Anwen Crawford reflects on newly published letters from Sylvia Plath; “The belief among many of Plath’s devotees seems to be that if we can get clear of other people’s fingerprints on her texts, allowing Plath to ‘fully narrate her own autobiography,’ as the editors here describe it, we will at last solve the riddle of her. The extremities of her poetry will balance against the circumstances of her life; the latter will equal the former. But her griefs were ordinary; it is what she did with them that wasn’t. Plath turned her common sorrows—dead father, mental illness, cheating husband—into something like an origin story for pain itself, as if her own pain preceded the world.” In the New Yorker
The Atavist has been killing it lately. Last month, I was riveted by Joshuah Bearman’s outrageous (and completely true) story of one Brit’s attempt to bring a “Baghdad Country Club” to the city’s Green Zone. This month, “Mother, Stranger,” Cris Beam’s account of her abusive mother–a distant relative of William Faulkner–had me on the verge of tears.
As part of its 2013 literary awards, the PEN American Center will grant nearly $150,000 to writers, editors, and translators through sixteen different awards and fellowships, and for the first time ever they’ve decided to publish their shortlist online. Among the finalists is Sergio De La Pava, whose novel A Naked Singularity is up for the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut work. You might recall our own Garth Risk Hallberg’s profile of De La Pava last summer, and you can catch a glimpse of the author’s next book on our Second-Half 2013 Book Preview.