• 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.

  • March 21, 2016

    Prince

    Prince

    On Friday night in New York’s meatpacking district, Prince announced that he is writing a memoir. “The good people of Random House have made me an offer I can’t refuse!” said the musician. The book, titled The Beautiful Ones, will be published by Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau in fall 2017. Dan Piepenbring, the web editor of the Paris Review, will cowrite. “He’s a good critic,” Prince said. “That’s what I need. Not a yes man.”

    The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which were announced on Thursday last week, have listed some of their biggest influences. The Argonauts author Maggie Nelson notes the importance of Roland Barthes, while Paul Beatty, whose The Sellout won for fiction, tips his hat to Richard Pryor, Bruce Lee, and Bugs Bunny.

    The New York Times’s public editor Margaret Sullivan examines the paper’s decision to make changes to an online article about Bernie Sanders, “turning it from almost glowing to somewhat disparaging” (and without notifying readers that any changes had been made). Her conclusion: “The changes to this story were so substantive that a reader who saw the piece when it first went up might come away with a very different sense of Mr. Sanders’s legislative accomplishments than one who saw it hours later. (The Sanders campaign shared the initial story on social media; it’s hard to imagine it would have done that if the edited version had appeared first.)” She also notes that except for the rare editor’s note that appears at the end of a story, the Times doesn’t have a method for being transparent regarding changes online.

    Three years in the  making, Moby Dick: The Big Read, an audio recording of Herman Melville’s classic started by author Philip Hoare and artist Angela Cockayne, is now complete. Readers include Tilda Swinton, John Waters, China Mieville, Will Self, Tony Kushner, Musa Okwonga, and Prime Minister David Cameron.

    Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Superman v. Batman) recently told the Hollywood Reporter that he’s working on developing Ayn Rand’s script for her novel The Fountainhead. “I’ve always felt like The Fountainhead was such a thesis on the creative process and what it is to create something,” Snyder says.

  • March 18, 2016

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, announced last night, include Paul Beatty (for fiction), Maggie Nelson (for criticism), Ross Gay (for poetry), and Margo Jefferson (for autobiography).

    At The Baffler, Chris Lehmann paints a vivid picture of the Breitbart media operation and its workings.

    William Brennan has a piece on Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Irish Gaelic masterpiece, Cré na Cille, written in the 1940s and only now available in English translation (two translations, in fact, with two different titles: The Dirty Dust and Graveyard Clay). Ó Cadhain’s novel, his debut, was initially rejected by a publisher as too “Joycean.”

    On The Cut, writer Meaghan O’Connell has a piece about the “concerned” questions women have to field when they write on more personal subjects—questions, for instance, about what their children or parents might think of them. “We don’t ask male artists to consider the consequences of their work,” O’Connell writes, “we don’t reframe them as fathers or boyfriends or sons. We don’t keep trying to pull them back down to earth, to admonish them, the way we do women. We not only give them the benefit of the doubt—assuming they’ve done their own calculus as to how much is worth what, whom they’re willing to betray or embarrass or make uncomfortable and why—we operate as if their work is worth all that.”

    Blockbuster director Zack Snyder apparently plans to adapt Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead for the screen. He sees the book as “such a thesis on the creative process and what it is to create something”—which is certainly one way of looking at it.

    The Huffington Post interviews the editor of the print and online magazine Posture (its “Ornamentation” issue recently came out), who wants to remedy a situation in which “too often ideas and aesthetics are taken from the underprivileged and the queer underground without credit.”

  • March 17, 2016

    The writer-director Michael Mann is launching a publishing imprint, Michael Mann Books, in order to work with a stable of authors (who’ll sometimes share the cover credit with him) on fiction and nonfiction books that he’ll also develop for film and television.

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith

    The New Yorker is previewing its new podcast, The Author’s Voice, in which, as of next week, you’ll be able to hear writers reading their own stories from the magazine. They’re pulling out all the stops for this first sample episode, which boasts Zadie Smith doing an American accent (or several) as she reads “Escape from New York,” her 9/11 fantasia featuring Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor, and Marlon Brando, as well as an author with an even more instantly recognizable voice, Tom Hanks.

    James Bennet, who after ten years recently agreed to leave his post as editor in chief of The Atlantic and return to the New York Times to run its editorial page, is now thought to be in the running as a successor to Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor.

    If anyone hasn’t yet had their fill of Elena Ferrante, her children’s book, The Beach at Night (a spin-off from her novel The Lost Daughter, which, Ferrante has noted, was the original kernel of her Neapolitan series), will appear in English later this year.

    Tonight at the New School, the National Book Critics Circle Awards will be presented: You can read appreciations by board members of the thirty finalists at the Critical Mass blog, including today’s entry, by Karen Long, on Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout.

  • March 16, 2016

    After last night’s results, John Cassidy considers the prospect of a fight for the presidency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

    Anita Brookner

    Anita Brookner

    Novelist and art historian Anita Brookner, who won the Booker Prize in 1984 for Hotel du Lac, has died. The novelist Hilary Mantel has written that “Brookner is the sort of artist described as minor by people who read her books only once,” whereas, in Mantel’s view, the “singular quality of each, as well as the integrity of the project, is established.” Brookner told The Paris Review, of her autobiographical first novel, A Start in Life, published when she was fifty-three: “My life seemed to be drifting in predictable channels and I wanted to know how I deserved such a fate. I thought if I could write about it I would be able to impose some structure on my experience. It gave me a feeling of being at least in control. It was an exercise in self-analysis, and I tried to make it as objective as possible—no self-pity and no self-justification. But what is interesting about self-analysis is that it leads nowhere—it is an art form in itself.”

    Reading can be revoltingly indulgent. Writers should not necessarily shirk their responsibility to make it so.” Full Stop has the first of a two-part interview with Tony Tulathimutte, author of the novel Private Citizens.

    On the New Yorker’s website, Nicolas Niarchos has a piece on the poet Keston Sutherland: “I get the sense that he is trying to convey that his writing, too, is a product, like a carton of orange juice at a supermarket. He makes himself into the puppet that poetry has made of the words he uses, and the puppet that capitalism has, he believes, made of literature. He is aware, in other words, of the violence that he is doing to language.”

    A woman in Massachusetts has begun a Kickstarter campaign in which she offers to read some of the works of Jonathan Franzen should funders be willing to bribe her $5,000 or more.

    This evening at NYU, writers and editors Jon Baskin (of The Point), Sarah Leonard (of The Nation), and Nikil Saval (of n+1) will participate in what promises to be a lively and insightful roundtable discussion about what it means to be a public intellectual today.

  • March 15, 2016

    A somewhat chilling article in the New York Times describes a firm called Jellybooks and its founder, who hopes to use data to transform book publishing, Moneyball-style. The company is working with publishers to examine in detail how people actually read their ebooks: “On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5 percent of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75 percent of readers.” And, it turns out, “business books have surprisingly low completion rates”—though it’s not clear just how surprising that actually is.

    The original manuscript of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon has turned up in a Zurich publisher’s archive and, according to Koestler’s biographer Michael Scammell, differs in myriad fascinating ways from the world-famous version.

    Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum

    The Rumpus interviews Meghan Daum and Elliott Holt, editor of and contributor to Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, which is about to come out in paperback: Among other things, they discuss the project’s roots in a rather less measured magazine piece by Hanya Yanagihara, who was originally supposed to coedit the book with Daum but had to withdraw after selling her novel A Little Life.

    Nine staffers have been dropped by the Forward newspaper, which, according to its publisher, is currently “restructuring” in an effort to remain “the leading news organization for American Jews.”

    Paper Darts, a small Minnesota literary journal, is running a short fiction competition (entries of 1,200 words or less are due April 15) to be judged by the writer Roxane Gay.

    Tonight, New Yorkers can hear novelists Dana Spiotta and Joshua Ferris in conversation at McNally Jackson. Or at Dixon Place, there’s “Experiments & Disorders,” a “cross-genre” show starring Alexander Chee and Gerard Anthony Cabrera. Or, topically enough, you may want to attend Thomas Frank’s discussion, at Book Culture, of his essential new critique of the Democratic Party, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?.

  • March 14, 2016

    John Edgar Wideman

    John Edgar Wideman

    In an article published in Milan’s Corriere della Sera, the Italian writer and professor Marco Santagata claims that he has determined the true identity of Elena Ferrante. He writes that Ferrante is the pen name of Marcella Marmo, a professor at a Neapolitan university. According to Slate, Marmo has denied Santagata’s claim, and has pointed out that she is too “timid and reserved” to be such an bold writer. Ferrante’s Italian publisher has also denied that Marmo is Ferrante.

    Harper Lee’s estate will no longer allow the printing of inexpensive, mass-market editions of To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Author and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler argues that the shocking story about the Republican presidential campaigns isn’t “the rise of Donald Trump but how the GOP slowly morphed into a party of hate and obstruction.” Trump isn’t a surprise, says Gabler; he’s the fulfillment of the Republican Party’s increasingly hostile wishes. Novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has also weighed in on the Donald, writing at The Guardian: “His supposed implausibility as a candidate actually sheltered him for months from scrutiny by the press, who nevertheless have showered him with attention. He is alarming as well as absurd, stirring and stoking the worst impulses in the electorate. But then this is only a darkening of the atmosphere we have lived in since Nixon, as fear and resentment began to be commodified very profitably by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.”

    Novelists John Edgar Wideman and Peter Carey and poet Billy Collins were among those elected into the Academy of Arts this year.

    Music writer Jon Caramanica has devoted the latest installment of Popcast to two new books by New York Times critics: Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever and A. O. Scott’s Better Living through Criticism. The three authors talk about the books and raise questions about the meaningfulness of their trade: “Why be a critic? What good are critics? What’s the future for a critic, and for criticism?”

    With the help of a new Grove Press edition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, the managers of the author’s estate are hoping to market the cult classic novel to millennials. The introduction was written by Simon Doonan. Apparently, the publisher first offered this honor to Liza Minnelli, but she declined. Minnelli’s publicist explains: “Liza’s mother was famously fired from the movie of Valley, causing her a lot of stress.”

  • March 11, 2016

    Marilynne Robinson

    Marilynne Robinson

    The novelist Marilynne Robinson has her say on that “great orange-haired Unintended Consequence,” the nonfictional Donald Trump: He is “alarming as well as absurd, stirring and stoking the worst impulses in the electorate. But then this is only a darkening of the atmosphere we have lived in since Nixon, as fear and resentment began to be commodified very profitably by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.”

    As the thaw between the US and Cuba continues, Publishers Weekly has called for an end to the embargo on books: “the Cuban people have not been able to read American authors for more than 50 years. American readers, meanwhile, have been denied access to the works of Cuban writers.”

    The poet and novelist Wendell Berry pleasingly flouts the New York Times’s By the Book rules this week: No, he will not choose a favorite genre, short story (“Picking one would slight the others and waste time”), or poem (“Of the ones I need, I need all”). Nor, for that matter, will he recommend a book for the president to read, nor name one that shaped his own life: “As the product of at least two parents, I hesitate to see myself as derived from one book.”

    And the Times sends its spies into the physical Amazon bookstore.

    Punch Hutton, Vanity Fair’s deputy editor and a veteran of seventeen years at the magazine, is stepping down. And the New Yorker has a new managing editor, Emily Greenhouse.

    Novelist Tony Tulathimutte commends the choose-your-own-adventure that is the humble preposition.

    At Dissent, Tim Shenk spoke with the cultural historian Thomas W. Laqueur about The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, a book he has worked on for forty years.

    As of this week, Toni Morrison has given the first three of her six Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. The series is entitled “The Origin of Others: The Literature of Belonging,” and the next lecture, “Configurations of Blackness,” will take place on March 22.

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