Anna Shechtman at Harvard Book Store
The Riddles of the Sphinx:
Inheriting the Feminist History
of the Crossword Puzzle
in conversation with FRANCESCA WADE
March 5, 2024
7:00 PM ET
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes ANNA SHECHTMAN—crossword puzzle creator for The New Yorker and Klarman Fellow at Cornell University —for a discussion of her new book The Riddles of the Sphinx: Inheriting the Feminist History of the Crossword Puzzle. She will be joined in conversation by FRANCESCA WADE—author of Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars.
About The Riddles of the Sphinx
The indisputable “queen of crosswords,” Anna Shechtman published her first New York Times puzzle at age nineteen, and later, spearheaded the The New Yorker’s popular crossword section. Working with a medium often criticized as exclusionary, elitist, and out-of-touch, Anna is one of very few women in the field of puzzle making, where she strives to make the everyday diversion more diverse.
In this fascinating work—part memoir, part cultural analysis—she excavates the hidden history of the crossword and the overlooked women who have been central to its creation and evolution, from the “Crossword Craze” of the 1920s to the role of digital technology today. As she tells the story of her own experience in the CrossWorld, she analyzes the roles assigned to women in American culture, the boxes they’ve been allowed to fill, and the ways that they’ve used puzzles to negotiate the constraints and play of desire under patriarchy.
The result is an unforgettable and engrossing work of art, a loving and revealing homage to one of our most treasured, entertaining, and ultimately political pastimes.
Praise for The Riddles of the Sphinx
"As a memoir of the female body, The Riddles of the Sphinx is, by turns, intensely cerebral and sensual. As a history of wordplay, it is rigorous yet delightful. As a work of nonfiction, it is accomplished, hypnotic, and, at moments, tremendously unsettling. In revealing how femininity can turn into a monstrous ideal, Shechtman stages a serious reckoning with not just her past, but with the whole history of feminist thought." —Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers
"A history of the crossword that is also a memoir of one woman’s dangerous attempt to solve the puzzle of her own body, The Riddles of the Sphinx takes the reader from the Algonquin Round Table to smoke-filled Parisian lecture halls, lesbian separatist marches, a contemporary crossword tournament, and an eating disorder treatment center in Paradise, Utah. Writing with intelligence, clarity, and unexpected humor, Anna Shechtman deftly weaves together the neglected histories of the women who made and make the crossword, raising urgent and fascinating questions about the politics of wordplay and the dilemma of living in language." —Christine Smallwood, author of The Life of the Mind
"At once meticulously researched and beautifully written, The Riddles of the Sphinx unravels the disordered logics of those who live with anorexia and the pathologies of a society that help shape body dysmorphia in so many. Shechtman, a celebrated crossword constructor, traces the fascinating intersections between her personal history and that of the women who helped create—and sustain—the crossword puzzle craze. The result is a propulsive, necessary, and ultimately hopeful exploration—one that urgently speaks to our capacity to solve puzzles that go far beyond those on the page." —Meghan O'Rourke, author of The Invisible Kingdom
Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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