“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) reviewed in the NYTimes, Revolver (2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, and Worth (2002).


“Kisha Schlegel's brilliant debut illuminates some of our most hardened cultural icons and the fears that they induce. Exploring subjects as varied as Osama bin Laden and the Golden Gate Bridge, Donald Trump and the Virgin Mary, Fear Icons radically probes and dismantles the narratives surrounding these subjects, helping to show us how to look into the face of fear and to recognize that we are most afraid when we love. This is a bold new literary voice of fierce intelligence, vulnerability, and empathy.” —John D’Agata, author of Halls of Fame, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact


"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 Nominee, and author of Among the Living and the Dead


"The essays in Fear Icons—lush, alluring, revelatory—penetrate themes of exploitation, wonder, normalcy, and patriarchy. Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel is the new American essayist, equal parts poet, activist, and intellectual. This is a book to marvel over and to learn from, to treasure and to gift.”—Sharma Shields, Winner of the Washington State Book Award for Fiction and author of The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac 


Fear Icons is a stunning exploration of that which we are too afraid to name and that which we fill with fear through naming. It is a weighty, urgent, and timely book. Unique in its voice, bold in its pursuit, and concise in its execution, Fear Icons is a triumph. And it is, un-ironically, fearless amidst fear, as it sets out to place the author's delicate observations against the stark and charged backdrop of a species forever at conflict with itself.”—Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, Rona Jaffe Award Winner and author of Don’t Come Back