Don’t Let It Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender & the Body


Savala Nolan

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A powerful and provocative collection of essays that offers poignant reflections on living between society’s most charged, politicised, and intractably polar spaces—between black and white, rich and poor, thin and fat. 

The twelve essays that comprise this collection are rich with unforgettable anecdotes and are as humorous and as full of Nolan’s appetites as they are of anxieties.

In ‘On Dating White Guys While Me,’ Nolan realises her early romantic pursuits of rich, preppy white guys weren’t about preference, but about self-erasure.

In the titular essay ‘Don’t Let it Get You Down,’ we traverse the cyclical richness and sorrow of being Black in America as Black children face police brutality.

In ‘Bad Education,’ we see how women learn to internalise rage and accept violence in order to participate in our culture.

Shortlisted for the 2022 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing


‘The essays in Savala Nolan’s first collection, Don’t Let It Get You Down, unfold out of her complex relationship with being a big-bodied, mixed-race Black woman…Nolan is writing into a long tradition, and its contemporary renaissance. From Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk to slave narratives, the Black essay is rich with stories of otherness and duality. Writers like Clint Smith, Emily Bernard, Nishta J. Mehra, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Claudia Rankine, Mychal Denzel Smith and Robert Jones Jr. bring the modern essay form to bear as much on how the experiences of Blackness differ as they do on how they cohere. This embrace of the heterogeneity of Black womanhood is part of this book’s charm. Vulnerable, but rarely veering into self-indulgence…it is a brutal, beautifully rendered narrative. A standout collection.’
—New York Times Book Review

‘Savala Nolan is powerful and complex…Like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Nolan’s essays speak to both young and old Americans about our country’s pervasive history of racism.’
—BookPage, starred review

‘A deeply personal debut collection…the mix of cultural criticism and thoughtful personal writing will be just right for fans of Roxane Gay.’
—Publishers Weekly

‘I like the voice and intelligence with which these essays come together . . . a vibrant and thoughtful collection of essays.’
—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

‘It takes temerity to tell this kind of truth, to be unbowed by one’s own trepidation. Savala Nolan does so boldly, and this book will help so many Black women to get free.’
—Brittney Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Eloquent Rage

‘In these thrilling essays, built with one blazing, breathtaking sentence after another, Savala Nolan takes us from the personal to the political and back again as she explores her fascinating range of experiences as a Black American woman. Authoritative, honest, and often bitingly humorous, Don’t Let It Get You Down is a book for our time and every time. It is not a book to read; it is a book to savor.’
—Emily Bernard, author of Black is the Body

‘This a brilliant collection of essays explores living between society’s most politicised spaces –between black and white, rich and poor, thin and fat. With a bit of Beyoncé thrown in too.’
—Cosmopolitan UK

‘In this woven tapestry of stories and histories of race, gender, class, and the body, Savala Nolan gives readers a deeply personal insight into what it feels like to hold identities that are seen as ‘other’ in dominant culture. For those of us who feel like ‘in-betweeners’ this powerful collection of poetic essays offers a place to be seen and to be heard in the fullness of our beautiful complexities. In reading Savala’s words as she travels to understand her experiences, and free herself from the parts that oppress, I found myself saying, ‘Wow. Yes. Me too.”
—Layla F. Saad, author of New York Times bestseller Me and White Supremacy

‘In gorgeous prose and with profound clarity, Savala Nolan reckons with the interconnected oppressions, external and internalized, that have burdened her body: Anti-blackness, fat phobia, colonialism, and patriarchy. Don’t Let it Get You Down is vital reading for all of us working to bust out of boxes, binaries, silences, and shame.’
—Nadia Owusu, author of Aftershocks

‘Savala Nolan deals a blow to the hollow—and very white—rhetoric of the body positivity movement with her essay collection, offering up her own stories of living in a body that are nuanced and warm, funny and painful.’
—Marisa Meltzer, author of This is Big

‘In twelve probing essays, Savala Nolan explores her intersectionality of race, gender and body awareness with an unflinching honesty that is both revelatory and unsettling. The essays are personal and confessional but informed by an awareness of larger historical narratives rooted in American culture. Nolan’s essays on gender are critical continuations of conversations most recently shaped by writers such as Brittney Cooper and Roxane Gay…At the heart of the book is Nolan’s insistence that she must firmly stand in her truth and not be roped into needlessly debating it.’
—San Francisco Chronicle

‘An eloquently provocative memoir in essays…This fierce and intelligent book is important not just for how it celebrates hard-won pride in one’s identity, but also for how Nolan articulates the complicated—and too often overlooked—nature of personal and cultural in-betweenness.’
—Kirkus Reviews

‘[A] book of vulnerable yet voluable personal essays on weight and multiracial identity…Nolan’s writing on identity and self-worth is captivating from start to finish; her words will resonate long after the last page.’
—Library Journal, starred review

‘It is a heavy book that takes aim at many of the issues facing so many people (and, in particular, Black women) today, but it is also a book that contains moments of pure joy, laughter, and insight. Not only is Don’t Let It Get You Down an important read, but it is also a delightful one that shows just how multitalented and impressive the author is when taking on subjects that resonate inside of her but also in the bodies and minds of her readers as well.’

‘Savala Nolan’s voice is one that deserves to be heard in all its vulnerability and complexity.’

Dimensions: Demy 135mm x 216mm with flaps
Length: 209 pages
Published: 30 June 2022
ISBN: 978-1911648437
Cover design: © Luke Bird
Cover artwork: © Diana Ong

Publicist: Jordan Taylor-Jones
Agent: Sandy Violette at Abner Stein, Chase Literary Agency
Foreign rights: The Marsh Agency

About the author

Savala Nolan is an essayist and director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She and her writing have been featured in Vogue, Time, Harper’s MagazineThe New York Times Book Review, NPR and more. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Don’t Let It Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender & the Body

In 1997, at the age of sixteen, I left my home in California to spend the summer in New York City. I stayed in the luxurious apartments of the prep school kids I’d befriended that spring at the Mountain School, an idyllic, warmhearted, working farm in Vermont where we’d all participated in an elite semester-long program for high school juniors. I wore size 26 pants—that’s a women’s plus-size 26—sported worn-out cornrows and acne, and had divorced parents and no money. Except for my mind—which got me into an exclusive program like the Mountain School—I was nothing like the Manhattan teenagers who hosted me, who lived in apartments with staff entrances and Picassos hung casually in hallways, who carried twenty-dollar lip balm and had faces as clear and cared-for as pearls, who were both profligate and cheap in the unusual way of the wealthy, thinking nothing of three-hundred-dollar dinners yet walking an extra four blocks to buy the cheapest pack of cigarettes.
I think our friendships were real. I think they loved me, and it was mutual. But I can never know how much of their love was tethered to the sheer delight and surprise of meeting a fat brown girl on scholarship who could quote Wordsworth, whose family came to America in the 1600s, who wore preppy clothes, even if big. Whether our friendships were deeply honest or a little bit rotten, when we hung out I always felt I was listening—eavesdropping—from another room, ear pressed to the wall. They were tip-top upper class; I was with them, but not of them. I heard what they said and, like a spy, observed how they moved, their words and actions rich with layers of meaning even they didn’t understand because fish never fully understand the water. That summer’s experience, when I felt my incredible proximity to power but also my irreconcilable distance from it, has stayed with me. It has, in fact, been one of the defining dynamics of my life.
I call myself in-between: I’m a mixed Black woman and what folks have sometimes called “a whole lot of yellow wasted,” meaning I have light (yellow) skin “wasted” by Black features (kinky hair, broad nose). I’m Mexican on my dad’s side, but I don’t speak Spanish. I’m descended from enslaved people on my dad’s side, but slaveholders on my mom’s side. Their progeny disowned her and her future kids when she married a Black man. I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution. My mom completed graduate school, as did I; my dad didn’t finish elementary school and spent nearly twenty years incarcerated (a few years here, a few years there). I started my first diet at age three or four, and have been painfully thin and truly fat, multiple times, for thirty years, which is to say I know things about womanhood that you can’t know if your body is normal or your weight hasn’t fluctuated wildly. I’m a lawyer, and in law school I worked for the United States Attorney’s Office and the Obama administration, and as a child I watched my dad deal cocaine to pay child support. I went to tony private schools and grew up in Marin County, which had the world’s highest per capita income in those days; I also sometimes spent week-ends with my dad, who was so poor we went to the bathroom in buckets under a ceiling hole repaired with a tarp.
This book began as a way to process my own dislocation, as the kind of cartography we all do to address certain ambiguities in our lives. Ultimately, it is about living between society’s most charged, politicized, and intractably polar spaces: between Black and white, between rich and poor, between thin and fat (as a woman). It’s about the processes of growing up, dating, working, mothering, and self-discovering while occupying these interstitial identities. I live on the balcony and the dance floor at the same time, and my story is rooted in my body: a brown, female, and currently fat body the world more or less despises, and onto which the culture ascribes a bizarre constellation of faults, sins, fates, and histories; and also a body with light-skin privilege, and access to thin privilege, and which has successfully carried me through elite spaces from the White House to Park Avenue apartments. Through the eyes of my body, I see the world’s dominant cultures and subordinated cultures as an insider and an outsider at once. I wrote this book to illuminate these dominant and subordinated spaces, and the space that both separates and binds them. I wrote it to articulate a space in between.

The Arts Desk, 29 September 2022: Finding voice in the liminal

Gal-Dem, 2 July 2022: ‘Please don’t call me strong’: notes on race, gender and the body

Cosmopolitan, 1 June 2022: 24 of the best new book releases in June

Tressie McMillan Cottom for the New York Times Book Review, 12 July 2021: Savala Nolan Takes a Hard Look at the White Gaze and Its Blind Spots

Dolen Perkins-Valdez for San Francisco Chronicle, 15 July 2021: Twelve revelatory essays probe with unflinching honesty what it means to be black 

Library Journal (Starred Review), 1 July 2021: ‘Nolan’s writing on identity and self-worth is captivating from start to finish; her words will resonate long after the last page.’

Bookpage (Starred Review), 2 June 2021: ‘Savala Nolan is powerful and complex… Like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Nolan’s essays speak to both young and old Americans about our country’s pervasive history of racism.’, 15 July 2021: Savala Nolan Is Finally Being Heard Loud and Clear

Utopia State of Mind, 27 September 2021: Review: Don’t Let it Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Body by Savala Nolan

Kirkus Reviews: ‘An eloquently provocative memoir in essays’

Publishers Weekly: ‘The mix of cultural criticism and thoughtful personal writing will be just right for fans of Roxane Gay’

Mom’s Don’t Have Time To Read Books Podcast, October 2021: ‘Savala Nolan, DON’T LET IT GET YOU DOWN: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Body’

LET IT GO Podcast, August 2021:Don’t Let It Get You Down: Savala Nolan Returns (part 1)’

LET IT GO Podcast, August 2021: ‘Don’t Let It Get You Down: Savala Nolan Returns (part 2)’

LET IT GO Podcast, October 2019: ‘278 | Meltdown, Anxiety, social overwhelm, body peace, rest, Bread with Butter + More with Savala Nolan Trepczynski’

Back Issue Podcast, October 2021: That Time We Literally Looked Back At It (feat. Nikki Giovanni, Nichole Perkins, and Savala Nolan’

KQED’s Forum Podcast, August 2021: ‘Savala Nolan Recounts Tresspass Against Black Women’s Bodies in “Don’t Let It Get You Down”

Eat the Rules with Summer Innanen Podcast, July 2021: ‘#201: Body Image, Race, & Gender – with Savala Nolan’

Teacher Fan Club Podcast, March 2022: ‘WNW Series: Race, Gender, and the Body with Savala Nolan’

In This Body Podcast, July 2021: ’02: From Destructive Dieting to Constructive Conversations on Social Justice with Savala Nolan’

#WeGotGoals Podcast, Jan 2022: ‘A Deep Dive into Diet Culture with Savala Nolan, Author of “Don’t Let It Get You Down”‘

Good Ancestor Podcast, October 2021: ‘Ep056: #GoodAncestor Savala Nolan – “Don’t Let It Get You Down”‘

Savala’s recommended reading list

HOW TO BE AN ARTIST by Jerry Saltz

Every writer should read this book. It changed my life. In particular, Saltz’s advice on handling the embarrassment of exposure, on the cure for procrastination, and on how to measure your success are game-changers. I can confidently say my book wouldn’t exist had I not read this one first.


Nobody does a short story like Meloy!  The characters feel so real and rich that they seem to breathe through the pages, and her themes are the biggies—desire, love, loss, mortality.  She manages to leave so much unsaid—it’s like she sketches the empty space inside the bowl and lets us conjure the sides and bottom on our own.  How she creates penetrating stories with such spare architecture and such a light hand is a technical mystery to me.  I aspire to it! 


The story is a gut-punch, with a mix of otherworldly and workaday scenes that Ward weaves together masterfully.  But, as a writer, it’s Ward’s creative strength that really got me.  There is writerly brawn and grit in these pages.  I can just feel her unwavering commitment to her vision, and I find that very exciting. 

HEART BERRIES: A MEMOIR by Terese Marie Mailhot

The intimacy in this book is riveting.  It’s as though Mailhot is allowing us to watch her beating heart.  The metacognition in this book is fierce, too—she is well aware of the conundrums women of color, and Indigenous women in particular, face when it comes to speaking honestly and publicly about our trials.  How do we balance our need to speak with our need to protect ourselves from voyeurism?  Heart Berries is a masterclass on this question.

NEGROLAND by Margot Jefferson

Nobody does it better!  If Jefferson wrote a recipe for toast, I’d read it.  Her writing has the sheen and polish of deep, careful attention and also the freshness of improvisation.  She assumes we, her readers, are as smart as she is.  She asks us to work a bit for the fruit of her labor, and because her writing and intellect are sharp as razors and rich as cream, the work is joyful, indeed. 


A joy to read.  Writing a daily diary of joys is a simple idea, which is part of the book’s appeal; it is also a special idea, to linger over life’s sweetness and etch the fleeting moments into prose. 


Revelatory, in a word. Diaz knots together language with rhythm, clarity, and a lot of heart, and she’s never sentimental. I found this collection to be a bracing tonic, always opening my thinking about what’s possible with language.

MAUD MARTHA by Gwendolyn Brooks

Brooks dwells in her protagonist’s interior with leisurely, detailed, loving attention, and this is a rare treat.  Black women like Maud Martha are often depicted as being in constant conversation with the external forces of racism and sexism, and we therefore lose sight of their inner lives separate and apart from their oppressions.  Brooks’ approach reminded (and reminds) me to protect the private, non-political parts of myself even as I engage in political and public conversations.  (The Sovereignty of Quiet by Kevin Quashie includes a terrific meditation on Maud Martha.)

BELOVED by Toni Morrison

I turned to Beloved again and again, rereading it in its entirety and revisiting passages and lines. The language moves me as much as the story.  And Morrison’s was the only prose I could read during the drafting process that didn’t throw off my voice; I attribute this to her talent being lightyears beyond my reach, like a galaxy unto herself, and therefore having an unattainable gravity and gravitas.  In other words, she’s so magnificent and singular there was no chance of my voice drifting toward hers! Reading Beloved simply felt good, and it reminded me why writing matters.

US edition

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