• October 3, 2016

    Anita Raja

    Anita Raja

    In an article published yesterday in the New York Review of Books Daily blog (and simultaneously in publications in Italian, German, and French), the investigative reporter Claudio Gatti states that “after a months-long investigation,” he has uncovered information that strongly suggests the true identity of the mysterious Italian writer Elena Ferrante. “Far from the daughter of a Neapolitan seamstress described in Frantumaglia,” Gatti writes, “new revelations from real estate and financial records point to Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator whose German-born mother fled the Holocaust and later married a Neapolitan magistrate.” This is not the first time a writer has advanced the theory: Last year in Public Books, Rebecca Falkoff explained why she had come to believe rumors that Raja is the real Ferrante, citing the similarities between Ferrante’s work and Raja’s translations of the fiction of the German writer Christa Wolf. But Gatti’s article seems to be a tipping point, setting off what The Guardian calls a “literary storm.” Gatti’s revelations have been met with vehement criticism. Publicist Kimberly Burns tweeted: “Shameful. If Elena Ferrante doesn’t write another book, it is because of the attention-hungry egos of Claudio Gatti & @nybooks editors.” Author JoJo Moyles says: “Maybe Elena Ferrante has very good reasons to write under a pseudonym. It’s not our ‘right’ to know her.” And Alex Shepard writes at the New Republic: “The NYRB’s argument for doxing Elena Ferrante is not very good.” Author and Tin House editor Elissa Schappel writes on Facebook: “Shame on the New York Review of Books and Claudio Gatti for outing Elena Ferrante…. This idea that we are in some way entitled to konw Ferrante’s identity because we have bought her books is asinine.” But Gatti says he was just doing his job: “The biggest mystery outside Italy about Italy is who is Elena Ferrante,” Gatti told the New York Times. “I’m supposed to provide answers, that’s what I do for a living.”

    Novelist Jess Row has written an eloquent and insightful article about, among other things, Lionel Shriver and the critical response to her new novel, The Mandibles, and her recent speech in Bisbane: “Where is Shriver’s curiosity, and where is her compassion, when it comes to the perspectives of people who associate symbolic acts, like wearing sombreros, with deeper historical traumas? Is that not, too, part of fiction’s purpose? Part of what she accurately describes as ‘the astonishing reality of other people’?”

    In the past, author and activist Angela Davis has not endorsed political candidates, choosing instead to focus on the need for a new political party. “Endorsing? I don’t endorse,” she said earlier this year. “I’ve actually never voted for one of the . . . two major parties in a presidential election before Barack Obama…. I still think that we need a new party, a party that is grounded in labor, a party that can speak to all of the issues around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, what is happening in the world.” But even though she says she has “serious problems” with Hillary Clinton, Davis has, this year, decided to voice her support of the Democratic candidate: “I am not so narcissistic to say I cannot bring myself to vote for her. #BlackMatters2016

    At Poynter, Rick Edmonds looks at the ethics of editors removing stories that are potentially damaging or embarrassing to their subjects, writing that most newsrooms don’t have a policy for how to handle requests from individuals to take down artcles from papers’ archives. Kelly McBride, co-editor of The New Ethics of Journalism and Edmonds’s colleague at Poynter, told him: “I don’t think we should just be saying reflexively, ‘we stand by our reporting.’ . . . This may be an occasion to examine standards of reporting and question the one-source police report. Some of those are pretty damning. Even if you have a legal right to cover, morally do you?”

    New York Times reporter Susanne Craig writes about the day she received pages from Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return in her office mailbox, a package that led to one of the paper’s most talked-about recent stories. Craig tells of the astonishment and excitement she felt when she saw the Trump Tower’s return address on the envelope, and details the eight-day process that she and her colleagues used to vet the documents. The breakthrough was when the accountant who had prepared Trump’s tax return, Jack Mitnick, agreed to meet with a Times reporter. Mitnick cleared up one of the tax return’s most baffling details: Trump’s loss for the year, $915,729,293, had two typewritten digits that didn’t line up with the other numbers, making the document appear to be have been altered. But the accountant explained that the tax-preparation software he used did not allow for such a long number, so he had to enter the “91” with a manual typewriter. The Washington Post reports that the Times could face legal ramifications for publishing the returns, and notes that at a panel discussion at Harvard last month, executive editor Dean Baquet told the audience he would risk jail time to make Trump’s taxes public.

  • September 30, 2016

    George R. R. Martin is releasing digitally-enhanced editions of his A Song of Ice and Fire series. A Game of Thrones: Enhanced Edition was released by Apple’s iBooks yesterday on the twentieth anniversary of its publication, and includes “interactive character maps … detailed annotations, character journeys and timelines, family trees and and audio clips.” The rest of the series will be released over the next few months, and while the first enhanced edition includes an excerpt of the final book in the series, The Winds of Winter, Martin has yet to set a release date.

    Brit Bennett. Photo by Emma Trim

    Brit Bennett. Photo by Emma Trim

    The National Book Foundation announced it’s “5 under 35” list of emerging authors. Honorees include Brit Bennett, whose book The Mothers was nominated by Jacqueline Woodson, and Yaa Gyasi, whose novel Homegoing was nominated by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The winners will meet in New York for a ceremony in November.

    Rookie talks to New York Times Magazine staff writer Jenna Wortham. Wortham’s first job at the Times was as a tech business blogger. ”I wasn’t that interested in telecom, and infrastructure and earning sheets were a mystery to me. . . . The learning curve was steep, but it also turned out to be some the most fun years of my career.” Now, Wortham writes for the magazine and says that while most of her pieces are assigned, her criticism often comes from conversations. “I had a lot of support from great editors who would interrupt me mid-convo or mid-Gchat and say, ‘Hey, that’s a piece. Write it down.’”

    PEN America has announced the newest additions to its board of trustees, including BuzzFeed culture editor Saeed Jones and A Little Life author Hanya Yanagihara.

    After endorsing Hillary Clinton in an op-ed, The Arizona Republic has seen cancelled subscriptions and death threats. Editorial page director Phil Boas said the endorsement shouldn’t have been a surprise to regular readers—even though it was the first time the paper has chosen a Democrat—because they have published numerous negative articles about Trump in the past year: “The things he has done … making fun of disabled people and rolling back press freedoms. You know a guy who would do that and crush our freedoms in one area will do it in others as well.”

  • September 29, 2016

    The parents of Trayvon Martin have signed a book deal with Random House’s One World imprint. Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin will be published in January. The book was acquired by Chris Jackson, the editor in chief of One World. “Everyone who’s been reading the manuscript is in tears by the second chapter,” Jackson told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s not just about the mournful story about losing a child, but it’s also how that moment ignited this global movement.”

    For the first time in over a century of publishing, The Arizona Republic is backing a Democrat for president. The paper endorsed Hillary Clinton, writing, “When the president of the United States speaks, the world expects substance. Not a blistering tweet.”

    In the New York Times Magazine, Wil S. Hylton profiles Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who made headlines first for prosecuting the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death, and later for dropping the cases against the remaining officers after the first four trials ended in acquittal or a hung jury. Mosby recounts the childhood loss of a cousin to gun violence, growing up in a family of police officers, and losing faith in the justice system after Gray’s death. Although the public supported Mosby’s investition and resulting trials, she felt resistance not only from the police, but from prosecutors in her own office. “I’m trying to reform the system from within,” Mosby said. “Ninety-­five percent of the elected prosecutors in this country are white. Seventy-­nine percent are white men. As a woman of color, I represent 1 percent of all elected prosecutors in the country.”

    Rabih Alameddine

    Rabih Alameddine

    How does The Angel of History author Rabih Alameddine deal with writer’s block? Posting pictures of art to Twitter. His twenty-five thousand followers can watch Alameddine’s feed to see how his current works are progressing: “If I post a whole series of Matisse, then I’ve reached a dead end. If I do Monet, I’m going nowhere.”

    George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, and J. K. Rowling top the Hollywood Reporter’s list of 2016’s most influential writers. Emma Donoghue, Jeffrey Toobin, and Margaret Atwood earn mentions as well.

    After Google used an online collection of eleven thousand free and unpublished books to teach its artificial intelligence network Google Brain “to generate fluent, natural-sounding sentences,” authors were not impressed to learn that a machine was becoming more literate by reading their books. Author Rebecca Forster asked: “Is this any different than someone using one of my books to start a fire?”

  • September 28, 2016

    Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photo by BeBe Jacobs

    Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photo by BeBe Jacobs

    Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, maps the current fight over cultural appropriation and outlines the myriad ways—acknowledging history, accepting criticism, taking responsibility—that writers can advance the argument over who gets to write about what. “If all of this seems too difficult, then you understand why people would rather fight over things like food, and why building walls may seem easier than building bridges.”

    The New Yorker’s David Remnick has written a paean to BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith. Calling the site “an entity that is hard to define,” Remnick admires Smith’s ability to combine “mind-vacation” listicles and quizzes with enterprising investigative journalism. “The truth is, I have no idea what BuzzFeed is going to be in a couple of years . . . but it is fascinating to witness Ben Smith & Co. trying to figure it all out. Dull is the last thing it’s going to be.”

    Jill Soloway’s adaptation of Chris Kraus’s novel I Love Dick has been picked up by Amazon for a full season. The show will be available on Amazon Prime in 2017.

    At Gizmodo, Matt Novak details his struggles to obtain information on Guy Sims Fitch, a fictional writer invented by the United States Information Agency for propaganda purposes. Fitch’s articles were written by a number of unidentified employees of the now-defunct agency “to promote American economic interests abroad” during the Cold War, and have been found in archived newspapers worldwide. Novak filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA for documents regarding the invented journalist, but was denied by the CIA over privacy concerns. The organization has asked Novak to provide the verified identities of every USIA employee who wrote under Fitch’s name, as well as proof of consent for their information to be made public. The CIA has also requested death certificates for any of the Fitch writers who may have died in the meantime. “The short version? They’re toying with me,” Novak writes.

    Truman Capote’s ashes were sold last weekend for $43,750 to an anonymous buyer. The cremains had been given a starting price of $2,000. Other items sold in the auction included the clothes Capote died in ($6,400) and “two lots of his prescription pill bottles” ($9,280).

    Tonight in Harlem, the Schomburg Center hosts a conversation between Negroland author Margo Jefferson and Kia Corthron, playwright, writer for The Wire, and author of The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter.

  • September 27, 2016

    Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas launched his digital media project EmergingUS on Medium yesterday, aimed at a growing demographic that Vargas identifies as wanting “to see the women of Black Lives Matter next to The Bamboo Ceiling next to White people talking about diversity and inclusivity next to mixed-race people.” Vargas had originally partnered with the Los Angeles Times, but struggled to find a new host for the documentary series after the deal fell through. He hopes the project will change how digital media reports on “issues of identity, race, and immigration.”

    Dan Slater. Photo: Sophie Herbert

    Dan Slater. Photo: Sophie Herbert

    After Dan Slater’s Wolf Boys was added to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s list of banned books the very same week it was published, The Guardian takes a look at the Texas prison system’s approved reading materials. Books like Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage; Friday Night Lights; and Jon Stewart’s America don’t make the cut, but Mein Kampf and David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism are allowed.

    The Huffington Post details the threats that Donald Trump poses to free speech and reiterates the need for banned book week. “By electing someone so cavalier about the nation’s most cherished foundational rights, we could risk what’s taken 200 years to build.”

    Charles Seife investigates the Food and Drug Administration’s widespread use of close-hold embargoes with reporters. Not only do these agreements require news outlets to hold off on publishing an article until a specified date, but they also ban the writer from interviewing non-FDA approved sources. The result, writes Siefe, is that “the watchdogs are being turned into lapdogs.”

    Presidential historian and biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin interviews President Obama for Vanity Fair’s November issue. The two first met in 2007, when then-Senator Obama called Goodwin to praise one of her books: “Hello, this is Barack Obama. I’ve just read Team of Rivals and we have to talk about Lincoln.” Besides the legacies of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Reagan, and nearly every other twentieth-century president, the pair discuss Obama’s legacy as his final term comes to an end, and whether he’ll “feel melancholy or nostalgic” at the next inauguration.

    Tonight at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn, Rivka Galchen talks to Ruth Franklin about her new book, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

  • September 26, 2016

    The New York Times has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The paper cites as evidence both Clinton’s political record and the nature of the 2016 election. “One candidate . . . has a record of service and a raft of pragmatic ideas, and the other, Donald Trump, discloses nothing concrete about himself or his plans while promising the moon and offering the stars on layaway.”

    Roger Angell, the author of many books, writes in the New Yorker that he has voted in eighteen presidential elections (he first voted in 1944, for FDR). He then explains why his nineteenth vote, in this November’s election, will be the most important.

    During a recent rally protesting the police shootings of Tyree King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott, Russell Rickford, a professor at Cornell and the author of We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination, identified three fallacies of neoliberal protest. “We need an uncompromising, multiracial, grassroots movement against white supremacy, endless war, and vicious corporate capitalism,” he writes. “This is a human rights struggle. And it will be waged in the streets, not in boardrooms, the halls of Congress, or other strongholds of global capital.”

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine, the author of Citizen: An American Lyric and a recipient of a 2016 MacArthur grant, talks to the Los Angeles Times about her new project, the Racial Imaginary Institute, which she has been planning with Casey Llewellyn and a number of writers and artists. The institute “is an interdisciplinary arts and cultural laboratory for the dismantling of white dominance,” she says. “One of the things I think the culture needs is an actual location where writers and artists and thinkers can come together and put pressure on the language that makes apparent white supremacy and white dominance. I think a lot of us are working separately on these subjects, but it would be nice to have a Racial Imaginary Institute that really has as its goal the dismantling of white supremacy.” Rankine explains why members of the institute should come from a variety of fields: “If you’re a writer, you have the benefit of talking to other artists who are interested in the subject. What are we missing? What isn’t getting said? What are the narratives of white greatness that disallow other things to be brought to the surface?”

    Some of the more extreme Trump supporters have taken their trolling to an unlikely part of the web: Goodreads. Last week, young-adult novelist Laura Silverman, who often criticizes the Republican candidate on Twitter, found that her novel Girl Out of Water was receiving numerous one-star reviews on the book rating site. The problem? Silverman’s book isn’t out until next spring and review copies have not been released.  

    Margaret Atwood explains her choice to set her new novel Hag-Seed, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a Canadian prison rather than on an uncharted island. “What was the modern-day equivalent of a magician marooned on an island for 12 years with a now adolescent daughter? You couldn’t write that straight: all the islands are known, there are satellites now, they would have been rescued by a helicopter in no time flat.”

    Facebook will collaborate with ABC to stream the presidential debate tonight. Using Facebook Live and other video features on the network’s page, ABC plans to “incorporate viewers’ comments, questions and conversations” into their coverage, which will be free of ads. Other non-TV options for watching the debates include Twitter, who will stream Bloomberg’s coverage of the debate, and AltspaceVR, who is partnering with NBC to create a virtual reality viewing option.

  • September 23, 2016

    PEN America has released a new report on media censorship in China. The nearly eighty-page report found foreign journalists have had an increasingly difficult time doing their job since president Xi Jinping took office in 2012. The organization points to Chinese citizens’ wariness of being a source for foreign journalists due to increased crackdowns on and arrests of activists, writers, and others who question the party. Journalists have also found it more difficult to apply for and receive work visas, and foreign news outlets have shied away from publishing critical articles on their Chinese-language websites in order to avoid retaliation.

    Charles Harder, Hulk Hogan’s defense lawyer in the case that bankrupted Gawker Media, tells the Hollywood Reporter that he’s “anything but the enemy of a free press.” The entertainment lawyer once defended stars in “reputation protection” cases, usually against a retailer misusing a celebrity’s likeness to sell goods. “Now the simple act of him sending a warning letter makes news.” Although Harder was happy to talk about Hulk Hogan, Nick Denton, and Peter Thiel, he was less interested in expounding on his possible case against New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman. The attorney refused to confirm that he was defending Ailes, even after being reminded of the leaked warning letter to the magazine, responding with a question of his own: “If someone sends a private letter, is it public?”

    Jay McInerney

    Jay McInerney

    Bright, Precious Days author Jay McInerney tells the LA Times that his fictional character Russell Calloway “would have to finally make good on his threat to move to France” if Donald Trump is elected president. “I fear we may be moving toward a post-factual world. Yeah, I’ve certainly thought of this as the start of a new book.”

    The New York Times reports on the fashions of the New York Art Book Fair, held last weekend at MoMA PS1. As one attendee clad in all white tells the paper, “I realize it’s a controversy because it’s after Labor Day, but I’m pushing boundaries.”

    President Obama presented the 2015 National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals yesterday. Winners include Mel Brooks, Terry Gross, James McBride, and others.

    Graeme Macrae Burnet, whose novel His Bloody Project was included on the Man Booker shortlist, is outselling the other books on the list: Since the announcement of the finalists on September 13, Burnet’s book has sold over 10,000 copies. But Contraband, the book’s Glasgow-based publisher, has only two full-time employees and is struggling to meet the demand. Contraband founder Sara Hunt called the book’s popularity “fantastic and an utter surprise.”

    Tonight at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, poets Janine Joseph, Solmaz Sharif, and Ocean Vuong read their work.

  • September 22, 2016

    Greg Tate

    Greg Tate

    Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine have been awarded MacArthur Fellowships, also known as “Genius Grants.” Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker and an epic multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson, will receive the National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement.

    Gizmodo Media group—the company formerly known as Gawker Media—has named Raju Narisetti as its new CEO. Narisetti, who is currently a senior vice-president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., will begin his new gig in October.

    Publishers Weekly reports some bleak book-sales numbers: The first quarter of 2016 saw a 10 percent drop in print-book sales and a 19 percent fall in e-book sales. On the bright side, downloadable audiobooks saw sales rise by 36 percent, and trade-paperback purchases nudged upwards by 1.5 percent.

    Drew Magary, author of the novels The Hike and The Postmortal, sends a heated message to anyone planning to vote for Trump in the upcoming election: “Screw you.” Meanwhile, Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, imagines what Trump, if elected, would do in his first term.

    At the New Yorker, music critic Hua Hsu (A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific) has penned an appreciation of critic Greg Tate, who recently published a collection of essays, interviews, and short takes titled Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader. Tate, a former staff writer for the Village Voice, is known for his unmistakable style, critical engagement, and revelatory juxtapositions: “His best paragraphs throbbed like a party and chattered like a salon; they were stylishly jam-packed with names and reference points that shouldn’t have got along but did.” The Reader compiles thirty years of Tate’s work, including conversations with Ice Cube and Miles Davis, essays on artist Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley, reviews of Eminem and Azealia Banks, and obituaries for Amiri Baraka and Richard Pryor. As Hsu writes, “For a generation of critics, Tate’s career has served as a reminder that diversity isn’t just about a splash of color in the group photo; it’s about the different ways that people see, feel, and move within the world.”

    Tonight in New York, the Red Ink reading series will present its second event, “Writing the Body.” Participants include Eileen Myles, Alexandra Kleeman, Porochista Khakpour, Ruth Ozeki, and others.  

  • September 21, 2016

    Kirkus has announced the finalists for its annual book award, who include Annie Proulx, Colson Whitehead, C. E. Morgan, and others. The three winners—each of whom will receive a $50,000 prize—will be announced on November 3.

    Cave Canem, the group dedicated to furthering the work of African American poets, was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award. The $10,000 prize “for service to the American literary community” is being awarded to an organization (rather than an individual) for the first time.

    The New York Times will partner with Jigsaw, a technology branch of Google’s parent company Alphabet, to speed up their comments review process. Currently, the paper’s online articles receive 11,000 comments per day, which are sorted through by fourteen moderators. The partnership hopes to increase the number of approved comments, which is currently around 10 percent.

    At the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik uses lines from Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Man” to shed light on the rise of Donald Trump.

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    Nation Books will publish journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano’s memoir. The book combines older autobiographical writing with the author’s reflections on mortality, written in the months before he died in April 2015. Hunter of Stories will be released in the fall of next year.

    Laura Poitras, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, is leaving the site to build Field of Vision, a web platform dedicated to film journalism. Poitras announced the new website, an intriguing lineup of films premiering on the site in the coming months, and a system for sources to securely contribute videos, images, and audio.       

    Tonight at Desert Island Comics in Brooklyn, New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake talks with Glen Baxter about his new comics collection, Almost Completely Baxter.

  • September 20, 2016

    David Marcus, formerly the co-editor of Dissent magazine and also the co-editor of a forthcoming collection of writings by Marshall Berman, has been hired to be the new Literary Editor of The Nation.

    Poynter reports that the Dallas Morning News’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton may have cost the paper subscribers. “We write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost,” news editor Mike Wilson said. Last week, Donald Trump supporters demonstrated in front of the newspaper’s office to protest the endorsement.

    Andrea Wulf

    Andrea Wulf

    Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature has won the Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize. The book details the life of Alexander von Humboldt, the nineteenth-century naturalist and explorer who “has more things named after him than anyone who has ever lived, including an ocean current, a six-foot squid and a breed of penguin.”

    Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Daniel Golden will be joining ProPublica as a senior editor next month. Meanwhile, the news site’s Electionland project, which began by partnering with one-hundred local news outlets to monitor obstacles to voting on election day nationwide, now has 250 participating news organizations.

    Betting is now open for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which will be announced on October 7th. According to the betting site Ladbrokes, Haruki Murakami (odds: 5/1), Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (7/1), and Philip Roth (8/1) are among the authors favored to win, while Bob Dylan (50/1), Joan Didion (66/1), and Don DeLillo (66/1) are considered longshots.

    The Guardian has a roundup of some of the panels at Sunday’s Brooklyn Book Festival, noting that the speakers often talked of “an America that is riddled with anxieties” in the face of the upcoming election. A Necessary Trouble author Sarah Jaffe worried about the stories going unreported “because we’re busy hanging on every word Trump says,” while The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith said that for Trump’s backers “democracy is in full force.” The previous evening’s IED explosion in Manhattan was mentioned only briefly at the “Terror, Threats and Fear” panel featuring Masha Gessen, Amitava Kumar, and Moustafa Bayoumi. Gessen, the author of a book about the Tsarnaev brothers, noted that while it’s impossible to find a root cause for a terrorist act, “nobody is going to blow people up if they’ve had a great life.” Of the frightening possibility of a Trump presidency, the Ottawa-born Margaret Atwood seemed to read many of the attendees’ minds, joking that “Canada is not big enough to come to the rescue. . . . But you’re all welcome. We’ll set up cots.”

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