• December 12, 2018

    “In its highest forms, influence . . . derives from courage,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal writes in his announcement of “The Guardians” as 2018’s Person of the Year. “Like all human gifts, courage comes to us at varying levels and at varying moments. This year we are recognizing four journalists and one news organization who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment: Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world—as of Dec. 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018—who risk all to tell the story of our time.”

    Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Photo: Sue Kwon

    At Columbia Journalism Review, Mia Shuang Li details the many ways that Google’s Dragonfly project, a proposed “censorship-compliant search engine” in China, would harm journalists and “embolden other authoritarian states.”

    PEN America has announced the judges and nominees for their 2019 Literary Awards. Nominees include Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s The Circuit, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Jabari Asim’s We Can’t Breathe, and Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds. Winners will be announced in February.

    Next year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction judges have been chosen. Peter Florence, Liz Calder, Guo Xiaolu, Afua Hirsch, and Joanna MacGregor will choose next year’s winner.

    Indie pop duo Tegan and Sara are writing a joint memoir. High School will be published by MCD (part of Farrar, Straus and Giroux) next fall.

    Members of Slate’s editorial union have voted to allow a strike if necessary, Bloomberg reports. On Twitter, writer Jordan Weissmann explained that the vote came after the company refused to remove “right-to-work” language from employee contracts. “Slate is not ideologically rigid. But we are, overall, a progressive publication,” he wrote. “I think our audience expects the whole magazine to reflect those values, not just what we right.”

  • December 11, 2018

    R.O. Kwon. Photo: Smeeta Mahanti

    The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for this year’s John Leonard Award for Best First Book. Nominees include Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black, Jamel Brinkely’s A Lucky Man, Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River, Tommy Orange’s There There, Tara Westover’s Educated, R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, and Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry. The winner will be selected in January.

    John le Carré is working on a new novel, the New York Times reports. Agent Running in the Field will be published by Viking next October. Little is known about the new book’s plot, but the Times asserts that “it does sound sure to include the political turmoil and interpersonal twists and turns that have been le Carré’s trademarks.

    Tracy Morgan is working on a cookbook based on his TBS sitcom, The Last O.G. “This project is really special to me,” Morgan said. “I want this book to not only inspire mad culinary skills, but give back to the Brooklyn community where I grew up.” A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to Fortune Society, a non-profit that supports people returning to their communities after incarceration.

    “Political poetry [does] much more than vent,” writes poet laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Times. “It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry.”

    At the New Yorker, Osita Nwanevu examines the misplaced mourning for the “old WASP aristocracy.”

    Teju Cole and Rowan Ricardo Phillips discuss tennis, talent, and Phillips’s new book, The Circuit. “Tennis is the perfect sport for late capitalism,” Phillips said. “I think people think that they’re escaping politics when they embrace Roger Federer. But they’re totally rooting for capitalism, right? There’s such a commodified way to be a Roger Federer fan. . . . It comes with all the accessories, and they’re expensive.”

  • December 10, 2018

    Tyehimba Jess

    Tyehimba Jess

    Poet, memoirist, and critic Meghan O’Rourke has been named the new editor of the Yale Review.

    Molly Stern—who edited Michelle Obama’s Becoming, among many other successful titles—is leaving her job as publisher of Crown Books, apparently in response to the recent merging of Crown and Random House. David Drake, Crown’s executive VP, will fill Stern’s position.

    Jon Krakauer has sued playwrights Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard over their musical adaptation of his book Into the Wild. Krakauer originally granted the writers the right to use the title in their adaptation, but has now changed his mind after reading the play, and has requested that the writers not attach his book’s title or his name to their musical.

    We are excited to learn the official publication dates of Benjamin Moser’s new biography of Susan Sontag (September 3, 2019) and of Caleb Crain’s second novel, Overthrow (August 27, 2019).

    Novelist Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings and the much-anticipated Black Leopard, Red Wolf, names his favorite books of 2018.

    Serbian-American author Téa Obreht—whose debut, The Tiger’s Wife (2009), was a finalist for the National Book Award—has sold her novel Inland to Random House. According to the publisher, Inland is set in 1893 “in the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory.”

    Novelist Karan Mahajan (The Association of Small Bombs) interviews doctor and author Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose book The Emperor of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize, about art, Indian identity, and the challenges of writing about medical science, about what we know and what we don’t know.

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Tyehimba Jess, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his book Olio, will introduce readings by three of his favorite poets—LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Douglas Kearney, and Tracie Morris—and read his own work. The event will culminate in a musical performance of Jess’s poetry.

  • December 7, 2018

    In their annual state of the media column, Mother Jones examines “the toxic combination of Facebook’s anti-democratic effect, Donald Trump’s authoritarian presidency, and the rise of a bolder class of propagandists,” which they write “is the story that in many ways defined this year, and will probably define the next two years too.”

    Michelle Obama Becoming

    Michelle Obama

    At Columbia Journalism Review, Jack Crosbie looks at the Charle Koch Institute’s Media and Journalism Fellowship, part of the Koch family’s attempt to rebrand “as a friend of the Fourth Estate.”

    In her “By the Book” interview, Michelle Obama discusses the Obama family book club, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and her unlikely childhood hero, Pippi Longstocking.

    LitHub talks to Meghan O’Rourke, who was recently named editor of the Yale Review.

    Josephine Livingstone talks to Tavi Gevinson about her decision to close her website, Rookie.

    The Guardian’s Laura Waddell considers the pros and cons of tow recently-announced literary sequels. “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as a dissection of authoritarian attitudes to women’s freedom, has never felt more relevant in the era of Trump,” she writes approvingly. But Waddell feels that André Aciman’s sequel to Call Me By Your Name might detract from the original. “It seems a shame to take a work that is a masterclass in nostalgia and repackage it as the first instalment of an ongoing story,” she explains. “Letting the reader glimpse adults who have never forgotten one another at the end of the first book perfectly captures the sense of life passing, special people left lingering in the heart ever after.”

  • December 6, 2018

    Denis Johnson

    At The Point, Aaron Thier examines the themes of addiction, recovery, and god in Denis Johnson’s work. “Whatever ‘God’ meant to Johnson in his private life, ‘God’ in his fiction is a way of referring to those aspects of human experience that seem excessive or out of scale,” he writes. “It is the extra something—the charge that passes between a human being and the universe.”

    UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for an international investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    New Republic editor J.J. Gould is leaving the magazine.

    Vulture’s Lila Shapiro looks at the publishing world’s uneasiness about the industry’s financial dependence on books about Trump in 2018. “On the one hand, there was a sense of relief that, in a relatively flat sales environment where no fiction had sold more than a million copies since 2015 (when Trump descended the golden escalator), a few nonfiction chronicles had tent-poled the industry,” she writes. “But there was also an unmistakable air of embarrassment over these riches—and a sense of loss for the sleeper hits that might have been, if there had just been a little more media oxygen in the world.”

    At Harper’s Magazine, Janine di Giovanni reflects on life as a female war reporter, the late Marie Colvin, and Matt Heineman’s new movie about Colvin’s life, A Private War. “Since I began reporting from conflict zones in the early 1990s, I had been asked dozens of times whether women reported war differently from men. ‘No,’ I would bristle, annoyed by the question,” di Giovanni remembers. “I went to the front lines with soldiers and embedded with rebel armies. I lived for months in the field or the bush; I did not wash; I carried the dead and wounded out of trenches. I did everything my male colleagues did, and tried to mirror their emotions. At least I thought I did.”

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Jonathan Lethem and Lauren Groff read from their recent books.

  • December 5, 2018

    Literary magazine A Public Space is starting a book publishing imprint. “If you’ve encountered any of the writers that have been published in the magazine, you know that it’s a place for discovery,” said founder Brigid Hughes “and the books are going to have that kind of identity as well.” A Public Space Books will release its first book next year.

    Tana French. Photo: Kathrin Baumbach

    Call Me By Your Name author André Aciman is working on a sequel to the book.

    At BOMB, Francisco Cantú talks to John Moore about violence, storytelling, and his new photography book, Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border.  

    A report released by Reporters Without Borders this week has found that dozens of journalists have been killed by organized crime syndicates since last year. “As opposed to Syria or Afghanistan, where the press is often killed by terrorist groups, this report shows the link when government and corrupt organizations work in tandem to silence the work of journalists in a really covert way,” said Reporters Without Borders spokesperson Noni Ghani. “These things don’t just happen in conflict zones or countries at war. They really happen everywhere.”

    The first two novels of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series are being developed for TV. An eight-episode adaptation of In the Woods and The Likeness will premiere on Starz next year.

    HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg contacted Washington Post employees to find out “what they would say about Amazon if they weren’t worried it might cost them their jobs.” Responses ranged from uneasiness about how Amazon treats its workers to hatred for the company’s website and products. “Bezos has so much money, he is publicly mulling throwing it into a trash can in outer space while his employees have to donate vacation time to each other when they get cancer,” said one anonymous Post employee. “Literally he would rather launch money into space for no purpose than give it to the people who work for him. I love working at the Post, but Amazon sucks.”

  • December 4, 2018

    The City of New York has proposed designating the Strand bookstore’s building as a historical landmark. But current owner Nancy Bass Wyden is asking the city to reconsider their plans. Wyden says that the designation would strain the stores finances by making renovations and upkeep more costly, and that she has no plans to sell the building to developers. “The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Wyden said, referencing Amazon’s planned headquarters in Queens. “Just leave me alone.”

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts have announced the recipients of this year’s Arts Writers Grants.

    Margo Jefferson

    In The Believer, Zinzi Clemmons talks to Margo Jefferson about intersectionality, feminism, and her experience as a Newsweek journalist in the 1970s. I wanted to write about everything that white male critics were not writing about,” she said. “I remember once at the books meeting at Newsweek, we were picking books and I decided I was going to write about Toni Cade Bambara’s The Sea Birds Are Still Alive. This particularly snide editor was leafing through it and said, ‘The Sea Birds Are Still Alive—does anybody care?’ Those kinds of possibly genuinely offhand remarks sent you screaming into a black colleague’s office, or would just plunge the heart and surround you with that kind of angry defensiveness as you did your work.”

    At The Atlantic, Rachel Donadio investigates the person—or people—behind the figure of Elena Ferrante. “Writing as Elena Ferrante seems to me a metafictional project, a literary game of the highest order. But it’s also a far-reaching exploration of what it means to write as a woman, to be perceived as a woman writer—and what expansive possibilities may emerge when our assumptions about the author’s identity are subverted,” she writes. “Perhaps you, the construct that is Elena Ferrante, aspire to break down the categories that too often constrain or pigeonhole a complex literary project.”

    James Frey has won the 2018 award for bad sex in fiction for his novel Katerina. “Frey prevailed against a strong all-male shortlist by virtue of the sheer number and length of dubious erotic passages in his book,” the judges explained in a statement. “The multiple scenes of sustained fantasy in Katerina could have won Frey the award many times over.”

    “I needed a protagonist who could do things only males could have done in their era,” says Unsheltered author Barbara Kingsolver on why she sometimes writes from a male point-of-view. “In creating male characters I draw on what I know well (for example, Thatcher’s scientific curiosity) and steer clear of what I don’t (for example, how it feels to have an erection).”

  • December 3, 2018

    Justin Taylor

    Justin Taylor

    The Washington Post’s book critic Carlos Lozada reads through George W.H. Bush’s books, letters, and diaries to imagine the memoir the ex-president “seemed to avoid.”

    Last week, the organizers of the Pushcart Prize—which honors writers who have published with small journals and independent presses—named this year’s nominees. Among them was Ailey O’Toole, who had been nominated for her poem “Gun Metal.” Now, poet Rachel McKibbens has posted on Twitter that O’Toole plagiarized a poem that appeared in McKibbens’s book blud. Here’s one of McKibbens’s lines: “Hell-spangled girl / spitting teeth into the sink, / I’d trace the broken / landscape of my body / & find God / within myself.” And here is O’Toole: “Ramshackle / girl spitting teeth / in the sink. I trace the / foreign topography of / my body, find God / in my skin.” After McKibbens’s Tweets, at least three additional poets—Hieu Minh Nguyen, Wanda Deglane, and Brenna Twohy—said that O’Toole had plagiarized them as well. O’Toole’s forthcoming poetry collection has been canceled.

    It’s no surprise that Michelle Obama’s Becoming gave bookstores a big boost in sales at the start of the holiday season.

    The New York Times looks at the books that Donald Trump has been promoting lately. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the books are by writers who support the president. “At least six books, presumably in the running to line the conspiracy theory section of the future Trump presidential library, have titles like Spygate: The Attempted Sabotage of Donald J. Trump and The Russia Hoax,” writes Katie Rogers. “The authors are supporters like Jeanine Pirro, a longtime friend whose book Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, has, according to the president, aptly explained ‘the phony Witch Hunt.’”

    Book deals: HarperPerennial has bought a newly discovered story by Sylvia Plath. And in a pre-emptive deal, Random House bought Bookforum contributor Justin Taylor’s second novel, Riding with the Ghost.

    At GQ, George Saunders interviews Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.

  • November 30, 2018

    The majority of Mic’s one hundred employees were laid off yesterday as the company prepared to sell to Bustle Digital Group, Recode reports. The website’s two founders, Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, are the only staff that remain at the company. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company was sold for $5 million, far below the company’s previous valuation of $100 million. Columbia Journalism Review’s Mathew Ingram writes that Mic’s decision to pivot to video and their focus on a partnership with Facebook likely played a large role in the website’s decline. “But no one forced Mic, or any other company suffering as a result of the same strategy, to shift so much of their spending to Facebook video, or to get their hopes up about a huge payoff,” he writes.

    Anna Burns

    Erika Allen has been hired as The Cut’s culture editor. Allen was most recently The Outline’s executive editor.

    Man Booker winner and Milkman author Anna Burns tells the New York Times that the only connection she has to her novel’s protagonist is their shared penchant for reading while walking. “Complete strangers would say to me, ‘You’re that girl who walks and reads’ or ‘I saw you on the something road reading,’” Burns remembered of her youth in Ireland during The Troubles. The constant attention prompted Burns to write Milkman. “I thought ‘Why would they comment on it? Am I that noticeable?’”

    LitHub’s Emily Temple rounds up translation advice from ten literary translators.

    Actress Ellie Kemper, who recently published her essay collection My Squirrel Days, explains to the New York Times’s “By the Book” column how she accidentally tackled historian and biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin at a pre-Oscar party. Kearns had been nominated for her work on Lincoln, which was based on her book Team of Rivals. “I wasn’t a nominee, so I’m not sure why I was there.” As “an enormous fan” of Goodwin’s, Kemper walked over to introduce herself. “Without waiting for her to give any indication that she wanted a hug, I leaned in to give her a hug. But she had begun to turn by that point, and I lost my balance,” Kemper explained. “I mumbled any number of mortified ‘I’m sorrys’ and then—as one does—ran away.”

  • November 29, 2018

    Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood has written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The new book, called The Testaments, takes place fifteen years after the conclusion of Handmaid’s, and is narrated by three women. “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book,” Atwood says in a video. “Well, almost everything: The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.” The new book will be released on September 10, 2019, by Doubleday/Nan A. Talese.

    A literature professor has discovered a forgotten cache of poet Anne Sexton’s early works. Written in the late 1950s, the essay and four poems were first published in the Christian Science Monitor and will be republished by Fugue.

    At LitHub, Madelaine Lucas profiles A Public Space editor Brigid Hughes. “I sometimes think about how Jane Jacobs talks about what makes a vital street,” Hughes said of A Public Space’s editorial direction. “You don’t want homogeneity, you want a variety of buildings and shops and people. That’s what makes a vibrant and vital community, and I think of the magazine as something similar.”

    Hmm Daily’s To Scocca attempts to understand the nuances of who is and isn’t included on the New York Times’s opinion section masthead.

    At The Millions, Marie Myung-Ok Lee calls for “not an end, but maybe an armistice, in the arms race of blurbing.” Lee writes that although the idea behind book blurbing—authors helping other authors find readers—is laudable, the internet and social media have expanded the amount of necessary promotion to the point that advance copies now require separate pre-blurbs before being sent. “The beast grows and needs more food more frequently,” she writes, “and is anyone keeping track of what’s happening? At what point will it be deemed ridiculous, at the pre-pre-pre-pre-blurb stage? And who will be doing it?”