• April 4, 2016

    Kevin Young

    Kevin Young

    Twenty years after the arrest of the Unabomber, novelist William T. Vollmann recalls just how baffled the FBI was in its search for the Ted Kaczynski, the man who mailed a number of bombs in an attempt to advance his antigovernment and antitechnology worldview. Vollmann should know a thing or two about the FBI’s fumbling for answers: the novelist himself was for a time considered a suspect.

    Kevin Young, whose Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems was just released, discusses his writing process (he works from 10am until 4pm, “once Judge Judy comes on”) and gives a sneak peak into his Atlanta studio: “I do keep some friends’ art here, along with some of my late father’s things, and black dolls. I also keep old blue bottles on one or two windowsills: It’s a black Southern belief that blue glass keeps out bad spirits. So far, so good.”

    Until April 12, you can bid on a lunch with Ira Silverberg, the former literary agent who is now a senior editor at Simon & Schuster who will “listen to your book pitch, answer publishing questions, and offer valuable advice.” The bid is currently at $1,800. Proceeds go to to Manhattan’s Public School 41.

    At an April 2 conference in Boston, writer Gay Talese claimed that, with the exception of Mary McCarthy and George Eliot, women writers have not inspired him.

    In his dispatch from the AWP Conference, which was held in LA this year, Boris Kachka reports on three writers who discussed film adaptations of their work: Cheryl Strayed, Susan Orlean, and Stephen Elliott. Elliott spoke of Parmela Romanowsky’s adaptation of his memoir The Adderall Diaries, which was orchestrated by James Franco, and is set to open this spring. According to Elliott, the experience was a strange one, and Franco tried to prevent him from attending the film’s premiere. But Elliott has no hard feelings. He has made his own movie, After Adderall, in which he comically dwells on the absurdity of watching someone else manipulate his life story.

    Eileen Myles offers a pithy reflection on fame: “Fame is a Xerox machine. The culture produces all these strange copies of you, none of which are really you.” She also says that she is currently writing a book “about a time-traveling dog.”

     

  • April 1, 2016

    Imre Kertész, the Nobel-winning novelist and survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, has died. His 2013 Paris Review interview might be as fitting an obituary as any:I am somebody who survived all of it, somebody who saw the Gorgon’s head and still retained enough strength to finish a work that reaches out to people in a language that is humane.”

    As AWP begins, the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen expresses mixed feelings about the need, every now and then, for writers to crawl out of their caves and join the rest of the tribe.

    Padma Lakshmi

    Padma Lakshmi

    Padma Lakshmi, whose new memoir partly concerns her marriage to Salman Rushdie, claims not to have read Rushdie’s own memoir, Joseph Anton—and so much the better for her. M. H. Miller, who valiantly read both books together, quotes Lakshmi as noting that: “At the end of a marriage, no one wins.” Although there are those very occasional and delightful times when one does feel ready to declare a winner.

    Spouses may be among the most terrifying critics, but there are so many others for a writer to consider—perhaps more now than ever. As part of an intriguing interview series called “Thick Skin,” the novelist Porochista Khakpour has some thoughtful responses to criticism she’s received both in the papers and online.

    “I am so tired of looking at men’s abs,” the CEO of Entangled Publishing tells the New York Times. “I don’t know if these ones are sexier than those other ones.” A portrait of the men who model for the covers of romance novels, which famously make up one of the few parts of the publishing industry still in rude health.

    It’s good to know that oratory is alive and well in this presidential campaign.

  • March 31, 2016

    Paul Beatty

    Paul Beatty

    Today is the final, championship round of the Morning News Tournament of Books. Novelist Celeste Ng let Paul Beatty’s The Sellout through yesterday over its competitor, President Obama’s favoriteFates and Furies by Lauren Groff: “Both books have the same effect of shaking the ground under the reader’s feet,” Ng noted. “The Sellout does it through satire: When everyone’s a target, no one has the moral high ground. Fates and Furies uses plot twists.” So Beatty’s book will now be duking it out against Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House.

    This week, VIDA released the results of its annual byline count for 2015, which it christened “the year of intersectional thinking.” The news seems a little less grim than in years past, prompting Sarah Seltzer at Flavorwire to suggest that “unlike movie studios and even publishing houses, the staffs at literary and political magazines are leaner and can respond to critique more quickly and nimbly.”

    It’s hard to summarize this account by a freelance writer of his experience profiling a fashion designer for Elle in any way that does it justice. The editor he worked with there is “a power hungry flake”; Vanity Fair is “a giant bore,” as are “the bores at New York magazine”; David Remnick “is nice but he’s no William Shawn, as his past reporting on Russia can attest,” and the New Yorker’s previous piece on the designer “was academic, bizarrely self-absorbed and often wrong. Very Reader’s Digest meets GQ, like what the entire New Yorker unfortunately became.” A minor comic masterpiece.

    The Los Angeles Times has appointed ten writers as critics-at-large for its books pages, including Laila Lalami, Alexander Chee, and the recent Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James.

    Jezebel founder Anna Holmes is joining First Look Media in a senior editorial position involving stories and visual images, though no one seems able to describe exactly what she’ll be responsible for, except to say that it will have to do with “making cool shit.”

    Tomorrow night in Brooklyn, The New Inquiry will be celebrating its fiftieth issue with a party.

  • March 30, 2016

    The novelist Marilynne Robinson has received a lifetime achievement award from the Library of Congress. The prize, which honors writers who express “something new about the American experience,” has previously been given to Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, and Philip Roth.

    Stephen Glass, the former journalist caught fabricating multiple stories in the 1990s, now claims to have repaid with interest the publications he wrote for, including the New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone, to the tune of $200,000.

    Rivka Galchen

    Rivka Galchen

    Things to look forward to in the near future include Rivka Galchen’s piece on Hillary Clinton (presumably the last in the New Republic’s “Field Portraits” series, which has so far given us Joshua Cohen on Bernie Sanders, Suki Kim on Marco Rubio, Clancy Martin on Ted Cruz, and Patricia Lockwood reporting from Trumplandia) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s cameo performance in The Merchant of Venice.

    Lydia Kiesling has taken over as editor of The Millions.

    ProPublica’s Alex MacGillis has won the Toner Prize for political reporting for a group of 2015 stories that, as Tom Brokaw (one of this year’s judges) put it, helps explain “what everyone wants to know: what happened to our system of politics and governance.” And Atlantic Media announced the finalists for its Michael Kelly Award (for “the fearless pursuit and expression of truth”), which will be given on April 17.

    For the Paris Review Daily, the artist Aidan Koch adapts a Lydia Davis story into a (delightful) comic.

    At Lincoln Center in April, as part of its Print Screen series, writer and performer Jacob Wren (whose new book, Rich and Poor, is about a man who decides to assassinate a billionaire) will introduce a screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 film Close-up, which he calls “a film taking its first impulse from a real life story in the newspaper that is at the same time a film about dreams.” Wren continues: “What would our dreams be like if there were no newspapers, no television or advertising, no books or films? Our dreams are compromised in ways we cannot even know the true extent of.”

     

  • March 29, 2016

    Jill Abramson

    Jill Abramson

    The Guardian has hired former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson (who’s postponed her plans to run a subscription-based longform journalism project producing “one perfect whale of a story” per month) as a biweekly columnist on the presidential race. She’s started with a piece in defense of Hillary Clinton’s probity, even though, she notes, “As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland.”

    Jezebel deputy editor Jia Tolentino has a piece about Thomas Sayers Ellis, a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop who was removed from his post after anonymous accusations of misconduct were made against him, and about whether the situation has now fundamentally changed for what Tolentino calls the “important, inappropriate literary man”: “the grabby lit mag editor, the wildly volatile critic, the author you hear once hit somebody, the professor who every year dates a first-year grad student and manages to send her reputation, not his, into the mud.”

    Alexandra Brodsky, one of the founders of the activist organization Know Your IX, has a depressing account of how the media deal with advocates and organizers on the subject of rape and sexual assault: “We already have an expert,” an NPR producer told Brodsky, before dropping her from a planned show. “We need a survivor.”

    Bloggers and essayists feel decidedly mixed about their work being annotated via sites like Genius—“Of all the things that come out every day,” Alana Massey asks, why must News Genius staff pick on her piece about loneliness? “Why isn’t David Brooks chosen?”—and now they may be able to defend themselves with a plug-in.

    Tonight at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, you can catch the Cool as F**k reading series, this time featuring new fiction from the likes of Alexander Chee and Annie DeWitt, as well as an AWP preview. 

  • March 28, 2016

    Jim Harrison

    Jim Harrison

    Jim Harrison—the author of twenty-one works of fiction, as well as screenplays and books of poetry—died on Saturday at age seventy-eight. He was perhaps best known as the author of Legends of the Fall (1979), which was adapted into a movie, and for his notorious appetites. The Times obituary takes note of his penchant for guns (shooting rattlesnakes in his yard), company (he hung out with Jack Nicholson, John Huston, Bill Murray, et. al), alcohol, and food (he once ate 144 oysters in a single sitting).

    Sources say that Gawker paid the Conde Nast executive who was outed on the site last summer a “tidy undisclosed sum” to avoid another lawsuit.

    Novelists Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Paul Murray, and others reflect on the Easter Rising in Ireland on its one-hundredth anniversary.

    Novelist and memoirist Gary Shteyngart recalls sitting next to his hero Garry Shandling (who died last week) on a plane ride to Hawaii.

    David Axelrod, the political strategist and author of the memoir Believer, discusses his new podcast, The Axe Files. “What I don’t want to do is to be like a Sunday show. I’m not denigrating what the Sunday guys do, but my goal isn’t to spend 40 minutes trying to wrestle with guests to make news. I’m trying to have a deeper conversation about them and the world as they see it. If they commit an act of news, then we will share it with people.”

    Nicholas Kristof argues that Donald Trump’s rise as a presidential candidate was caused not just by resentful Republican voters but also by the media. “Although many of us journalists have derided Trump, the truth is that he generally outsmarted us,” Kristof says. “He manipulated television by offering outrageous statements that drew ever more cameras—without facing enough skeptical follow-up questions.”

    Mark Singer’s long profile of Donald Trump may be two decades old, but it is growing increasingly relevant.

  • March 25, 2016

    After all the upheaval of abandoning nudity, it looks as if Playboy may be going up for sale soon.

    Fortune has published a very affectionate profile of Jeff Bezos, who nowadays has, it asserts, “every reason to cha-cha.” It does also note that “the possibilities of a less tethered Jeff Bezos are equal parts exciting (imagine what he’ll do) and terrifying (pity whom he’ll crush).” The one really endearing detail the piece includes, however, is an account of one of Bezos’s less successful innovations, “disemvoweling,” a feature he attempted to introduce to the Washington Post which would have allowed online readers to strip all vowels out of articles that displeased them.

    Ida B. Wells

    Ida B. Wells

    A substantial new annual fellowship has been created to support investigative reporters of color. It’s named for the journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, who led the first anti-lynching campaign, and applications are due by April 18.

    As an American Psycho musical prepares to debut on Broadway, Dwight Garner reassesses the legacy of the Bret Easton Ellis novel (and notes once again the anti-hero Patrick Bateman’s fixation on Donald Trump).

    On the Paris Review Daily, there’s a piece about the writer Gary Indiana’s new visual art show.

  • March 24, 2016

    The winners of this year’s Whiting Awards for emerging writers were announced this week: You can read extracts from their work at The Paris Review’s website, or you can hear them read in person tonight, at BookCourt. (The Whiting Foundation is also offering a substantial new grant to help writers of creative nonfiction complete their books—applications are open now.)

    Kate Millett

    Kate Millett

    Maggie Doherty’s New Republic piece on Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (reissued this month by Columbia University Press) begins with the author vomiting all over a Persian rug she’d just bought in a fit of “libertine glory” after selling the book to Doubleday, and would be worth it for that alone. Millett, Doherty also notes, “was writing in the waning years of what Louis Menand has called the age of ‘heroic criticism,’ a time when the stakes of literary debate seemed high. The books you preferred said something about your politics, even your morals. If you wanted to change the way people lived and loved, you might very well set out to change the way they read.” It’s not easy, as Doherty points out, to imagine any work of literary scholarship—let alone a Ph.D. dissertation—landing its author on the cover of Time today.”

    The Rumpus interviews the writer Amy Sohn, who incidentally will ruin your view of Law & Order’s Jerry Orbach, and who sees motherhood and literature as mutually beneficial, in a manner of speaking: “It really opened me to a new kind of deeper writing, I think. In other words, I suffered for the first time in a really big way, and I became depressed for the first time. . . . I wrote about the darkness of marriage, the darkness of being triangulated about your own child. So I had kind of a crack-up, and it helps if you’re an artist, because nobody’s going to question you.”

    An excerpt from The Money Cult, Chris Lehmann’s forthcoming history of the relationship between capitalism and American Christianity, appears at Melville House: “Protestant piety in United States has had an often fulsome, occasionally fraught, relationship to the quest for material wealth, but never before has it transacted a vision of spiritually sanctioned prosperity on such a blunt pay-to-play basis on such a vast scale. In the not-so-distant past, Oral Roberts—the most prominent prosperity minister in the postwar era—was treated as a late-night TV punchline for mounting a bald fundraising pitch around the threat that the Lord would be calling Roberts home if he failed to meet his allotted quota of $8 million to rescue his eponymous Oklahoma-based university from a sea of red ink. Now, however, the link between the personal discipline exacted by one’s faith and the promised expansion of one’s bottom line is so casually reiterated in the evangelical world that it’s banal.”

    The writer Sarah Schulman has written on Facebook about her strange experience this week with the authorities at CUNY, where (at the College of Staten Island) she teaches and serves as faculty advisor for the Students for Justice in Palestine.

    If you haven’t been reading the daily entries in the “literary/graphic project” Web Safe 2k16, edited by Josephine Livingstone, you still have time to catch up: It’s been live for just over a month now, with 216-word contributions about life on the pre-broadband internet (and with other technologies of the same era) from the likes of Adrian Chen, Jenna Wortham, Haley Mlotek, and Sarah Nicole Prickett, and it’ll run for 216 days altogether.

  • March 23, 2016

    Roxane Gay’s novel, An Untamed State, about a woman who is abducted in Haiti, is to be adapted for the screen by Fox Searchlight, and Gay has signed on to co-write the script.

    After nearly ten years of offering his New York Times colleagues regular critiques of their writing and editing, Philip B. Corbett announces in his latest After Deadline post that there will be no more “for the time being.” So if we want to take note of the Times’s use of “sprung” for “sprang,” or its description of Donald Trump “grabbing his podium with both hands” (lectern would have been more accurate), we’ll have to do it alone.

    Chris Kraus

    Chris Kraus

    In The Atlantic, Nicholas Dames has an essay on autofiction and the novel of “aloneness.” He writes that the blending of autobiography and the novel forms, once an effort to escape old debates about realism, is now focused “more explicitly on rejecting the goal of generating empathy, and the mission has become associated with two marquee names.” The two he goes on to discuss seem a surprising pair: Chris Kraus and Karl Ove Knausgaard. “Both of them,” Dames writes, “leave the exploration of multiple possible viewpoints behind. From a similar perch—that of the well-educated, if economically precarious, turn-of-the-millennium artist or intellectual—yet impelled by very different experiences, they start with the extremely personal (and sometimes deliberately perverse) in order to evoke the cold, impassable space between self and other.”

    In London, the first Words by Women event took place this week, designed to compensate for the fact that so few women are nominated for the UK’s mainstream journalism awards. Meanwhile, the annual VIDA Count, which now looks at data on race, gender, sexuality, and disability, will be released next week.

    Gawker CEO Nick Denton lays out evidence that he says will allow the company to overturn the Hulk Hogan decision (with its obliterating $140 million price tag) on appeal. And the editors of the New York Observer weigh in to offer Gawker some decidedly lukewarm solidarity: “This kind of tough case, in which an editor who resembles Ted Bundy in affect and empathy published a story designed to attract clicks through humiliating an aging C-lister, is exactly when we ought to be most protective of a site’s right to be obnoxious.”

  • March 22, 2016

    Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway

    Efforts to make the writing life look more action-packed than it really is are not new, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from enjoying the trailer for Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, which, incidentally, is being billed as the first American film to be shot in Cuba since the revolution.

    Gawker, after being ordered last week to pay Hulk Hogan $115 million—considerably more than the media company is worth—asked for mercy and got hit with an extra $25 million in punitive damages instead.

    Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times’s new media columnist, stepping into the formidable shoes of the late David Carr (“PS,” Rutenberg writes, “they feel OK, will take a little getting used to”), got started this week by examining the Trumping of the news.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education surveys a growing trend in literary studies for “cli-fi”—climate-change fiction.

    You may imagine that Amazon only makes traditional publishers and bookstore owners quake (and maybe the odd employee), but it is branching out: It now employs more than sixty lobbyists, who are making an enthusiastic “drone push” in Washington, and has become a big government contractor with a deal on cloud computing for the CIA.  

    Matter, the online publication that won a National Magazine Award for its reporting this year, is relaunching itself as an independent media company.

    And BuzzFeed is launching a new literary wing, beginning with a piece in praise of feeling like a fraud by poet and essayist Melissa Broder, an excerpt from Helen Oyeyemi’s new story collection, and “Bullet Points,” a poem on police brutality by Jericho Brown.

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