Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings recounts the enduring friendship—one that often bordered on infatuation—between Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman. The pair exchanged letters for years, after Gilchrist praised Leaves of Grass as “truly a new birth of the soul.” The two eventually met in person, enjoying a life-affirming friendship, and their letters have been collected in a long out-of-print volume. Read about their epistolary relationship, and see that, sometimes, it is worth it to meet your heroes.
“Women writers and writers of color don’t really have the luxury of being known simply as writers. There’s always a qualification,” Roxane Gay writes for The Nation. She ponders what it means to be a “black woman writer” and concludes that we should view diversity as a search for “urgent, unheard stories.”
Susannah Hunnewell interviews Michel Houellebecq, France’s controversial literary icon, for The Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” series: “There is a need for intensity. From time to time, you have to forsake harmony. You even have to forsake truth. You have to, when you need to, energetically embrace excessive things.”
BOMB Magazine is collaborating with Farrar, Straus & Giroux to commence their “Something Out of Something” design contest. Participating designers, writers, and artists are invited to “draw inspiration from the written work of Israeli short story writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret to create visual art of their own.” Winners will receive $500, a personalized copy of Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, and their artwork’s appearance in a Keret story or film. You can read the full details on the contest’s Tumblr and Facebook pages.
“What made The Great Gatsby so great? Does everyone think he’s that great? Why?” Just in time for the back-to-school rush: essay questions from a teacher who didn’t finish any of the required reading (a.k.a. McSweeney’s).