Why should I subscribe to Women of Letters?

I write here mostly about the Great Books, but not in a Dead Poet’s Society literary appreciation sort of way. I wish that I could do that, but I just find it boring. I’m not your English teacher! Mostly I write about the Great Books phenomenon itself: the place in the world for autodidacts who engage independently with what Matthew Arnold called “the greatest that has been thought or said” (am probably misquoting him—I do that a lot). I’m one of those autodidacts myself, and I’m persistently fascinated by how little discussion we have about lay (i.e. outside the academy) appreciation for great literature. Without lay readers, nobody would still be reading Plato, Plutarch, Milton, Donne, Dickens, Woolf or any of hundreds of other writers that still have the capability to astonish the inexpert reader. Why do folks still pick up these books to read for fun? How do they still manage to compete with TikTok and Instagram?

When this blog started, discussion of the Great Books was mired under the meta-debate about “Old White Men”. You always had to address the idea, in some way or another, that the GBs upheld hegemonic patriarch-capitalism. Now I don’t write about that so much anymore, but it still comes up—as a woman, non-white, and left-wing person I am a relative rarity amongst GB enthusiasts.

I’m also a novelist. That’s mostly what I do. I try not to make this blog all about the writing life and publishing world, but it definitely comes up!

Who are you?

I am the author of three young adult novels (Enter Title Here, We Are Totally Normal, and Just Happy To Be Here) and one literary novel for adults, The Default World. I also have a nonfiction book coming out in 2025 from Princeton Press, about why the Great Books have a lot to offer to left-wing people and racial, gender, and sexual minorities: it’s tentatively entitled What’s So Great About The Great Books. You can email me at rhkanakia @ gmail.com.

What do I get for going paid?

I paywall my archives—so if you want to read anything older you’ve got to pay. I also write occasional paid posts that’re usually about more controversial topics. My most popular is one on how Ocean Vuong is frequently a bad writer. But between you and me, you mostly get everything from the free version. I just charge for subscriptions because I feel like if you don’t charge for something, folks will think it’s worthless.

Can I get some more info about you? Like…on a demographic and spatial level?

I live in SF. I’m married. I have a daughter. I’m a Millennial. My parents were born in India, and I’m one of that infamous cadre of writers whose mom has a Wikipedia page. I grew up in Washington, D.C. I got an MFA in Creative Writing. During the first part of my career I published a lot of science fiction short stories in all the most respectable outlets. I still send them stories, but they mostly reject them these days.

What’s the deal with the “Not a transphobe” label?

I hated Substack for years, because it’s the home of the internet’s biggest transphobes (the Wesley Yang / Jesse Singal / Bari Weiss axis). You know, the “Intellectual Dark Web” types. But then in the course of a week I came across Freddie DeBoer’s post on trans rights and this podcast between John Pistelli and Daniel Oppenheimer where they made it clear that, whatever their policy feelings about gender affirming care for kids (I have no idea what they believe), they aren’t completely obsessed with trans people. And I was like, maybe it’s not all transphobes.

Nonetheless, as I explained in a post, whenever I see a new substack I go rooting through their archives to see if they’re a transphobe or not. I mean this on the most basic level: do they have an unhealthy negative fixation on trans people that is disproportionate to trans peoples’ presence in the population? And does their concern with notional harms to cis people far outweigh their concern for damage to trans people (i.e. do trans lives matter less to them than cis lives). If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, it doesn’t mean I won’t follow them, but they’re certainly on probation with me!

I also know that trans- and trans-affirming people likely do the same thing when looking at my substack, so I put it right up front for them to see.

Subscribe to Woman of Letters

I write about the Great Books, classic literature, and the contemporary publishing world. I am also not a transphobe.


Books forthcoming from Feminist Press, Princeton University Press, and HarperTeen. Two YA novels currently out. Stories, essays, and poetry in Asimov's, Analog, Clarkesworld, American Short Fiction, Lithub, etc