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Ariel Levy

Author of the New York Times-bestselling memoir The Rules Do Not Apply

  • About Ariel Levy

    A successful writer and self-described “beneficiary of the women’s movement,” Ariel Levy was proud of her ability to invent her own life, one that included traveling the world, marrying the woman she loved, and becoming a mother. But when Levy lost her spouse, her son, and her home in one cataclysmic month, everything unraveled. “The realization of how little control I had over the life I thought I’d been meticulously crafting for years was destabilizing,” she says. “It felt like I was bobbing up and down in a sea of grief.” The Rules Do Not Apply, based on her National Magazine Award-winning New Yorker essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” is the story of how Levy learned something “as natural unavoidable as mortality: everybody doesn’t get everything,” and ultimately came to terms with loss, change, and giving up the illusion of control.

    Levy worked her way up from being a typist at New York magazine to becoming a contributing editor, a position she held there for twelve years before joining The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008. She became known for her trend pieces exploring modern culture, and for her thoughtful profiles of women like the South African runner Caster Semenya, the swimmer Diana Nyad, and Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that overthrew the Defense of Marriage Act. In her revelatory, funny, and powerful talks, Levy inspires audiences with the story of her unconventional life, and how hope and curiosity—the same forces that made her a great writer—helped her to survive as everything else fell apart.

    In addition to The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy is the author of the book Female Chauvinist Pigs, a critique of the “raunch culture” of the early 2000s. She also edited the 2015 collection The Best American Essays. She lives in New York and South Africa with her husband, and continues to write for The New Yorker.

  • Speaking Topics

    The Rules Do Not Apply

    Raised to resist traditional rules about work, love, and womanhood, Levy created a successful life on her own terms. When she left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, and financially secure, but a month later, none of that was true. In this moving talk, Ariel Levy shares the story behind her unforgettable memoir.

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  • Praise for Ariel Levy

    Praise for The Rules Do Not Apply

    Every deep feeling a human is capable of will be shaken loose by this profound book. Ariel Levy has taken grief, and made art out of it.

    David Sedaris

    Ariel Levy is a writer of uncompromising honesty, remarkable clarity and surprising humor, gathered from the wreckage of tragedy. Her account of life doing its darnedest to topple her, and her refusal to be knocked down, will leave you shaken and inspired.

    Lena Dunham

    Every now and then, a book comes along that you will love forever. The Rules Do Not Apply is that book for me; since reading it, I’ve been touting it, teaching it, conversing with it.

    The Rumpus

    [P]rofound, and lasting. Growing out of an essay called "Thanksgiving in Mongolia," The Rules Do Not Apply reveals what happens when nature decides to smash the plans you've made, and derail what you thought was your life.


    [A] beautifully crafted, harrowing account…  Levy’s new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, is…an account of a marriage and its dissolution, a female writer’s coming-of-age, a woman reckoning with the various cultural scripts that have been written for her gender… There’s a deep generosity in Levy’s willingness to acknowledge that trauma is rarely dignified or simple; her writing offers readers a salve against the loneliness of feeling that one’s own sorrow should feel more elegant or pure… This book is haunting; it is smart and engaging. It was so engrossing that I read it in a day.  

    The New York Times Book Review

    A thoroughly modern memoir, the elements of The Rules Do Not Apply seem plucked not from the script of Girls, which has also been exploring reproductive issues of late, but Transparent — even Portlandia...“When ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’ landed on his desk, [David] Remnick said he read it right away, against his habit. ‘I couldn’t get out of my chair,’ he said. ‘It’s not as if I hadn’t known what had happened; we had been talking even when she was still there. The world is full of personal essays. My illness. My divorce. My delight. They are everywhere. Arguably there are too many. Among the average ones, there’s a kind of grasping aspect to them. When they connect, as Ari’s did, there’s really nothing like it.’

    Penelope Green, The New York Times

    [Fierce] and beautiful memoir.

    The message [in The Rules Do Not Apply] is: while we might think our choices make us who we are, actually, it’s the things we have no choice over that truly make us.

    [The Rules Do Not Apply] is a short, sharp American memoir in the Mary Karr tradition of life-chronicling. Which is to say that Levy, like Karr, is a natural writer who is also as unsparing and bleakly hilarious as it’s possible to be about oneself…. As Levy’s life starts to spin out of her control (an affair, failure to conceive, refusal to acknowledge her wife’s drinking problem) the reason for calling this book The Rules Do Not Apply becomes clear. She is beating tradition, is indeed the protagonist of her own life. But she finds, after the catastrophe of miscarrying while on a magazine assignment abroad, that “The wide-open blue forever had spoken: You control nothing”. The book ends where it begins, in the aftermath of the whirlwind of events that upends this woman’s controlled, self-determined world. I devoured her story in one sitting. It felt, well, greedy. But “greedy” is how the author characterises herself, so it seemed fine, hopeful even, to read her work in the same way, perhaps absorbing as I went a tiny bit of Levy’s remarkable resilience and appetite for life.

    Financial Times

    In reflecting on her own life, Levy’s tone is deeply honest, and at the same time manages to not be defensive or apologetic about her decisions; she’s not judgmental, but remains highly inquisitive. It’s a delicate balance, one rarely pulled off. The through line is her struggle to see things as accurately as possible, to translate her gift for interview and narrative into something personally productive… I loved Levy’s book, and have followed her work for years, which made interviewing her a slight struggle. I had to navigate around what personally resonated with me and what would mean a great deal to others…. [I]f you take anything away from our conversation, I hope it’s that you should read The Rules Do Not Apply.


    It’s Levy’s voice in The Rules Do Not Apply that wins us over, at once commanding and vulnerable.

    The Washington Post

    [F]rank and unflinchingly sincere… A gut-wrenching, emotionally charged work of soul-baring writing in the spirit of Joan Didion, Helen Macdonald, and Elizabeth Gilbert, The Rules Do Not Apply is a must read for women. 


    It's an act of courage to hunt for meaning within grief, particularly if the search upends your life and shakes out the contents for all the world to sift through. Ariel Levy embarks on the hunt beautifully in her new memoir… The Rules Do Not Apply is a search for meaning, not reason. It doesn't seek an explanation (outside of the medical one) for the death of Levy's son, any more than it seeks to explain away the love, fear, frustration and other experiences and emotions that take place within her lifetime. Her grief becomes a new part of her — something to understand and get used to…. She's brave and generous to share her story, which manages to be beautiful, even as it's stark and wrenching.

    Heidi Stevens, The Chicago Tribune

    Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply is this year’s must-read memoir.

    W Magazine

    Levy…examines the tension between wanting both a life of adventure and the stability of a relationship—autonomy and intimacy—in The Rules Do Not Apply… [S]he unflinchingly recounts the rapid collapse of that life… Every raw event provides further proof that even when you…think you’ve found the answers, there’s no guarantee it will last, much less make you ‘happy.’ But Levy’s book is no cautionary tale. That’s partially because she maintains her smart, wry sense of humor; she’s still intact. It’s also because she just keeps on moving… Her upended life looks nothing like what she laid the foundation for, but then, there’s no cutoff date by which she has to have it all nailed down.

    Marisa Meltzer, Elle

    Levy has the rare gift of seeing herself with fierce, unforgiving clarity. And she deploys prose to match, raw and agile. She plumbs the commotion deep within and takes the measure of her have-it-all generation.

    The Atlantic

    Ariel Levy’s 2013 essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” is one of the best pieces of nonfiction I have ever read.  If I taught a class on the essay, I would make every damn student memorize it. Levy, a staff writer at The New Yorker expanded on this essay into a full memoir out in March, The Rules Do Not Apply.  I read it in one big messy gulp, because it is beautiful and heartbreaking and unruly and real.  You should preorder it immediately so you can fall into her complicated, funny, and finely-wrought world as soon as humanly possible.

    Jessica Grose,

    Praise for Female Chauvinist Pigs

    With the fresh voice of a young woman who grew up taking equal rights for granted while feminism was being perverted into a dirty word, Levy both shocks and sobers as she exposes the real cost of youth culture's 'Girls Gone Wild' form of status-seeking....A great choice for book clubs of either gender, it's a fast read and a surefire discussion sparker.

    Minneapolis Star-Tribune

    Reading Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy's lively polemic, gave me an epiphany of sorts. Finally a coherent interpretation of an array of phenomena I'd puzzled over in recent years.... Levy's argument is provocative -- and persuasive...a consciousness-raising call to arms.

    The New York Times Book Review

    With Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy becomes feminism's newest and most provocative voice, brilliantly laying bare the contradictions and evasions and self-deceptions that pass for empowerment.

    Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point
  • Books by Ariel Levy

  • Media About Ariel Levy

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