Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Women's and Gender Studies


Nancy K. Miller

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Maggie Nelson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, critical memoir, personal, feminist, second-person


Feminist accounts of how “the personal” is used in feminist critical nonfiction have theorized that the effect of the personal is to connect the writer with readers who share a sense of her investment in the subject matter. Looking at two recent, prominent works about gender and sexuality, and race, respectively that combine genres of criticism and narrative memoir – Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me – this paper considers how personal writing is shaped not by readers it wants to connect to, but by anxious, even dreadful, anticipation of being read by its most resistant and vitriolic readers. I argue that Nelson’s and Coates’s formally dexterous choices – particularly their respective decisions to address their narratives to second person intimates – have been shaped in response to their understandings of what I call the antagonistic reader, a reader whose cognitive and emotional resistance to the writer’s words poses a threat to the text.