Brain Pickings

Waving to Virginia: Patti Smith Reads Woolf


“One man will single me out and will tell me what he has told no other person.”

What could be more soul-quenching than two grand dames of creative culture — Virginia Woolf and Patti Smith — coming together? In this short footage recorded at the opening of a 2008 Paris exhibition of four decades’ worth of Smith’s art and photography, she celebrates Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves (public library; public domain) with a mesmerizing dramatic performance.

In fact, Smith’s choice of narrative is more conceptual — perhaps an allusion to her 1979 album Wave — than an actual “reading”: Only a single sentence comes from Woolf’s original text, and the rest is a kind of free improvisation in a creative homage to the beloved author. Enjoy:

Something within her refused to grow. Something endless, eternal. Something bold. Something warrior-like. She looked up at the stars, she could feel, she felt as if she could pluck them one by one and send them spinning into the world, like small beautiful elastic mercurial weapons. Now too, the time is coming.

Complement with Woolf on reading, film, and keeping a diary, then treat yourself to Smith’s advice to the young, her lettuce soup recipe for starving artists, and her beautiful homage to her soul mate.

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