Project Bookshelf with Emmalee Hagarman

When your twin is your roommate, you share most things, including your bookshelf. Ours was too small, so we each had separate stacks of books in our bedrooms, leaving space for our cat, Basil, to hide on its shelves. My twin sister and I earned our MFAs at OSU at the same time, so our little bookshelf was home to the essay collections that Kelsey, a creative nonfiction writer, had studied and loved, as well as the poetry volumes I’d read ten times over. The top shelf housed stacks of readings that we shared with our creative writing students. Our mom had instilled frugality in us early on, so we did not buy books often, but slowly accrued a tiny, well-loved library.

After earning our MFAs, Kelsey moved to Chicago and I stayed in Columbus. We promised to visit often. We split up our books, and I kept the small bookshelf. When she visited, we traded books, and in-between visits, I set a few aside on the shelf that I thought she would like.

When I celebrated New Year’s Eve this year in Chicago with my sister, we did not know a pandemic would arrive in her city later that month, that we would not see each other for six months after my visit. I’ll move to the present, though, because summer has arrived full-force in Ohio, and Kelsey was finally able to safely visit a few weeks ago. One of the first things she did was unpack the stack of books in her bag that she had been waiting to share, and she told me about each one, and we tried to make up for lost time.


Emmalee Hagarman earned her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University, where she served as poetry editor of The Journal. Recently her work was selected by Kenyatta Rogers to receive the Academy of American Poets Award/The Arthur Rense Prize, and also selected by Ruth Awad to receive the Helen Earnhart Harley Fellowship in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Waxwing, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Laurel Review, among others.

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