Beautifully written literary nonfiction about animals with a profound core like H Is for Hawk and Fox and I. Structured in smart, snappy personal essays that probe at the problems of personhood in the internet age, it will appeal to fans of Melissa Broder or Jia Tolentino, and its introspective, generous thinking on self and society evokes Wintering.
Essays on Cats & Community
by Courtney Gustafson
(via Frances Goldin Literary Agency)
When Courtney Gustafson moved into a new rental in the Poets Square neighborhood in Tuscon, Arizona, she would never have guessed that a colony of feral cats living in her driveway would change her life forever. Settling into a secure romantic relationship while it felt like the world around her was burning down, she couldn’t know how reluctantly, then profoundly, she would come to care about the health and safety of those thirty-some-odd neglected cats: Beebs, Lola, Sadboy, Goldie, Dr. Big Butt, Reverse Monkey, Rihanna, and so many more.
She had no idea about the grief and hardship of animal rescue, the staggering size of the problem. And she couldn’t have imagined how that struggle—towards an ethics of care, of individuals trying their best amidst spectacularly failing systems—would help pierce a personal darkness she’d wrestled with much of her life. She also didn’t expect that the TikTok and Instagram accounts she created about the cats would end up with a just shy of a combined million followers.
POETS SQUARE is a memoir-in-essays about becoming an accidental cat rescuer, going viral, creating community, and surviving capitalism. These essays tell the brutal and tender stories of cats Courtney has saved (or failed to save) as a lens to explore everything from poverty and mental health to morality and misogyny. We see how cat rescue—despite its often-enormous sadness—paradoxically helped in a struggle with depression, showing the way towards an interrelated community of cats and care. The book explores caretaking and kindness in the face of a broken system: what it means for an individual to refuse to throw their hands up, to insist on showing up regardless of insurmountable problems, to search for ways to be a good person in the face of crushing overwhelm.
Courtney Gustafson is the creator of @PoetsSquareCats on TikTok (918k) and Instagram (61k). Her cats and rescue work have been featured on The Dodo, Newsweek, Best Friends Animal Society Magazine, and elsewhere. Before she had thirty cats, she completed a masters degree and PhD coursework in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her interests included community literacies and literacy within incarcerated populations. She taught first-year writing at UMass before leaving academia to work in nonprofit communications. Most recently she’s worked for a large regional food bank, managing social media strategy, storytelling, fundraising, and crisis communications. She has continued to teach creative writing and adult basic literacy as a volunteer in prisons and in refugee communities in Tucson, Arizona, and volunteers as a mentor to incarcerated writers with PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Lady Science, Word Riot, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere.