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Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red is a rule-breaking gem says Sarah Henstra

Sarah Henstra, the winner of the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction, discusses why she's read Anne Carson's seminal novel-in-verse so many times.
Governor General's Literary Award winner Sarah Henstra recommends reading Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. (

Sarah Henstra won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for her novel, The Red Worda murky and twisted story about sexual assault on a college campus that the jury called "an utterly effing good read."

Henstra says that Anne Carson's seminal novel-in-verse Autobiography of Red is a book that she's read through many times.

"Autobiography of Red is a text that I've taught in a number of English courses at Ryerson University. I love the way this is a book that students at all levels in an English programme can connect with for different reasons. It's a book that when you first page through it, it looks scary because it's poetry and it's as long as a novel. But, this book has a beautiful narrative, which is a translation and a poetic interpretation of a Greek myth. It's one of the tasks of Hercules to steal the herd of cattle from a red, winged monster named Geryon. This is the myth that Anne Carson has fictionalized or poeticized into this beautiful little book. Of course, she plays very fast and loose with the plot details and she has Hercules fall in love with Geryon, the monster. It's a love story.

"I love the way this book breaks all the rules of storytelling and manages to be an incredibly moving, exciting read. It's a page-turner and my students are always amazed and surprised when they encounter this in the book. You can choose any four or five lines out of this book and have this gem-like description of emotion. Not ancient Greek mythical emotion, but real life emotion. Like, the teenage Geryon and his mother standing on opposite sides of the kitchen, staring each other down, described in the most beautiful language in four short lines of poetry."

Sarah Henstra's comments have been edited for length and clarity.