Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
To hyphenate or not to hyphenate has been a central point of controversy since before the imprinting of the first Gutenberg Bible. And yet, the hyphen has persisted, bringing and bridging new words and concepts.
Hyphen follows the story of the hyphen from antiquity – "Hyphen” is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “to tie together” – to the present, but also uncovers the politics of the hyphen and the role it plays in creating identities. The journey of this humble piece of connective punctuation reveals the quiet power of an orthographic concept to speak to the travails of hyphenated individuals all over the world. Hyphen is ultimately a compelling story about the powerful ways that language and identity intertwine.
Mahdavi – herself a hyphenated Iranian-American – weaves in her own experiences struggling to find her own sense of self amidst feelings of betwixt and between. We meet three other individuals who are each on a similar journey and watch as they find a way to embrace the space of the hyphen – rejecting the false choice of trying to fit into previously prescribed identities. Through their stories, we collectively consider how belonging only serves to fulfill the failures of troubled states, regimes, or institutions and offer possibilities to navigate, articulate, and empower new identities.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
****Please note, this version is an uncorrected proof.