• June 19, 2017

    The literary organization PEN has announced that it will grant novelist Margaret Atwood—author of more than forty books, including The Handmaid’s Tale—a lifetime achievement award.

    The Brooklyn Book Festival, which will take place on September 17, has released a partial list of authors who will participate this year. Among the writers who will read from their work or participate in roundtable discussions are: Colson Whitehead, Elif Batuman, Chris Hayes, Jacqueline Woodson, Lois Lowry, Erna Brodber, Santiago Gamboa, Young-ha Kim, and Hisham Matar. According to organizers, this year’s festival will pay special attention to topics such as reporting on refugees.

    Andrew O’Hagan

    Novelist and critic Andrew O’Hagan wonders how social media—in particular the ways that it has changed or eradicated our old ideas about private life—will affect the future of the novel. “Private life, in the sense that it meant something to Henry James, has ceded to the internet, and how we watch, are watched and how we self-watch are hot-wired to digital code. The interior life, let us say, used to be about who a person was inside themselves, and such alterations as could be detected were the stuff of literature. Nowadays the interior life means something else: it refers to who are you inside the web.”

    Publishers Weekly reports on last week’s Association of American University Presses annual meeting in Austin, Texas, and argues that university presses are “more vital than ever.”

    The New York Times interviews David Grossman and his translator, Jessica Cohen, who both won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for the English translation of Grossman’s novel A Horse Walks into a Bar. Much is lost in translation, but as Cohen points out, jokes present especially difficult challenges. “There were a few examples of jokes—not so much because of pacing or sound but because of cultural knowledge a non-Israeli reader wouldn’t have—that just weren’t going to work in English. Obviously if you have to explain something, it’s not funny. There were some cases like that where I managed to come up with a kind of equivalent. Some things we just had to drop.”

  • June 16, 2017

    CNN has filed a lawsuit against the FBI in order to obtain copies of James Comey’s memos on his meetings with Trump. Although the documents are not classified, the FBI has yet to answer the network’s FOIA request.

    At Literary Hub, Marc Leeds looks to Kurt Vonnegut for hope during the Trump presidency. “Kurt Vonnegut tells us that the game will always be stacked against the individual, and that everyone deserves common decency simply for making an effort at living,” he writes. “When Trump and his regressive minions retreat from the scene, we will all have to take up [Timequake protagonist] Kilgore Trout’s mantra and realize this was not our America. However, ‘You were sick, but now you’re well, and there’s work to do!’”

    Victor LaValle

    At Signature, Lorraine Berry talks to Victor LaValle about monsters, technology, and his new book, The Changeling. Even though the effects of technology in our life is a major focus of The Changeling, LaValle says that he thinks humans corrupt it as much as they adapt to it. “The vast majority of us most of the time use almost anything and everything for selfish nonsense. That’s certainly been the case for religion, and it’s the case for the internet,” he said. “I can’t think of any people who would claim that the comment section has changed. That’s easily a mob. Whether it’s fifty years ago, 150 years ago [or] Neanderthals when they were just learning language.”

    In the New York Times’s “By the Book” column, Defectors author Joseph Kanon debates who to invite to his literary dinner party. “I know I should say Henry James and Proust and George Eliot, but the great and the good can be really heavy going at a dinner party,” he notes. “Let’s go for a fun evening instead. Say, David Sedaris, Oscar Levant and Mel Brooks. Or, fun in a different way, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, if he promises to behave.”

    The Star Tribune checks in on Mall of America writer-in-residence Brian Sonia-Wallace, who is spending the few days “somewhere between the giant Lego models and the Nickelodeon roller coaster” writing poems on a typewriter for passing shoppers. So far, visitors have included mall employees in search of Father’s Day dedications and children who have never used a typewriter before. The paper asked whether Sonia-Wallace will “go crazy” inside the mall, to which he replied, “Probably.”

  • June 15, 2017

    Tracy K. Smith. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

    Tracy K. Smith has been named poet laureate by the Library of Congress. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said that Smith was chosen for her ability to make weighty issues accessible through poetry. “These aren’t simple poems,” she said, “but they are direct, and you can get into them based on your experience.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Smith said that she hoped to use the role to transcend the country’s political polarization. “We’re so much more important to one another as individuals . . . than we are as social categories,” she said. “It’s important to think about those sources that are saying, wait, you have a mother, and this is your relationship with her, this is what you wish could be different, and this is what you wish you could return to. I have a mother too, and she looks nothing like yours, but we can have something to say to each other. Those are the kind of conversations that art fosters.”

    Margaret Atwood offers an annotated guide to season one of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

    HuffPost laid off nearly forty employees yesterday, including military correspondent David Wood, who won a Pulitzer in 2012 for his work on the site. On the same day, Vocativ laid off its entire text-based editorial staff. The website now plans to focus exclusively on video content.

    The Intercept is conducting an internal investigation into the link between their publication of a classified NSA document and the arrest of alleged leaker Reality Winner.

    In the New York Times Book Review, Adam Kirsch explains why the world needs critics and why politicians, like writers and artists, need to accept outside critiques—even if they don’t agree. “In politics, as in art, the right to criticize is really the right to make an independent judgment of reality,” he writes. “Democracy relies on a citizenry informed and active enough to make such judgments; in a democracy, we are all critics.”

    Gabriel Sherman reports that Fox News has decided to change their network’s motto. Instead of “Fair & Balanced,” Fox will now be marketed as: “Most Watched. Most Trusted.” Sherman writes that the new tagline, which was coined by founder Roger Ailes, is “like the New York Times giving up ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’”

  • June 14, 2017

    Bob Dylan

    The New York Times offers a thoughtful response to Delta Airlines and Bank of America’s decision to pull financial backing from a new Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, which bestows the title dictator with Trumpian qualities. In withdrawing their financial support, the two companies “have proved more sensitive than even Queen Elizabeth I. ‘I am Richard II, know ye not that?’ she famously remarked around 1601. Yet the queen pointedly refused to pull her support for Shakespeare’s company, which continued to perform at court, or even for that play, though Richard II had been staged on the eve of an uprising against her near the end of her reign.”

    Ed Victor—the Bronx-born, London-based literary agent and man about town—has died. Over the years, his client list has included Erica Jong, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien, John Banville, Carl Bernstein, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards.

    Did Bob Dylan use Sparknotes to compose his Nobel speech? As author Ben Greenman recently observed, the singer seemed to have “made up” a quote from Moby-Dick during his Nobel lecture. Now, Slate’s Andrea Pitzer says that the quote wasn’t invented. “I soon discovered that the Moby-Dick line Dylan dreamed up last week seems to be cobbled together out of phrases on the website SparkNotes, the online equivalent of CliffsNotes.”

    At Vice, Christian Lorentzen talks with novelist Michel Houellebecq about his new show of photographs.

    Time Inc. is eliminating about 300 jobs.

    The Australian website Mamamia has apologized for disparaging comments it posted about author Roxane Gay, the author of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. In remarks posted alongside a podcast interview with the author, the website asked: “Will she fit into the office lift? How many steps will she have to take to get to the interview?” Gay tweeted in response: “I am appalled by Mamamia. It was a shit show. I can walk a fucking mile.”

  • June 13, 2017

    Actor Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony award last year for playing Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton, has signed a book deal with Macmillan imprint Feiwel & Friends. Failing Up: How to Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning will be published in March 2018. Manuel-Miranda’s musical has been a reliable producer of robust book sales: Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, which the show was based on, and Hamilton: The Revolution, the musical’s libretto and a behind-the-scenes look at its creation, have both spent long stretches on the best-seller list.

    Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte has been fined $385 for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Gianforte will also be required to complete forty hours of community service.

    Parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims are criticizing Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview on NBC with Infowars host Alex Jones, who believes that the massacre was a hoax carried out by opponents of second amendment rights. Kelly believes that the interview will help “shed a light” on Jones, whose website has been praised by Trump and now has White House press credentials. But the families, who have continually been harassed by conspiracy theorists for evidence of their loved ones’ deaths, say that Kelly and NBC should not be offering another platform for Jones to spread misinformation. “Alex and his followers have done nothing but make our lives a living hell for the last 4 1/2 years,” read a post on a memorial page for a teacher who was killed. “This incessant need for ratings at the cost of the emotional well-being of our family is disgusting and disappointing.”

    Julie Buntin

    The Rumpus talks to Julie Buntin about her new book, Marlena. Although the novel’s plot overlaps with Buntin’s past, she stresses that the events are fictional. “There’s this presumption of autobiography, which sometimes feels a little gendered to me, when women write in the first person—and in this case, because I have written publicly about the loss of a formative friend from adolescence,” she said. “I’ve noticed it at every turn, from my publisher to close friends from adulthood, who eye the drink in my hand a different way, having read Marlena.”

    At Pacific Standard, Ted Scheinman explains why Delta and Bank of America should have waited before dropping their funding for the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar. Scheinman notes that the authenticity of the outrage over the play can be measured by “how many of these same malcontents were displeased by Ted Nugent’s repeated death threats against President Barack Obama, or how many of them denounced the 2012 New York production of Julius Caesar where Caesar is portrayed as a stylish black politician in the Obama mold. (Spoiler: They stabbed the Obama figure many times onstage.)” Scheinman also wonders what hope other cultural products have if Shakespeare can be discarded so quickly. “The same people howling about the decline of Western civilization are the ones hastening it,” he writes, “and their greatest strength is that they are impervious to real irony.”


  • June 12, 2017

    NPR has been investigating the deaths of journalists David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna, who were ambushed last year in southern Afghanistan. Gilkey and Tamanna appear to have been the victims of a targeted strike: “The two men were not the random victims of bad timing in a dangerous place, as initial reports indicated. Rather, the journalists’ convoy was specifically targeted by attackers who had been tipped off to the presence of Americans in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.”

    The New York Times has twice altered the headline on a profile of NBC News correspondent Katy Tur after reader complaints of sexism. “Katy Tur is Tougher Than She Looks” was changed to “Katy Tur’s Swift and Surprising Rise.” Finally, the paper settled on, “‘You Can’t Rattle Her’”: Katy Tur on the Rise.”  

    Delta Air Lines and Bank of America are pulling their funding of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. On Sunday, Fox News reported that the “New York City play appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities,” and Donald Trump Jr. wondered on Twitter where the play’s funding was coming from. The New York Times has also been pressured to denounce the play, but a Times spokeswoman said the paper would continue to support the production, which features a contemporary-looking Julius Caesar wearing a blond wig and overly long tie. As Chris Hayes points out on Twitter, the play’s message seems to be getting lost in the uproar: “THE ENTIRE GODDAMN PLAY IS ABOUT ASSASSINATION BEING A TOTAL DISASTER! THE PATH TO RUIN!!! Read a book for the love of God.”   

    Business Insider examines Gizmodo Media’s struggle to retain staff after the company was purchased by Univision last year. Since the sale, more than twenty employees have left and former staff say that a “toxic” work culture is to blame. “It felt like Univision was determined to stamp out all the great things about working at Gawker Media,” one former employee said.

    Barbara Browning. Photo: Kari Orvik

    At the New Yorker, Alice Gregory profiles The Gift author Barbara Browning, who “can sometimes seem less like a real person than like a character imagined by Rachel Kushner or Dana Spiotta—a heroine of downtown New York, whose performative life and prankish habits were invented to be written about.” In preparation for their interview, Browning asked Gregory to leave a voicemail apologizing “in advance for this article and any imprecise or inadequate characterizations of her that might appear in it.” Browning responded with “a video of herself dancing, semi-seductively,” as the message played in the background.

    Tonight at Book Culture in Manhattan, Patricia Lockwood reads from her memoir, Priestdaddy.

  • June 9, 2017

    The diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighboring Gulf states has put pressure on the Qatari government to shut down Al Jazeera, or significantly curtail the new organization’s editorial independence. Saudi Arabia has canceled Al Jazeera’s broadcasting license and ordered the company to close its offices in the country. The organization’s website was also the victim of a cyberattack.

    The New York Times attempts to identify which part of their February report on contacts between Trump advisers and Russian intelligence officials was inaccurate, after former FBI director James Comey testified that the story was “in the main . . . not true” but declined to explain his claim. The paper continues to stand by the article, and notes that its findings were corroborated by other major news outlets in the months that followed.

    Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs has accepted an apology from Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, who assaulted the journalist at a campaign event. In his letter to Jacobs, Gianforte admitted that his “physical response” to a question about health care policy “was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful.” Gianforte is also donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “in the hope that perhaps some good can come of these events.”

    Walter Mosley. Photo: David Shankbone

    In a speech at the twentieth-anniversary celebration of Cave Canem, Walter Mosley reflected on the poetry organization’s legacy as a refuge for African-American poets in a literary world dominated by white culture. “I feel at home here because my understanding, my experience of this institution brings up many feelings I have about being black and a writer in a world that hasn’t given us the kind of support or attention we deserve and more importantly that we need,” he said.

    Rivka Galchen and Anna Holmes try to find the line between cultural appropriation and artistic license. Invoking the Wu-Tang Clan’s reverence for Chinese culture, Galchen writes that “the difference between appropriation and exchange” might be found in the quality of the work itself. “Maybe when we say it’s wrong to take something, we really mean, What you’ve given back is far too poor, too mediocre.” Holmes notes that the subjective nature of what constitutes appropriation makes it difficult to identify. “You can’t always prove appropriation,” she writes. “But you usually know it when you see it.”

  • June 8, 2017

    Naomi Alderman’s The Power has won the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction. Her book, which is set in a future world “where women and girls can kill men with a single touch,” is the first science fiction work to win the prize.

    The New York Times talks to Alan Pasqua, the pianist whose “jazzy piano chords” accompanied Bob Dylan’s Nobel lecture. Pasqua had played piano on two of Dylan’s albums in the 1970s, but had not performed with the Nobel laureate since. When he first heard from Dylan’s manager about the accompaniment, Pasqua did not know it would be for the Nobel speech. “All I knew at that point is that it was a spoken-word thing that Bob was doing,” he said.

    At Jacobin, Justin Slaughter looks at the current administration’s refusal to acknowledge global warming, comparing Donald Trump to Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab. As C.L.R. James wrote in his book Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways, Captain Ahab’s ideas, feelings, and needs “become the standard by which reality is tested and whatever does not fit into that must be excluded.” Slaughter points out that the current president operates in a similar mode. “Anything that doesn’t fit—from crowd size and negative polls to carbon dioxide emissions rising above four hundred parts per million or physical manifestations of global climate change like floods, droughts, and famines—must be ‘fake news.’”

    Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the script for a new film by director Ryan Coogler. Based on the New Yorker article of the same name by Rachel Aviv, Wrong Answer tells the story of teachers at an Atlanta middle school who changed answers on students’ standardized tests in order to meet No Child Left Behind standards and receive necessary funding.

    Denis Johnson

    At n+1, Justin Taylor reflects on the “profound spiritual and moral vision” found in Denis Johnson’s work. Taylor looks at the troubled characters found throughout the late author’s books and stories, and finds a compassion built from philosophy, religion, and faith. “Johnson saved his deepest empathy for those whose Hells were wholly self-made,” Taylor writes. “He knew that to be both the perpetrator and the victim was to suffer twice.”

  • June 7, 2017

    At Vulture, David Edelstein responds to criticism of his review of Wonder Woman, which some readers found superficial and offensive. Although Edelstein writes that some of his words were taken out of context, he notes that others were simply not clear to readers. “To have to unpack my descriptions means, in the end, that they weren’t good or nuanced or sensitive enough to their ramifications,” he writes. “The lesson was learned on that score—and plenty of others.”

    Milo Yiannopoulos will self-publish his book, Dangerous, which was dropped by Simon & Schuster earlier this year. After the book was put back on Amazon for pre-order, it quickly moved to the top of the “humor” category.

    The Knight First Amendment Institute has requested that Trump unblock the Twitter accounts of his critics. The group argues that Trump’s Twitter is now a “designated public forum,” which is subject to First Amendment rules, and plans to bring legal action if their request is ignored. “This is a context in which the Constitution precludes the President from making up his own rules,” said Knight Institute executive director Jameel Jaffer. “Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable.”

    Aaron Cantú

    Sante Fe Reporter writer and New Inquiry editor Aaron Cantú was indicted for felony charges received after being arrested while reporting on Inauguration Day protests in DC. Cantú is one of two journalists who are still facing charges from covering the protests.

    After NSA contractor Reality Winner was arrested for allegedly providing The Intercept with evidence of targeted Russian election hacking, journalists wonder whether the website should have taken more precautions to conceal Winner’s identity. In a statement, The Intercept denied knowing the identity of the leaker, and added that Winner has not yet been tried for her alleged crimes. “It is important to keep in mind that these documents contain unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the government’s agenda,” they write, “and as such warrant skepticism.” At New York magazine, Jake Swearingen writes that both the reporters and the leaker share some of the blame—The Intercept for revealing the postmark on the document, and Winner for contacting the website while at work. The Washington Post explains how the NSA was able to trace the document back to Winner through nearly-invisible dots left by the printer she used. At The Outline, William Turton writes that Winner should have been more careful in light of the current administration’s vendetta against leaks. “These teams have been on red alert ever since NSA contractor Edward Snowden took a trove of documents and turned them over to the media,” he writes. Snowden himself noted that Winner has been charged under the Espionage Act, which means that the jury will not hear her motives for leaking the document. “Winner is accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance,” he writes. “The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press.”

  • June 6, 2017

    Bill Maher has apologized after using a racial slur during an interview with Republican Senator Ben Sasse. HBO called the comment “inexcusable and tasteless,” and said they will edit the remark out of future broadcasts. In response, Senator Al Franken has canceled an upcoming appearance on the show.

    Ben Smith talks to former New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan about the paper’s decision to discontinue the role.

    Sewanee Review editor Adam Ross talks about the magazine’s struggle to stay relevant in the digital age. Ross had been in the middle of writing a new novel when he was initially approached about the job, and he has postponed work on the book indefinitely. “This is a magazine with some of the greatest DNA in the American literary ecosystem,” Ross said. “That seemed worth slowing my literary career down for.”

    Broadly talks to Noëlle Santos, who is planning to open the only general-interest bookstore in the Bronx.

    Personal trainer Bryant Johnson is writing a book based on his workout routine for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong . . . and You Can Too! will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in October.

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan has finally given his required Nobel lecture. In the speech, recorded last weekend, Dylan discussed his songwriting influences from Buddy Holly to Homer, “accompanied throughout by jazzy piano chords.” Dylan also paid tribute to his literary influences, including Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey. In closing, he made a case for songwriting as a part of literature: “I return once again to Homer, who says, ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.’”

    Tonight at Books are Magic in Brooklyn, Elizabeth Strout talks to Amor Towles about her new book, Anything is Possible.