Called Back

“Mary Cappello’s CALLED BACK shimmers on the page…CALLED BACK is exquisite.”

CALLED BACK (originally from Alyson Books) TO BE RE-ISSUED, Spring 2021 by Fordham University Press (trade paperback and e-book)

Winner of a ForeWord Book of the Year Award

Independent Publishers Prize (IPPY)

Lambda Literary Award Finalist

Publishing Triangle Award Finalist

GAMMA Award for Best Feature from The Magazine Association of the Southeast for “Getting the News,” The Georgia Review, Summer 2009

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Guerrilla Girls on Tour, and by WILLA: Women in Literary Arts and Letters.

Marsden Hartley's Summer-Sea Window No. 1
Marsden Hartley’s Summer-Sea Window No. 1

Rendered in a wholly original voice, at once sensuous and intelligent, Called Back is a cancer critique for the 21st century. Mary Cappello wonders aloud for us what breast cancer awareness really makes us aware of, and responds as if for the first time to the deceivingly simple command: “tell me what you’re feeling.” Unable to eat on chemotherapy, Cappello feasts on the paintings of Marsden Hartley, yearns in the tradition of Dickinson and Stein, keeps company with Proust, and lets queer artists tease her back to life. Called Back looks through the lens of cancer to discover new truths about intimacy and essential solitude, eroticism, the fact of the body, and the impossibility of turning away.

Praise for Called Back from writers, readers, and audience members:

“Award-winning author Mary Cappello is not only a unique poet, she’s a trenchant activist–the kind of artist that makes you see something you thought you knew very well as if for the first time…”  — Reader review on

“There is no scarier moment than when the doctor looks at his feet, clears his throat, and mutters that you have cancer. The earth opens under you. After a while, most patients summon a remarkable courage to confront the relentless disease and the rugged cures. But few have summoned the clear-eyed, large-hearted intelligence that Mary Cappello has to describe the experience in harrowing, redemptive detail. With precision, passion, wit, and a poet’s eye for the incongruous and devastating that is to say, the human, she has written a book that will open your eyes and touch your heart. Called Back is an account of how a life can be broken and put back together again. It’s an astonishing literary achievement.”  — J. D. McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review, author of Mercury Dressing

“Mary Cappello’s Called Back shimmers on the page. Ezra Pound said a writer has to “make it new” and Cappello has done that rare feat. Cancer books have become a genre that nobody wants to read, except this book. Read this book. Called Back is exquisite.”  — Patty Dann author of Mermaids, and of The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth About It)

“The momentum of Called Back…derives from [Mary Cappello’s] extraordinarily capacious mind: her intelligence, wit, and emotional candor; the clarity and alertness of her train of thought; the restlessness of her style. The book has impressive energy: she’s always moving past herself, exploring larger issues. Cappello…makes stunning connections between literature, art, her life, medicine, cancer. A brilliant book.”  — David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

“Although I haven’t (yet) been there myself, the details of Mary Cappello’s sojourn in the underworld of breast cancer treatment felt familiar and true: her obsessive search for portents, the camaraderie she finds in the radiology dungeon, her sense of isolation as therapy proceeds, her anger at cancer kitsch. I loved being offered the companionship of Cappello’s feeling mind, full of sharp insights into coupledom, friendship, teaching. I loved her insistence on taking everything in, not rushing to be “healed” before experience registers. I loved the precision and passion with which this book about facing mortality attends to the particulars of being alive–both in the body and in language.”  — Jan Clausen author of If You Like Difficulty, and From a Glass House, and Apples and Oranges: My Journey through Sexual Identity

“I have read a lot of cancer narratives, but what you are doing is so different from anything else that is out there. The connections you make — between language and cancer; the treatment and the feeling of words; it’s truly astonishing…I feel like someone is writing for me. Does that make any sense? This is my story. Not the details. Not the exact set of happenings. But the feeling, the heart of the emotion, the truth being told…The relationship you create with language throughout the book continues to strike me. I am always attentive to language, and it is so stunning to me the connections you make, the presentation of words in this ghastly process, your descriptions, your musings, and back again to the language…It is, finally, a relief to read something so smart, so well presented and so…right. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but this is not your average cancer narrative. This is an experience completely beautifully rendered, elevated to the highest art without one word smacking of self-pity or complaint or preaching. The anger is correct. The tone is perfect. The entire authenticity of experience makes me weep with appreciation and joy. Thank you.”  — Deidre Pope, poet

“Your reading gave me chills. I was on pins and needles. I lost my Mom to breast cancer very young and I wish she could have had access to your quirky, funny, moving, courageous counter-narrative lovesong. You are a truly brilliant writer and thinker and I am proud to have you as a colleague.”  — Galen Johnson, Professor of Philosophy