Always Be Uncomfortable: Brooke Bolander, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Amal El-Mohtar Talk Writing, History, and The Only Harmless Great Thing

Maria Dahvana Headley, Brooke Bolander, and Amal El-Mohtar. Photo courtesy of Irene Gallo

Brooke Bolander, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Amal El-Mohtar came together at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe to discuss Bolander’s new book, The Only Harmless Great Thing, but what began as a book launch became a long, complex discussion of the power of storytelling, the horrors of capitalism, and the power of women who come together to record truth.

Brooke Bolander’s alternate history novella, The Only Harmless Great Thing, connects the story of Topsy the Elephant with that of The Radium Girls, two tragedies from the early 20th Century. Topsy was electrocuted publicly after trying to defend herself from a series of abusive trainers; the Radium Girls were factory workers who were poisoned while painting radioluminescent watch dials, because their bosses insisted they wet their brushes in their mouths to save time. The book delves into these two atrocities, while also telling a story of an ancient lineage of elephants, ...