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Fear Icons is a book of prayers. It’s the first book of prayers of the 21st century that makes any sense to me.” —Robyn Schiff



“Who are we to each other when we’re afraid?” Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel asks in this moving and original debut essay collection. Her answer is a lyric examination of the icons that summon and soothe our fears. From Donald Trump to the Virgin Mary, Darth Vader to the Dalai Lama, Schlegel turns cultural criticism personal with bracing intelligence and vulnerability. Each essay is woven through with other voices [Baldwin, Auden, Du Bois, Cixous] positioning Schlegel's arguments and meditations within a diverse and dynamic literary lineage. 

Fear Icons is a vital and timely inquiry into the complex relationship between love and fear—and the ways that each intensifies the other.


“How to describe the form of these alert and grieving essays about contemporary America? Instead of paragraphs or sections, let’s call these exquisite prose enclosures ‘chambers,’ named for the ‘ventricles of our heart,’ and ‘the bedroom where bodies rest and are made and sometimes die....’ but also ‘the part of the gun that holds the charge and the many rooms where regulations are made.’ In her beautiful, bereaved debut, Fear Icons, Kisha Schlegel’s chambers make an ‘intimate venue’ for tremendous outrage, where private whispers ricochet, redirect, and echolocate mournfully to publically address ‘the sadness of the country I come from....’  Since that country is America, picture an iconic ranch whose one operation is to break something wild; here, pushed violently up against a wooden fence by a wild horse (see her breathtaking essay “Centaur,” for the whole story), Schlegel’s chamber music is played, pinned against a gate that won’t open, in confusion and fear, for an audience of zero. Which is to say: Fear Icons is a book of prayers. It’s the first book of prayers of the 21st century that makes any sense to me.” —Robyn Schiff, author of A Woman of Property (2016), Revolver (2008), and Worth (2002).


"I feel as if I am walking around in new skin—aware, vigilant, alive in a way that I was not before I read Fear Icons. Startlingly original, imaginative as well as deeply researched, this essay collection simultaneously stuns and soothes. The writing is mesmerizing and incandescent, each sentence offering a way forward, not in spite of fear, but because of it.” —Inara Verzemnieks, Rona Jaffe Award Winner, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, and author of Among the Living and the Dead 

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Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel is the author of Fear Icons, winner of the inaugural Gournay Prize from The Ohio State University Press.

She has published prose in Shirley Magazine, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice reporting and many grants and fellowships. A graduate of the University of Montana's Environmental Studies Program and the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, she is an Assistant Professor of English at Whitman College.

Interview with LARB




kishalew at gmail dot com

I'm represented by Julie Stevenson of MMQ Literary: julie at mmqlit dot com


  • "Carry the Forest Home," Shirley Magazine, 2018