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On the day we went to see the Great Serpent Mound, the rain plunged from the sky. Lightning shot down to the cornfields and made the cornfields roar. Everything was dark. Guides recommend that you come to the Serpent early or late in the day, when shadows alongside it are deep and the winding shape becomes bolder. But on the day we visited, the whole of Ohio was shadow, save the neat green grass of the Serpent’s skin, which was oddly bright.

When the first European settlers came to farm southwestern Ohio, they found earthen lumps scattered all around the land. They did not know what these lumps could be — some farmers went about flattening them, others farmed around them. In the 1840s, a local doctor and a newspaper editor from the town of Chillicothe investigated the mounds. They discovered wooden structures inside, built to house the dead of Native tribes whose names are lost to us now. Jewelry and effigies were placed around the cremated remains to keep the spirits company. Then the Mound Builders covered over the structures with layers of soil and sand. As the generations passed, new dead were buried on top of the old, and more earth was put on top, until the mounds grew higher and higher and the little wooden structure collapsed within.
More… “The Face of the Earth”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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In a photograph titled “Ward 81”, a woman sits on a bed. She is young, a teenager. She sits cross-legged and wears her clothes and hair like a teenager would. The wall behind this teenage girl is covered in pictures. The pictures, magazine cutouts, are taped to the wall and some of the edges have been carefully rounded with scissors. There are pictures of animals and a picture of a tree. Below a picture of the Mona Lisa the name BRENDA is written in marker. In this room that could belong to any teenager, the walls are strangely close. The bed is pushed up to the radiator and the metal headboard is too white and plain. The young woman’s eyes are blank—one eye tilts toward her nose. Her left arm is outstretched bearing the evidence of self-inflicted wounds and on the wall above the radiator, also written in marker, are the words, “I wish to die.”

This photograph was taken by Mary Ellen Mark, who died on May 25. Mark was adamant that her work be called documentary photography. “I’m a documentary photographer,” she told Bomb magazine in 1989. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to be; that’s where my heart and soul is.” The word “document,” when applied to photographs, conveys the sense of proof, evidence, testimony. A document is an affirmation of the subject being documented — a proof of that subject’s existence, if nothing else. A documentary photograph says, “here is the object or person that existed when this photograph was taken.”
More… “Monsters and Men”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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When Günter Grass died earlier this year, it brought back memories of 1991, my first year in New York City. I sometimes think of this period in New York as its last dangerous days, when the city still had that anxious, patched-together sensibility, which is just another way of saying that once I lived in a New York City different than the New York City of today, a New York City that was romantic because I was young then. I lived that first year alone, in a single room on the upper floors of the 92nd Street Y. The 92nd Street Y was better known as a point of call for Manhattan sophisticates, who likely had little idea that, as they listened to the wisdom of celebrities in the great lecture hall, dozens of men and women were residing, like me, in tiny rented rooms on the floors above them.
More… “Being Oskar Matzerath”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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In 1952, a local salesman named Ted Rogich decided that Las Vegas needed a roadside sign that would welcome visitors to the city. In the postwar years of the American Southwest, highways plowed through long open stretches of sand. You could drive right past a town, even Las Vegas, and not know it. Las Vegas had a sign heralding everything, Rogich said. Everything except itself.

When Rogich approached designer Betty Willis with his idea, she was a rare woman in the new industry of neon. The two agreed — a Welcome sign for Las Vegas had to be flashy, glitzy, something that really proclaimed “Vegas.” The eventual design for what would become the city’s great landmark is well known: a 25-foot-high “Googie”-style sign covered in blinking silver dollars and mismatched fonts, lined with yellow lightbulbs that chased each other around, topped with an exploding atomic star that cried out to every car passing north along Highway 91, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.”
More… “Leaving, and Entering, and Leaving, and Entering Las Vegas”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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Israel, the ur-Homeland, is also a place of exile. When God comes to Abraham, and tells him to make a home in Canaan, the first thing Abraham must do is leave. Abraham packs up his stuff, rallies his family, and abandons his home in Mesopotamia for some “strange country” of promise. When God comes to Abraham, and says, “I will show you a home,” God does not say “Stay,” but “Go.” “Go for yourself,” says God to Abraham, “away from your land, to the land that I will show you.” And right away, Home begins with a departure. Home is a place that is not here but elsewhere, not now but when, not the land seen but the land as-yet-to-be seen. Abraham would eventually reach the land of Israel, but from thereon Israel – Home – would forever be the place where exiles dwelled.
More… “Home Away”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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When I was two years old, or maybe four years old, it snowed in Las Vegas. The snow covered the concrete and the sand, and the alleyways between the casinos downtown. Even though I’m sure the snow was only an inch or so deep, it made a big impression on the citizens of the city, who cancelled work and daily life and left their cars right in the street just to behold the sight. At least, this is how I remember it. I remember that everything felt stopped and strange, like it must when miracles occur — thrilling but inexplicable, everybody making shallow angels on the sidewalk and lobbing small, powdery snowballs at each other that would fall apart in mid-air.

The snow never came back to Las Vegas, at least, not until many years after I’d gone. But… More…

The last earthly home of the mystic-naturalist John Muir was a 14-bedroom Victorian mansion on the fringes of Martinez, California. Before that Muir’s home had been the wilds of America, days spent roaming the peaks and valleys of the West. But in 1878, when Muir turned 40, his friends urged him to leave the mountain life and rejoin civilization. “John Muir! The great prophet of the American wilderness!” they would say at dinner parties and in print, and then remind Muir in private that his way of living was impossible.

By all accounts, John Muir became a good husband and a good father after he came down from the mountain. He wrote books about his experiences in the wild, and tended the enormous fruit ranch that belonged to his father-in-law. Every so often, Muir’s wife would find him gazing into the air. She would send him off for a mountain… More…

“A day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” — George Washington, the first President of the United States, delivering the National Thanksgiving Proclamation, on October 3rd, 1789

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

In the beginning, the Wall was made of barbed wire and soldiers. On some streets, cinder blocks had been stacked. In the Neukölln borough, on Harzer Straße, the Wall was about neck-high. East and West Berliners could look at each other over the Wall but they were not allowed to touch. In a photograph taken on the first day, August 13, 1961, two mothers stand on either side of a coil of wire that reaches to their knees. The babies they hold stretch out to each other, inches of air between their fingers. There seems to be a magnetic repulsion preventing them from holding hands. In another picture from that day, a young man in a crowd stands across from two border guards; a chest-high stack of cement is separating them. The young man appears to be asking one guard a question — both lay their hands on the Wall…. More…

If the members of the Nobel Academy felt slighted when Jean-Paul Sartre rejected their prize 50 years ago, they didn’t show it. The Academy set out the dinner plates and made their speeches anyway — without the philosopher. The 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, announced Anders Österling — longtime member of the Swedish Academy, and a writer himself — was being given to “the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age.” 

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s… More…