Understanding Susan Sontag by Carl Rollyson

Understanding Susan Sontag by Carl Rollyson, The University of South Carolina Press, Nonfiction, American History, Audiobook Release Date: April 10, 2017


A comprehensive account of the author’s entire career through the lens of her recently published diaries.

With the publication of Susan Sontag’s diaries, the development of her career can now be evaluated in a more genetic sense so that the origins of her ideas and plans for publication are made plain in the context of her role as a public intellectual who was increasingly aware of her impact on her culture. In Understanding Susan Sontag, Carl Rollyson not only provides an introduction to her essays, novels, plays, films, diaries, and uncollected work published in various periodicals; he now has a lens through which to reevaluate classic texts such as Against Interpretation and On Photography, providing both students and advanced scholars a renewed sense of her importance and impact.

Rollyson devotes separate chapters to Sontag’s biography; her early novels; her landmark essay collections Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will; her films; her major mid-career books, On Photography and its sequel, Regarding the Pain of Others; and Illness as Metaphor and its sequel, AIDS and Its Metaphors, together with her groundbreaking short story, “The Way We Live Now.” Sontag’s later essay collections and biographical profiles, collected in Under the Sign of Saturn, Where the Stress Falls, and At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches, also receive a fresh assessment, as does her later work in short fiction, the novel, and drama, with a chapter discussing I, etcetera; two historical novels, The Volcano Lover and In America; and her plays, A Parsifal, Alice in Bed, and her adaptation of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea. Chapters on her diaries and uncollected prose, along with a primary and secondary bibliography, complete this comprehensive study.

Carl Rollyson, professor of journalism at Baruch College, the City University of New York, is the author of A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan, A Private Life of Michael Foot, Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Lillian Hellman: Her Life and Legend, Beautiful Exile: The Life of Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic, and three studies of biography.


“In Understanding Susan Sontag, Carl Rollyson lucidly and critically engages Sontag’s career as a writer, filmmaker, tastemaker, and theater director. This book will introduce Sontag to students at the same time that it brings new knowledge to more advanced readers. Of particular value to the specialist are the chapter on Sontag’s posthumously published journals and an appendix that surveys Sontag’s uncollected work. Rollyson’s book makes an outstanding contribution to the Understanding Contemporary American Literature series by appealing to an audience of students, serious readers, and academics.”―Barbara Ching, Iowa State University

About The Author:

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times and the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals such as American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. For four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, “On Biography,” for The New York Sun and was President of the Rebecca West Society (2003-2007). His play, THAT WOMAN: REBECCA WEST REMEMBERS, has been produced at Theatresource in New York City. Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography (awarded a “We the People” NEH grant) will be published in August 2013. . “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews was published in September 2012 by University Press of Mississippi. His biography, “American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath” was published in February 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of her death. In 2013, he also published Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, and in 2014 Marilyn Monroe Day by Day. His biography/memoir A Private Life of Michael Foot will be published in August 2015. He is currently at work on two books, Memoirs of a Serial Biographer and a biography of William Faulkner. His reviews of biography appear regularly in The Wall Street Journal, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Kansas City Star, and The New Criterion. He is currently advisory editor for the Hollywood Legends series published by the University Press of Mississippi. He welcomes queries from those interested in contributing to the series. Read his column, “Biographology,” and his blog on http://carlrollyson.com.