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Meet the 23-Year-Old Freaking Everyone Out With Her Wildly Explicit Sex Writing

How a 23-year-old author shattered taboos surrounding sexuality in print — and freaked out the critics.
 
 
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Marie Calloway is shy in person.

I’d been in contact with Calloway, who uses a pen name, about her new book, “what purpose did i serve in your life,” a mélange that places first-person, memoiristic tales of sex at every level of coerciveness alongside images of her bruised body and Facebook chats in which the seduction runs both ways. Calloway first rose to repute with an  essay, “Adrien Brody,” that described her brief entangling with a Web writer she idolized. In matter-of-fact, flat style that will or will not be evocative depending on the reader, Calloway describes a conversation after sex:

“I hit the last guy I had sex with, too, because I was sad he didn’t want to date me. It’s like that again. Hitting you didn’t make me feel better or change anything. It’s not like I can stop you from leaving.”

I’m totally powerless in the face of men.

In winter 2011, the piece sent shockwaves through the publishing industry, as documented in a  New York Observer piece: the identity of “Adrien Brody” was sussed out, Calloway came in for criticism in particular for a photograph purportedly showing “Brody’s” bodily fluids on her face. The piece, devoid of comments and presented as a series of vignettes (Calloway, or “Calloway,” becomes a sex worker in order to buy “BareMinerals foundation and MAC lipstick and soy lattes and pizza”; she’s later forced to consume her own vomit), appears in her book.

Upon release of the book, I had Facebook-chatted Calloway — she’s a voracious updater on the site and accepted my friend request immediately — and then emailed with her. She was disinclined to speak over the phone, she told us, but would respond to email queries. She hadn’t yet replied when I met her outside a book party for Tao Lin, the novelist known for tales of drug use and disaffection and a mentor of sorts for her. His encouragement of her writing career, at a time when she worries that she’s only novel for her subject matter or her sex appeal, apparently shows up in somewhat fictionalized form in her story “Jeremy Lin.”

 

I introduced myself to her; she was wearing a red dress and smoking a cigarette, and asked to borrow my bottle of water. She had her cellphone out; it was pink and bedazzled, like Carrie Bradshaw’s in the first “Sex and the City” movie. I told her that I wasn’t kidding in my email — I had really enjoyed “what purpose did i serve in your life.” “Enjoyed” wasn’t the right word, but having been primed to expect mere provocation, I’d been surprised to actually have thought about it.

“That’s funny,” she said, seeming to weigh her words carefully. “Men usually don’t like my book.”

Calloway has been the subject of online critiques that range from savage — just look at any of the collages she made while suffering writers’ block, with detailed mockery overlaying images of her body — to just-not-getting-it. This week, Esquire’s Stephen Marche (who’d previously written for that magazine that Lena Dunham was too “plain” to be taken seriously) noted that he liked the book. But! “Personally, I find it hard to see how having your face come on by an older man constitutes an act of female empowerment, but of course I am a man.”

But of course.

Marche suggests that he takes every element of the book as literally true and sees Calloway as an artist who “has been submitting herself to horrific sexual experiences in order to write about them [emphasis original].”

 
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