In 1932, several black Americans – including Langston Hughes – traveled to the Soviet Union to shoot a propaganda film about the “evils of racism in the United States.” One of those travelers, Lloyd Patterson, would never return. Instead, Patterson married an Ukrainian woman, and the pair had two children. The firstborn, Jim Patterson, was at one time the most famous black resident of the USSR – and his appearance in The Circus even drew the admiration of Joseph Stalin. After World War II, Patterson served as a Soviet naval officer aboard a submarine in the Black Sea. From there he went on to the Soviet Writers Union in 1967. If you think this sounds far-fetched, I encourage you to read more here.
Another day, another LARB piece about reading Russian fiction in conjunction with the Winter Olympics. (One particularly interesting earlier installment is over here.) Meanwhile, I offer a compendium of passages from the Russian masters, and use my favorite #SochiFails to illustrate them.
This week Margaret Atwood tweeted a photo of her and Alice Munro drinking champagne in a "secret lair." There's no denying it — technology has changed the way we tell stories. Atwood and 16 other writers, from Victor LaValle to Lee Child, discussed how technology influences their work in The New York Times. "There’s nothing worse for plots than cellphones. Once your characters have one, there’s no reason for them to get lost or stranded," Rainbow Rowell said.
Jane Austen is a rare figure. Acclaimed as one of the most brilliant authors in modern history, she has a popularity that few of her peers can match, as evidenced by her posthumous sales and huge numbers of dedicated fans. How did her work hit the sweet spot of broad appeal and scholarly fame? In the WSJ, Alexander McCall Smith provides a theory. (h/t The Paris Review Daily)