Henry James wrote a number of odd things about Jewish and Italian immigrants, but is it fair to call him a racist? In The New Criterion, Stephen Miller argues that it isn’t, recalling the time James spent with immigrants on the Lower East Side.
Robert Krulwich takes on two very different types of “nothing.” As he illustrates through the invocation of Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and outer space, “nothing” is a lot more complicated than you might initially believe.
The Guardian‘s Books Blog is hosting a tournament to determine “The Great American Novelist,” and the list of the final 32 seeded contenders, as voted by the site’s readers, is enough to raise some eyebrows—not as much for who did make the cut as for who didn’t. Guardian readers, haven’t you heard of Richard Yates?
Did you know there was such a thing as the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards? It’s true. Since 2007, Australia has named winners annually in six categories (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s fiction, young adult fiction, and Australian history) – and the prize money’s pretty good, too. Speaking of prizes, you might also want to check out the list of U.S. National Book Awards finalists here.
If you’re a professor or mentor, it’s the time of year you should expect to be hit up for recommendation letters. You can find inspiration in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s recommendation letter for Walt Whitman, when the latter was seeking government employment despite his controversial poetry. “He is known to me as a man of strong original genius, combining, with marked eccentricities, great powers & valuable traits of character: a self-relying large-hearted man, much beloved by his friends.” Even if the government didn’t like Whitman’s work, we do; read our own Michael Bourne’s essay on the power of Whitman’s poetry.
Ben Lerner has a story [subscription required] in this week’s New Yorker that, like his debut novel Leaving the Atocha Station, features a protagonist named The Author. The magazine interviewed Lerner about the invitation to blur his fiction with his autobiography. He says that his work in an exercise in “activating those questions in peculiar ways—but the questions, not the answers, are what strike me as interesting.”