recently Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing Up with the AIDS Crisis.

Jordy Rosenberg is the author of the novel Confessions of the Fox and the forthcoming hybrid work Good Material (both from Random House/One World), as well as a scholarly monograph about 18th-century religious enthusiasts. Confessions of the Fox was a New York Times Editors Choice selection, shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, a Publishing Triangle Award, the UK Historical Writers Association Debut Crown Award, and longlisted for The Dublin Literary Award. Jordy is a professor in the Department of English and Associated MFA Faculty in the Program for Poets and Writers at The University of Massachusetts-Amherst..

Want a signed edition of the featured book, but can't make it to the event? Order through our website or over the phone, and write your request for a signature or personalization in the comments field at checkout. Please call the hosting store if you're placing your order within 24 hours of the event.

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