“The concept that being American means, by definition, having an ideal that you’ve failed to live up to—that’s another crucial thing I learned from [James Alan] McPherson. It is not a rejection of America for Michelle Obama to note that her daughters are growing up in a house built by slaves. Or a rejection of a white writer to point out that Fitzgerald was a racist. Instead, it is American to admit those facts and to find in that admission a way forward.” On American values, Barack Obama, and the legacy of James Alan McPherson over at The Literary Hub.
“When we read a book that requires that effort — when the act of reading becomes rigorous and self-aware, rather than effortless and transparent — we get to have a history with what we’ve given ourselves to, a history etched into us by the demanding friction of its difficulty.” Zoë Heller and Leslie Jamison debate whether or not we overvalue difficult literature in The New York Times.
In a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jonathan Farmer responds to the recent pieces in the New York Times that ask poets to debate the question "does poetry matter?" As Farmer points out, " it's a bit like asking a bunch of religious figures if religion matters," but the conversation is worth following and pairs well with our own recent pieces on poetry's power and popularity.
"Her exchanges with Americans in small towns and rural communities are inspiring an appreciation of poetry and history – and remind us that poetry has value for all of our lives." The Library of Congress appointed Tracy K. Smith to a second term as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2018-2019. For her second term, Smith edited an anthology called American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, which will be published by Graywolf Press in association with the Library of Congress. Pair with: our review of Smith's memoir, Ordinary Light.
You should check out George Saunders’s “Liner Notes” piece about “2776: A Musical Journey Through America’s Past, Present & Future,” which is set to accompany a forthcoming musical-comedy album from Patton Oswalt, Aubrey Plaza, Ira Glass, and Yo La Tengo, among others. If that hasn’t sold you, consider the fact that Saunders’s piece contains this line: “Truth be told, there were a number of regrettable omissions. Beyoncé and Jay Z’s piece ‘Bomber’ had to be left off the album. (‘Driver of this plane, this / B-52 on the way to Nagasaki / Stuff your ears with cotton and / Close those eyes / Me and my man are about to do it all over this / Here bomb’).”