Published on - Lotte Poté

“If it doesn’t kill you, it will teach you a lot.”

5 things you need to know about writer Eileen Myles

Poet and writer Eileen Myles (they/them) grew into a cultural icon. Their life and work are infused with the unconventional spirit of freedom and rebellion. A punk poet who leaves an indelible mark on the literary world and beyond. Get to know Eileen Myles with 5 fascinating facts between literature and activism.

© Michiel Devijver
© Michiel Devijver © Michiel Devijver

1. Chelsea Girls: A Key Work

Chelsea Girls, published in 1994, is Myles’ most discussed book. This semi-autobiographical collection of stories provides a raw and unfiltered look into the lives of women in the 1960s and 70s. The book is a montage of experiences that explore the complexities of sexuality, poverty, and artistic life in New York, offering a window into the turbulent world of the writer, both celebrated and vilified.


2. Sex, Drugs and Poetry

“If it doesn’t kill you, it will teach you a lot, and I learned a lot from drugs and alcohol.” 

The life of Eileen Myles is inextricably linked with sex, drugs, and poetry. Living in the epicentre of the New York punk scene, Myles blends poetic expression with personal experiences of sexuality and drug experimentation. With a brutality and directness that both shocks and inspires, Myles challenges the traditional norms surrounding poetry and life itself.


Eileen Myles lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the East Village. Photo: Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

3. New York as a Base

In 1974, the 25-year-old Eileen Myles moved to New York, a recurring backdrop in Myles' works. From the raw streets of the Lower East Side to the bohemian allure of the Chelsea Hotel: the city forms the pulsating heart of their writing. Myles captures the soul of New York, with all its grit and beauty - a lyrical exploration of urban life.


4. Myles for President

In 1992, Eileen Myles launched an unconventional campaign for the American presidency under the slogan "An Openly Female Candidate." With a platform that emphasized LGBTQ rights, the abolition of debt prisons, and universal healthcare, Myles challenged the political status quo. Although the campaign was symbolic, it highlighted the need for more inclusion and diversity in American politics and continues to inspire activists and artists around the world.


© Jean-Michel Vlaeminckx-Cinergie

5. Connection with Chantal Akerman

Eileen Myles and Chantal Akerman share a profound connection through their exploration of themes such as identity, gender, and sexuality. At the request of Bozar, Myles wrote poetry for the exhibition of Chantal Akerman. The Belgian filmmaker inspired Myles before, when the latter wrote the foreword to the English edition of My Mother Laughs

On 30 April, you can meet Eileen Myles at Bozar for a talk and poetry reading. The exhibition Chantal Akerman. Travelling is open until 21 July. The accompanying publication, including poems by Eileen Myles, is available at the Bozar Bookshop.