• August 21, 2017

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Protesting President Trump’s equivocal remarks about white supremacists in Charlottesville last week, his Committee on the Arts and Humanities has resigned en masse. The committee, which was created in 1982 to advise the president on cultural issues, has sixteen members. Under Trump, those members included artist Chuck Close and author Jhumpa Lahiri. In their letter of resignation, the committee stated: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,” the letter says. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.” According to Politico, the White House responsed by issuing a statement that “it had planned to disband the arts and humanities committee anyway.”

    A number of writers have wondered what kind of effect Trump will have on contemporary fiction. Jonathan Freedland wondered how anyone could write a political thriller that could compete with the bizarre reality of the current presidency (“How to top an American president patrolling the late-night corridors of the White House in his bathrobe, casting aside the detailed briefings of the intelligence agencies in preference for the nuggets he can glean from Fox News?”) Others have wondered if perhaps we will now see a resurgence in the dystopian novel. Now, at the Los Angeles Times, novelist and critic John Scazli, the author of The Collapsing Empire, has this to say: “2017 is making it really hard to be a science-fiction writer.” Good sci-fi, he argues, reflects on the present, but also “breathes life into today’s anxieties and aspirations in … clever and [subtle] ways.” But, he continues, “nothing about our days today is subtle, and the challenge of making science fiction not seem like a bald ripoff of current headlines is much more of a task than it’s been in a while.”

    In a letter to his unborn child, novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard dwells on what “makes life worth living.” A partial list: apples, plastic bags, loneliness, and pissing.

    At Playboy, novelist and critic Tom Carson weighs in on Tina Fey’s cake-eating SNL skit. “We’ll never know how anyone could watch her stuffing her face until her lips were covered in goo as she tried to spit out anti-Trump, anti-Nazi venom while choking down another bite—even Lucille Ball was never crueler to herself for a joke’s sake—and imagine that Fey was earnestly proposing this as a good coping strategy,” he writes. “Not only was it satire, but it was pretty damn brutal satire in the bargain.”

    Susan Bernofsky—who has translated Franz Kafka, Robert Walser, Jenny Erpenbeck, and many others—offers tips for aspiring translators.

  • August 18, 2017

    Michael Chabon

    Novelist Michael Chabon has written “an open letter to our fellow Jews,” stating that, although some Jews have not opposed President Trump because he seems to be a friend to Israel, it is no longer acceptable, or even safe, to remain quiet. “Now he’s coming after you,” Chabon notes. “The question is: what are you going to do about it?”

    “On the floor by my bed there are heaps of books I want to read, books I have to read and books I believe I need to read. So we are talking about id, ego and superego books.” Karl Ove Knausgaard talks to the New York Times about what he’s reading.

    T magazine has announced that Thessaly La Force will be joining the magazine as the features director and Kurt Sollers has been hired as an articles editor.

    The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is offering a class on Proust’s Swann’s Way, which will run from September 11 through October 2.

    The Poynter Institute has revamped their ethics policy, in part because of criticism they received earlier this year for taking funding from a group called FAAR (Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility), which is supported by the alcohol industry. Poynter has now posted a list of all their largest donors, which include the Charles Koch Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Of crafting the new guidelines, Poynter vice president Kelly McBride said, “It was time-consuming, tedious work—and a reminder of why so many news organizations struggle to create and maintain relevant ethics guidelines.”

    At FSG’s Works in Progress blog, Sam Stephenson discusses his new book, Gene Smith’s Sink, a biography of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. Smith was best known for his midcentury Life magazine photo essays, but he was also an avid jazz fan who made more than four-thousand hours of audio recordings, what Stephenson calls “post-war urban field work.” The biography took twenty-plus years to complete, and Stephenson describes how tricky it was to capture his elusive subject: “I’ve been through a lot of therapy in my life. I know firsthand how difficult it is to get things right, even things about myself. Memory is dubious, though also more powerful than anything else. If you can’t get yourself right, then how can you get someone else right, especially someone as complex as Smith?”

  • August 17, 2017

    Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald

    Isaac Fitzgerald is leaving his post at Buzzfeed Books to start a new “morning show” with poet and Buzzfeed culture editor Saeed Jones. The show, called AM to DM, is part of Buzzfeed, and will be livestreamed through Twitter daily from 8-9am. It begins on September 25, and is, according to Fitzgerald, “a one-of-a-kind morning show … connecting an up-to-date audience with stories happening now, right from inside the news cycle.”

    Jonathan Chait—the author of Audacity, a book about the Obama administration—has written an article that shows how Trump’s aides have tried to conceal the president’s racist ideas from the country.

    Barack Obama’s series of Tweets about racism, which were issued following the recent events in Charlottesville, have broken a record, with more than 3 million likes.  

    Lena Dunham talks about Lenny Books, the new Random House imprint that she is launching with Jenni Konner. Lenny, which grew out of a newsletter Dunham produced with Konner, is releasing its first book this week: Jenny Zhang’s story collection Sour Heart. “It was essential to Jenni and me that we use the gift of our platform to give voice to a diverse group of women who need to be heard,” Dunham says in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. “It has never been more important that we hear from every kind of woman and understand the specificities of her experience—and that happens to be the goal of Lenny.”

    Penguin Press has released the cover image for Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, The Female Persuasion, which will be released next April.

    Novelist Amit Chaudhuri—whose books include The Immortals and Odysseus Abroad—argues in The Guardian that the Booker Prize is bad for authors. The reason: writers who hope to win it acquiesce to the values of capitalism. “I’m not saying that the Booker shouldn’t exist. I’m saying that it requires an alternative, and the alternative isn’t another prize,” Chaudhuri writes. “It has to do instead with writers reclaiming agency. The meaning of a writer’s work must be created, and argued for, by writers themselves, and not by some extraneous source of endorsement.”

  • August 16, 2017

    Michiko Kakutani

    At New York magazine, Boris Kachka reports on what led the New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani to take a buyout last month, and the book that Kakutani is working on now. Sources say that Kakutani felt at odds with the new direction of the book review under Pamela Paul. “Lone wolves hurling thunderbolts from their garrets gave way to affable co-critics doing online chats . . . writing personal essays and exploring their own biases,” Kachka writes. “For a very long time, Michi got her way,” one anonymous source said, “until very recently people started pushing back in a big way, and I think that was part of her leaving.’ She could be a diva, says this source, ‘but in a way I fucking admire it. The world would be a sorrier place without divas.’” Currently, Kakutani is working on a book with Tim Duggan. “A cultural history of ‘alternative facts,’” The Death of Truth will be published next year.

    Former deputy prime minister of the UK Nick Clegg is writing a book. How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again) will explain “precisely how this historic mistake can be reversed and how the country can be reunited in the process.” How to Stop Brexit will be published by Bodley Head in October.

    The Verge looks at how the right-wing violence in Charlottesville is changing tech companies’ commitment to content neutrality. “In the aftermath of public violence by explicitly white supremacist groups,” writes Russell Brandom, concerns over free speech and neutrality “have less sway than ever before. The result is newfound scrutiny among platforms and service providers, and new questions about what that scrutiny will mean outside of hate groups.”

    n+1 previews Jarett Kobek’s The Future Won’t Be Long, which will be published in August by Viking.

    At the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian profiles Julian Assange. Although Assange has been unable to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the last five years, his social life is still active. One regular visitor who stopped by while Khatchadourian was there was Pamela Anderson. “Assange led her to the conference room, and they spoke for about an hour—their conversation disguised by white noise, though Assange’s voice dominated, in long soliloquies. (‘I’m being persecuted!’ he declared at one point, loud enough to be audible through the walls,)” Khatchadourian recalls. “After their meeting, the two emerged. Anderson held a notebook and a pen. ‘Hours go by, and I take a lot of notes,’ she later told me.”

  • August 15, 2017

    GoDaddy is cancelling the Daily Stormer’s hosting service after the website posted a hate-filled article about Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville last weekend. At Columbia Journalism Review, photographer Ryan Kelly recounts capturing the moment that James Alex Fields Jr rammed his car into a crowd of protesters. Kelly was covering the protest on his last day as a photojournalist for The Daily Progress. “It was a terrible thing and the fact that more people will be more aware of it happening is an overall positive,” he writes, “but I can’t say I’m happy to have been there.”

    April Ryan

    Journalist April Ryan is calling out Trump for featuring her and Representative Maxine Waters as his “enemies” in a reelection ad after the racist attacks in Charlottesville last weekend. “I am singled out as an enemy of the White House as this racial hate is going on,” Ryan tweeted, “just for asking real questions and speaking truth.”

    After taking a buyout from the New York Times, reporter James Risen has joined First Look Media. Risen will direct the First Look Press Freedom Defense Fund, as well as serve as the Intercept’s senior national security correspondent.

    Michael Schaub reports on the winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards for fiction and fantasy books.

    Lindsay Hunter makes a convincing case for her new book, Eat Only When You’re Hungry. “If you like awkward conversations, Florida, heat and sweat and junk food . . . I think it will move you in every sense of the word,” she says. “You might laugh, you might cry, you might be disgusted, and what more could you want out of a book?”

    Tonight at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, Katie Kitamura talks to Paul Yoon about his new book, The Mountain.

  • August 14, 2017

    The Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation has created a list of books and articles to help “educate readers about the long history of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

    PEN Center USA has announced the finalists for its 2017 awards in fiction, creative nonfiction, research nonfiction, poetry, journalism, and other categories. The awards will be announced on October 27, at an event in Beverly Hills, to be hosted by actor Nick Offerman. The finalists make up an impressive list of authors, including Karan Mahajan, Lydia Millet, Brian Blanchfield, Lily Hoang, Solmaz Sharif, and Safiya Sinclair. But one finalist has caused some outcry: John Smelcer, whose Stealing Indians has been nominated in the young-adult category. As many have pointed out, Smelcer’s books carry blurbs that appear to be fake (Stealing Indians features a blurb from Chinua Achebe, who supposedly called the book, a “masterpiece.” Achebe died in 2013.) On Facebook, novelist Marlon James, who went to grad school with Smelcer, responded: “If you were at the Wilkes MFA, when I was, then you know full well the living con job that is John Smelcer,” James wrote. “This is the man who at our class reading invented a language, claiming that it was an ancient Native American tongue, and he was its last speaker. … Why does this always happen? Why do these people keep making the same stupid mistakes?” Poet Adam Fitzgerald also commented on Smelcer’s becoming a finalist: “Native writers are hurting, and have been expressing outrage at this man’s thefts for years mostly to the silence of white editors and institutions. When does it stop?” PEN has released a statement saying that the organization is looking into the matter. Author Kami Garcia, one of the judges, went further on Twitter: “We’re working to get it pulled… I’m disgusted.”

    Penguin Random House has given us a sneak peak of the cover of Melissa Broder’s novel The Pisces, due out from the Hogarth imprint in May 2018.

    In an interview at the Creative Independent, Matthew Zapruder—a poet, editor (he edits the poetry page of the NYT Magazine), and critic—confronts an assumption that he believes steers readers away from poetry: “People think poetry is hard and their idea about what’s hard about it is wrong. They think it’s hard because you have to decode it, but that’s actually not what’s hard about poetry. What’s hard about poetry is just accepting what is actually being said and not doing what we’re taught to do in school all the time, which is to translate things or decode them or try to unpack what they really mean. It’s not about that.

  • August 11, 2017

    At the New York Times Magazine, Ruth Franklin profiles novelist Claire Messud. Although Messud’s works have been well-received by critics, they have not always been commercial successes. But Messud says that she has no interest in trying to make her work more attractive to a wider readership. ‘‘There are bell bottoms and miniskirts, and there are pencil skirts and stiletto heels,’’ she said. ‘‘You can write something that’s a perfect work of art, but if it’s a pencil skirt that falls in a miniskirt moment, God help you. You just have to make your pencil skirt and be you.’’

    Zinzi Clemmons. Photo: Nina Subin

    Zinzi Clemmons talks to The Guardian about grief, belonging, and her new book, What We Lose. Growing up outside Philadelphia and spending summers in South Africa, Clemmons says that she didn’t feel like she fully belonged anywhere. “I never felt like I had a tribe that I could belong to without some qualification—’you are this, but,’” she said. Clemmons credits the experience with making her into the writer that she is today. “I think all writers are outsiders, for some reason,” she said. “They’re the people who kind of stand off to one side, they’re not participating, they’re observing.”

    Politico’s Hadas Gold has been hired by CNN. Gold will report on European politics, media, and business.

    CNN has fired Jeffrey Lord after the pro-Trump commentator tweeted “Sieg Heil!” at Media Matters for America president Angelo Carusone. Although Lord claimed he was “mocking Nazis and Fascists,” CNN said that “Nazi salutes are indefensible. Jeffrey Lord is no longer with the network.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on behalf of Milo Yiannopoulos. The suit claims that Yiannopolous’s First Amendment rights were violated when the DC transit authority removed advertisements for his recent book. ACLU attorney Lee Rowland said that the case “is a beautiful illustration of the indivisibility of the 1st Amendment,” and that “it is important to defend speech we hate, because that means the 1st Amendment tide rises for all of us.” Yiannopolous told the Los Angeles Times that “he was ‘glad that the ACLU has decided to tackle a real civil rights issue’ after backing ‘plenty of bad causes in the past.’”

  • August 10, 2017

    Bruce Springsteen will perform on Broadway this fall, in a show that incorporates his music, excerpts from his autobiography, and other pieces of his writing. “Springsteen on Broadway” will run for eight weeks at the Walter Kerr Theater. “My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music,” Springsteen said. “Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung. It loosely follows the arc of my life and my work.”

    Director Ava DuVernay is adapting Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn for television.

    Actress Busy Philipps is writing an autobiographical essay collection. The still-untitled book “will offer the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love,” and will be published by Touchstone in 2018.

    Molly Patterson. Photo: Elaine Sheng

    Axios reports that the Charles Koch Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s CraigConnects have all pledged financial support to TechDirt, a website that is in the middle of a libel lawsuit. Axios concludes that “this sends a message that there are wealthy Americans or their proxies willing to push back on a trend toward litigation over negative news stories driven by some of their peers.”

    T: The New York Times Style Magazine profiles Rebecca Solnit, “the oddball essayist” who recently republished book Hope in the Dark has made her “suddenly and unexpectedly a progressive icon, a wise female elder.”

    Volume 1 Brooklyn talks to Molly Patterson about history, expectations of women, and her new book, Rebellion. Set in nineteenth-century China, Rebellion follows the lives of a group of Chinese and American women. Patterson said that she found a connection between her characters in “the ways that women across culture and time have been expected to—or forced to—lead small lives, with small expectations.”

    Tonight at Brooklyn’s Powerhouse Arena, Weike Wang talks to Jenny Zhang about her new book, Sour Heart.

  • August 9, 2017

    Vox analyzed seventeen months of Fox & Friends transcripts in an effort to understand the relationship between the show and the president. Rather than simply echoing the party line as traditional state-run media might, Alvin Chang writes that the show seeks to offer Trump advice. “What we found is that Fox & Friends has a symbiotic relationship with Trump that is far weirder and more interesting than state media,” Chang writes. “Instead of talking for Trump, they are talking to him.”

    Reggie Ugwu

    The New York Times has hired Reggie Ugwu as a pop culture reporter. Ugwu was most recently at BuzzFeed News, “where he focused on pop music, and the cultural, economic and technological forces that shape it.”

    Rion Amilcar Scott’s Insurrections has won the 2017 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.

    The Times talks to new press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders—”the good cop to Mr. Spicer’s barking sergeant.”

    Jennie Yabroff talks to Jonathan Dee about capitalism, representing tragedy, and his new book, The Locals. The book begins on September 12, 2001, with a scene that Dee says he had to fight to keep in the book. Dee chose to illustrate the event through an unnamed stranger reacting to the actions of a man that turns out to be the book’s protagonist. “You don’t want the opening scene of your novel to consist of a bunch of characters sitting on their couches watching TV and crying,” he explained. “I felt like I had to begin with at least an invocation of 9/11, if not the day itself, because that day instigated a long political reaction that we didn’t recognize as a reaction for quite some time.”

  • August 8, 2017

    The New York Times reports on the growing trend of investing in politically-minded memes, instead of spending money on traditional marketing tools like TV and newspaper ads. “Viral media expertise is emerging as a crucial skill for political operatives, and as donors look to replicate the success of the social media sloganeers who helped lift President Trump to victory, they’re seeking out talented meme makers.”

    WNYC has picked up former US Attorney Preet Bharara’s podcast. “Stay Tuned with Preet” will be a weekly show that focuses “on issues of justice and fairness.”

    The Globe and Mail profiles author Joseph Boyden, whose claim of Indigenous heritage has come under scrutiny due to a land rights lawsuit. After Boyden provided a copy of an unofficial identification card to prove his Métis heritage in court, Eric Andrew-Gee writes, “This is Boyden as his sharpest critics see him: a cultural tourist flogging a dubious Indigenous identity for profit under the guise of good works, his achievement in preserving a vision of Indigenous Canada through his writing . . . undercut by the shadowy tactics and self-seeking he appears to have marshalled along the way.”

    Mary Beard

    After defending a BBC schools video that showed “a high-ranking black Roman soldier” as historically accurate, author Mary Beard has received a “torrent of aggressive insults” on social media. “It feels very sad to me that we cannot have a reasonable discussion on such a topic as the cultural, ethnic composition of Roman Britain without resorting to unnecessary insult, abuse, misogyny and language of war,” she said. The Guardian has collected the tweets of Beard’s defenders, including JK Rowling, MP Diane Abbott, and Monica Lewinsky.

    At Vulture, Kat Rosenfield reports on the detrimental call-out culture in Twitter’s Young Adult literature community. What started as a campaign against racism and a lack of representation in YA books has become, according to Rosenfield, “a jumble of dogpiling and dragging . . . with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other.” Rosenfield writes that even her reporting was “met with intense pushback” from authors, agents, and fans. “Several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling ‘a washed-up YA author’ engaged in ‘a personalized crusade’ against the entire publishing community,” Rosenfield writes. “With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse.”

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