Literary Witches

A Celebration of Magical Women Writers


By Taisia Kitaiskaia

Illustrated by Katy Horan

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 10, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

An NPR Best Book of 2017

Celebrate the witchiest women writers with an inventive guidebook that pairs imaginative vignettes with whimsical, folkloric illustrations.

Literary Witches reimagines visionary writers as witches: both are figures of formidable creativity, empowerment, and general badassery. Through a series of thirty lyrical portraits, Taisia Kitaiskaia and Katy Horan honor the witchy qualities of well-known and obscure authors alike, including Virginia Woolf, Mira Bai, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Octavia E. Butler, Sandra Cisneros, and many more.

Perfect for both book lovers and coven members, Literary Witches is a treasure trove of creative and courageous women who aren’t afraid to be alone in the woods of their imagination. Kitaiskaia and Horan conjure evocative, highly stylized depictions of history’s most beloved female authors, introduce enchanting new writers, and invite you to rediscover the magic of literature.




Because all artists are magicians, and Witches wield a special magic. Witches and women writers alike dwell in creativity, mystery, and other worlds. They aren’t afraid to be alone in the woods of their imaginations, or to live in huts of their own making. They’re not afraid of the dark.

As such, the mantle of “Literary Witch” is the highest honor we can bestow upon an author. The thirty writers included here inspire us deeply, urging us to be creatively courageous. We’ve crafted their portraits in art and writing to pay homage to their presences, and to access their spirits through our own mediums.

Due to time, space, and seniority (long-practicing Witches must be noted before newly initiated Witches), the authors that follow make up only a single shelf of our role-model library. We hope that you will celebrate them with us, read their works, and go out to create your own canon of Literary Witches.

In Witchery,

Taisia and Katy


by Pam Grossman

THE WORD “WITCH” IS THROWN AROUND A LOT THESE DAYS: as an insult, an identifier, a badge of honor. We picture a witch, and we picture a multiplicity: She’s a hideous woman in a pointed hat. A sibyl swaying with prophetic visions. A bride of the devil. A devotee to the divine feminine. A Salem villager. An herbalist. A seductress. A forest dweller in a hut made of detritus or chicken legs or candy. A 1990s teenager in pentagrams and plaid. What does the word witch mean, though? And perhaps more importantly: what do we mean when we use it?

The origin is unclear. A bit of research will tell you that it’s perhaps a derivation of Old Germanic words that mean “wise” or “to bend” or “willow.” I like all these options, even more so when considered together. I think of someone who is knowledgeable in the art of shape-shifting. Someone plugged into an ancient current. Someone who is pliable not out of resignation but out of self-preservation. She’s an intelligent, resilient being who changes with the times, and changes the times along with her.

One thing is certain: a witch is almost always a “she.” And I’ve come to realize that the Witch is arguably the only female archetype that has power on its own terms. She is not defined by anyone else. Wife, sister, mother, virgin, whore—these archetypes draw meaning based on relationships with others. The Witch, however, is a woman who stands entirely on her own. She is more often than not an outsider, and her gift is transformation. She is a change agent, and her work is sparked by speech: an incantation, a naming, a blessing, a curse.

Who is more worthy of this moniker than female writers, who themselves conjure worlds out of words? Certainly they have much in common with witches: women who create things other than children are still considered dangerous by many. They are marginalized, trivialized, or totally ignored. Too often they are excluded from the artistic canon—but they are weaponized nonetheless.

For let’s recall that many occultic words are connected to those of language: Spelling and spells. Grammar and grimoire. Abracadabra is thought to be derived from an Aramaic phrase that translates to “I create like the word.” To write, then, is to make magic. And so it follows that to be a female writer is, in fact, to be a kind of Witch.

This book in your hands also contains multitudes. It is a course corrective, an inspiration potion, a mystic dossier. Reading Literary Witches is like climbing through a feminist family tree, with gnarled roots, fruit-laden branches, and leaves of letters that offer sustenance and shelter.

Through this luminous volume, we trace a legacy of language, connected by gender if not genetics. It positions these writers as members of a coven: one in which Mirabai, Mary Shelley, Octavia Butler, and María Sabina each has her moment in the center of the circle. And we, the reader, are allowed entrance as well. Our offering is our attention to each bright life we encounter here.

Taisia Kitaiskaia supplies us with the hexen text. Her three “facts” about each Witch writer read like surrealist invocations. She weaves morsels of their biographies with her own channeled visions. Odd and lovely images surface in her scrying glass. She mixes the “factual” with the “true” in her brew, and elevates each woman to the realm of legend.

She writes that Virginia Woolf “leaps easily from one pool of consciousness to another,” and so we think simultaneously of Mrs. Dalloway and a High Priestess in trance.

We’re told of Audre Lorde that “in night’s secret wood, where women go to eat their own hearts, Audre is a goddess rising from a pond of lava.” I, for one, can attest that Lorde’s writings make me glow with inner fire, and that I have worshipped at her altar on many a dark occasion.

About Anne Carson, Kitaiskaia writes, “Sappho, Sokrates, and Sophokles are a few of the ghosts that haunt Anne’s nights.” Whether this should be read as an allusion to Carson’s classicist streak or as evidence of necromancy is uncertain. After all, who’s to say that Carson doesn’t convene with phantoms in the evenings? Far be it from me.

Therein lies the immense pleasure of this book. As readers, we’re pulled between a desire to decipher these fragments and an eagerness to surrender to their delicious mystery.

Katy Horan’s strange and tender illustrations capture this spirit perfectly. A painter who specializes in folkloric scenes of feminine magic, she has found ideal subject matter here. Each of her portraits is reminiscent of religious iconography, embellished with miraculous elements and secret symbols throughout. No stranger to Witches, she is perhaps best known for her paintings of crones and naked ladies who engage in woodland rituals and make talismans from string and lace.

Weavers, potters, cooks, and healers—all have Witchly connotations, for they have traditionally been women with the gift of alchemizing something crude into something fine. For Horan to include female writers in her ongoing visual narrative makes perfect sense. By painting them, she elevates them from the chthonic to the celestial. Each of these illustrations is its own self-contained constellation, glittering with beauty and charm.

Taken together, Kitaiskaia’s words and Horan’s pictures form one grand working. Literary Witches is their shared spell for feminine crafting that raises the dead, honors the ancestors, and takes us to a place where women have full creative sovereignty.

It is a curious compendium to be sure. Read it, and you will assuredly be drawn to further tomes and poems. You may even become enchanted enough to write something new yourself.

As to how to approach this book? There is no set order imposed. I suggest you begin oracularly: pick a section at random, in an act of bibliomancy. It will lead you to someone wise and wonderful and wildly free, no doubt.

Go ahead. Flip to any page. Follow your wyrd.

Welcome the Witch.





WHEN SHE BRUSHES the carpet, Emily imagines she is smoothing the moors for Heathcliff’s perfect feet. He’ll come in, Emily dreams, like the winds she walks against—muscular gusts, clenched hands snarling under her coats.

WHAT DO THE ants whisper to Emily as they climb the ruined trees outside? She puts her ear to the bark and listens. She will join their palace… She will be their ant queen… She will pit them against other ant queendoms.… She will watch their love and war play out.

EMILY MAKES A telescope from ice and twine. Through this tunnel, she stares into her own eye until she sees a galaxy, and through the galaxy until she sees a stranger’s eye.

Emily Brontë spent her uneventful life at the family home on the moors. She created fantasy worlds with her brilliant sisters (Charlotte and Anne), brushed the carpet, and took walks in the hills. She achieved posthumous fame for Wuthering Heights, a vicious novel of romance between two isolated, stormy characters—Catherine and Heathcliff—after her death of tuberculosis at thirty.


Novel of Brutal Love: Wuthering Heights

Poetry of the Brontë Coven: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

Best Writing About Emily: “The Glass Essay,” by (fellow Witch) Anne Carson






  • "What a pleasure to read this ode to women writers whose works enchant, mystify, consume, and ensnare. Refreshingly global, covering authors across time, ethnicity, class, sensibility, religion, and aesthetic, Literary Witches successfully weaves together the personal, the political, and the heretical. Sometimes quiet and contemplative, other times whimsical and humorous, and always with an undercurrent of frantic, gnashing violence, this book is a dazzling tribute to the women who've conjured our cultural world."?Rivers Solomon, Afrofuturist and author of An Unkindness of Ghosts
  • "Literary Witches is a kaleidoscopic grimoire that reveals our beloved literary craftswomen as the powerful witches we know them to be. Katy Horan's resplendent illustrations pulse with primal magic and are the kindling that set Taisia Kitaiskaia's gripping, exquisitely crafted words ablaze. This collaboration will not only inspire you to dig deeper into transportive works of fiction and poetry, but to access your inner creatrix. Above all, Literary Witches is a call to action to become the witch who writes her own story and wills it into the world."?Kristen J. Sollée, author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive
  • "Part portal into the superpowers of irreverent female literary heroines and part illustrated almanac of fun facts dispatched through the lens of the ultimate mystical female archetype, Literary Witches is at the same time enormously enjoyable, rich in information, and visually brilliant."?Lisa Congdon, artist, illustrator, and author
  • "Literary Witches is itself an act of witchcraft, a spellbook to wake the living and the dead. Taisia Kitaiskaia and Katy Horan have conjured lucid, intuitive, psychoactive visions of how these brilliant women writers have inhabited space and time. Transformative, revivifying, gorgeous, unsettling, and intensely moving, this book is a volume of poetry, miniature encyclopedia, and twenty-first-century illuminated manuscript all at once. I'll treasure this book like a lucky object and return to it whenever I need courage, or mischief, or beauty, or permission."?Jia Tolentino, writer for The New Yorker online
  • "Horan's beautiful, ominous illustrations combined with Kitaiskaia's juicy author highlights leave the reader wanting more. Together they cast an encouraging, powerful, feminine spell of honor & inspiration."?Faythe Levine, curator, filmmaker, and author
  • "The perfect gift for the nasty woman in your haunted house."—Washington Post
  • "A treasure."—New York Journal of Books
  • "Literary Witches pulls together the witchiest women writers (including Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, Sandra Cisneros, and Flannery O'Connor) in one book with reading recommendations and gorgeous portraits of each."—Bitch
  • "Kitaiskaia crafts mythological identities for each author in this wonderfully broad collection spanning Emily Dickinson to Octavia Butler to Sappho and Mirabai, each illustrated by Katy Horan and elevating witches from warty Halloween decorations to visionary and inspirational literary icons."—Shelf Awareness
  • "Gorgeous illustrations accompany profiles of female writers from every genre, identity and era conceivable. As necessary a project as I can imagine in this day and age, this is art, poetry and history marshaled together in tremendous, joyful celebration."?Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties, writing for NPR's Guide to 2017's Great Reads
  • "There's something intoxicating about imagining your favorite female writers as having spiritual powers."
  • "Perfect for readers, writers, and coven members."—HelloGiggles
  • "Wondrous...haunting... vibrant. A lovely compendium of impressionistic sketches, fusing biographical facts with flights of the invocational imagination."—Brain Pickings
  • "Kitaiskaia's visions are delightfully uncanny... Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers is a compendium of bookish saints, lavishly and bodily portrayed by Horan."—Times Literary Supplement (UK)

On Sale
Oct 10, 2017
Page Count
128 pages
Seal Press

Taisia Kitaiskaia

About the Author

Taisia Kitaiskaia is the author of The Nightgown & Other Poems, Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles, and Poetic Remedies for Troubled Times from Ask Baba Yaga. She holds an MFA from the James A. Michener Center for Writers and has published poetry in journals such as Crazyhorse, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and the Fairy Tale Review. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Katy Horan is an illustrator and fine artist who channels the Witch archetype through her drawings and paintings of Appalachian granny witches, full moon ceremonies, and strange folk magic. Her work has been exhibited throughout North America and featured in anthologies such as Beasts! (Fantagraphics), The Exquisite Book (Chronicle), and Dark Inspiration (Victionary). She lives in Austin, Texas.

Learn more about this author