I spent last weekend as a correspondent for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. As such, I covered two events for the organization: Friday night’s ninth annual Translation Slam and Sunday afternoon’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture featuring Sonia Sotomayor. (I also submitted a pretty sweet author photograph, if I do say so myself.) For full multimedia coverage of the entire festival, check out the PEN Live Tumblr.
If you’re struggling with your writing, turn to biographies of famous authors. This is Tom Perrotta’s cure for writer’s block. “It’s inspiring to read about a flawed human being who struggled with his or her demons and afflictions, experienced paralyzing episodes of failure or self-doubt, but somehow managed to do the work anyway, and produce something that enriched the world. That’s my version of self-help,” he said in a New York Times “By the Book” interview.
“Courage is not a word I’d use to describe a lot of today’s fiction. Writing, M.F.A. students are often told, is a messy exploration of the self. The result can be a suffocating narcissism, a lack of interest in the kind of extrapolation and exploration that is necessary to both mathematics and literature.” At Page-Turner, Alexander Nazaryan urges young writers to learn math.
Wallace Shawn has written a new play, and it’s unsettling to watch. In it, a group of wealthy, middle-aged party hosts reveal their roles in a dystopian future, where political murders, random beatings and censorship are all commonplace. In an essay for The New York Review of Books, Francine Prose reviews the play in the context of Shawn’s other works.
New this week: Tupelo Hassman’s debut Girlchild, a pair of novels — Angel and A Game of Hide and Seek — by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress) from NYRB Classics featuring introductions by Hilary Mantel and Caleb Crain, Self-Portrait of an Other, prose poems by Cees Nooteboom, and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, a new poetry collection from D.A. Powell.
You might think the signs would be obvious. The buildings are organic, the sky is filled with dragons, and everyone you talk to speaks languages you’ve never heard of. But you may still need some help figuring out your environs. Herewith, a few ways to tell if you’re in a high-fantasy novel.