First published in 1979, ‘Sleepless Nights’ is a collage of fiction and memoir, letters and essays, portraits and dreams. It is more than the story of a life: it is Elizabeth Hardwick’s experience of womanhood in the twentieth century. Escaping her childhood home of Kentucky, the narrator arrives at a bohemian hotel in Manhattan filled with ‘drunks, actors, gamblers – love and alcohol and clothes on the floor’. Here begin the erotic affairs and dinner parties, the abortions and heartbreaks, the friendships and ‘people I have buried’. Here are luminous sketches of characters she has met that illuminate the era’s racism, sexism, and poverty. Above all, here is prose blurring into poetry, language to lose – and perhaps to find – yourself in. Society tries to write these lives before they are lived. It does not always succeed.