White Magic

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Finalist for the PEN Open Book Award

Longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Award

A TIME, NPR, New York Public Library, Lit Hub, Book Riot, and Entropy Best Book of the Year

“Beguiling and haunting. . . . Washuta’s voice sears itself onto the skin.” —The New York Times Book Review

Bracingly honest and powerfully affecting, White Magic establishes Elissa Washuta as one of our best living essayists.

Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.

In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.


  • Beguiling and haunting. . . . Washuta’s voice sears itself onto the skin.

    —The New York Times Book Review

  • Electric.

    —Time Magazine

  • Elissa Washuta’s newest collection of essays is coming out in 2021—and they may be exactly what you need right now.

    —O, The Oprah Magazine

  • In this potent, illuminating memoir in essays, Elissa Washuta, a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, digs into her relationship with magic and the occult. . . . Touching on love, heritage, identity, and faith, White Magic is resonant and weighty.


  • Riveting and insightful.

    —Ms. Magazine

  • [Sifts] through the broken shards of culture, looking for messages to restore one’s spirit.

    —The Los Angeles Times

  • A fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman’s search for meaning.

    —Kirkus, Starred Review

  • Her prose is crisp and precise, and the references hit spot-on. . . . Fans of the personal essay are in for a treat.

    —Publishers Weekly

  • Powerful. . . . Washuta’s essays refuse the mandate of a tidy resolution. Instead she circles around each subject, inspecting it as symbol, myth, metaphor, and reality, all while allowing her readers space to draw their own conclusions, or to reject the need for any conclusion at all. Like a stage magician, she asks readers to look again. White Magic is an insightful, surprising, and eloquent record of stories of magic and the magic in stories.


  • A funny, piercingly intelligent memoir. . . . Washuta is thoroughly gifted.


  • She interlaces stories from her Native forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life.

    —New York Public Library

  • Remarkable. . . . Each essay is skillful at interweaving the personal and the historical—and on the whole, the collection is, well, magic.


  • Spellbinding…. [stirs] historical research and contemporary memoir into a captivating frenzy.


  • Bold, inventive, bewitching.

    —The Rumpus

  • The most incredible memoir.


  • Incantatory…. impassioned.


  • Washuta’s story and struggles become a metaphor for the toll of colonialism on generations of Indigenous people like herself. Readers of recovery narratives, women’s issues, and keenly observed social commentary will be rewarded here.

    —Library Journal

  • Her unique voice as a Cowlitz woman who refuses to be contained by colonialism, sexism, and ableism will light a fire in any reader who is paying attention.


  • [White Magic] is unlike any other book out there and will certainly launch Washuta’s meteoric rise.


  • Washuta’s frank confrontations with, and acknowledgments of, unhealed wounds are validating. . . . evoking the sense of peeling open a letter from an estranged friend. A poignant work by a rising essayist.

    —Foreword Reviews, Starred Review

  • In the end, it is not tarot cards but writing — the tedious but magical process of decoding and rebuilding with new tricks and spells — that proves to be the real magic.


  • An innovative and deeply felt work to sink into.

    —The Millions

  • A well of invention and imagination.

    —The Believer

  • A searingly honest and uniquely crafted work that rewards re-reading.

    —Columbus Monthly

  • White Magic shines with humor, heartbreak and the kind of wisdom that only comes by walking through fire.


  • Dazzling.


  • Spellbinding.

    —Bitch Magazine

  • Yet another example of why Elissa Washuta is one of the most talented essay writers writing today. Moving, smart, and resonant, these intertwined pieces are brilliant.

    —Largehearted Boy

  • There are lots of witchy memoirs out there, but Elissa Washuta’s White Magic is one of the best.

    —The Mary Sue

  • White magic, red magic, Stevie Nicks magic—this is Elissa Washuta magic, which is a spell carved from a life, written in blood, and sealed in an honesty I can hardly fathom.

    —Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians

  • White Magic is funny and wry, it’s thought-provoking and tender. It’s a sleight of hand performed by a true master of the craft. White Magic is magnificent and Elissa Washuta is spellbinding. There is no one else like her.

    —Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things

  • Elissa Washuta is exactly the writer we need right now: as funny as she is formidable a thinker, as thoughtful as she is inventive—her scrutiny is a fearless tool, every subject whittled to its truest form.

    —Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood

  • These pages are windows into a black lodge where Twin Peaks and Fleetwood Mac are on repeat—sometimes forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes in blackout blur. I stand in awe of everything here. What an incredible and wounding read.

    —Richard van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed

  • Part history, part riddle, part portal: this book worked on me like a spell. I’ve never read anything like White Magic, and will be returning to it again and again.

    —Claire Comstock-Gay, author of Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars

  • Beautifully crafted.

    —Wake Island Podcast

  • My favorite nonfiction book that I have read this year so far. It is fantastic. . . . I just wanted more and more from this writer who is such an incredible talent.

    —Reading Women Podcast