Ocean Vuong on Being a Participant in Creation

On the latest episode of Jordan Kisner’s Thresholds Podcast on Lit Hub Radio, Ocean Vuong discusses the ideas surrounding language and creation that went into his most recent book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. “So much of our culture is bent on fighting David and Goliath, wrestling the muse,” Vuong says. “We look at creation as a battleground. And I think it’s one of the greatest detriments to creativity is to see ourselves as participants in a war when it should be participants in creation.”

Nate Marshall on Translating Life Onto the Page

Poet Nate Marshall spoke to Scott Simon at NPR about his new collection, Finna, and the ways the form has informed his perspective on the world. “I’ll tell you the point at which I knew I was a poet,” Marshall says. “I was 16, it was maybe a few weeks after my grandmother had passed, I was taking the bus home from high school and I’m getting off the bus. And these four guys jumped me, right? They were on the bus. They came off the bus behind me. One of them grabbed me and like, they sort of ganged up on me or whatever. Right. This all probably happens in, like, less than a minute. I’m fine, but I’m shook up and, you know, a little battered. Once they sort of ran away and I realized I would be OK. The first thing that I thought was, man, this is going to make a good poem…So I guess like if that says anything about how poetry shapes the way I see the world is, I think I’m always thinking about how does the lived life translate onto the page.”

Amitava Kumar, Collector of Writerly Advice Distilled Into One Line

At The New York Times, Amitava Kumar recounts how he began asking writers at literary festivals to sign copies of their books and add a line of valuable advice. “I began to see it not as self-help but, instead, as a glimpse into that particular writer’s mind,” he says. He’s since collected advice from Lydia Davis (“Read the masters and, at least occasionally, read them closely!”), Zadie Smith (“Don’t confuse honors with achievement.”), Jamaica Kincaid (“Show, tell, is of no use—only writing.”), and more.

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Morgan Jerkins on Exposing History’s Omissions

At Lit Hub, Morgan Jerkins reflects on the importance of researching and telling her family’s story, as seen in her new book, Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. “The closer I moved towards my subjects and their homelands, the more intimate the book became,” Jerkins writes. “The more I researched, the more I knew what was at stake. I knew methodological data was not enough. To detail Black living and death, I needed a gumbo of tools: journals, articles, scholarly interviews, oral history, and personal history. I didn’t ignore the omissions—I exposed them. I confessed my frustration and I spoke of the foundation for these omissions. Then I kept going because I had to.”

The Long-Awaited Return of Gayl Jones

Gayl Jones published her first novel, Corregidora, in 1975, which was hailed by writers like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and John Updike—then she disappeared from the literary scene. Now she is releasing her first novel in 20 years, and at the Atlantic, Calvin Baker, takes a closer look at her fractured career. “The tentacles of slavery in the present day have grown into a principal concern of Black literature, and Jones’s early work was absorbed into this canon almost imperceptibly,” Baker writes. “Over time, her literary ambitions would evolve, as she published and then receded from the public eye, published and then receded. This spring, she self-published her first novel in 21 years—Palmares, a six-volume work about the last fugitive-slave settlement in Brazil. In mid-June, Beacon Press bought the rights to the book, with plans to release it in September 2021. In the sprawling narrative, set in the 17th century, Jones’s feats of linguistic and historical invention are on ample display.”

The Childhood Writing of the Brontë Sisters

At History Extra, Mel Sherwood takes a closer look at the first writing by the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, whose literary talents were apparent from an early age. “In 1828, [their brother] Branwell began to record their adventures—filling miniature books with barely legible handwriting—the others followed suit,” Sherwood writes. “Soon, this phase of play documentation evolved, and they began to write stories solely for the page. Charlotte and Branwell created a land called Angria together, while Emily and Anne built Gondal. These paracosms were incredibly sophisticated, and exceptionally important to the Brontës—not only as subjects to hone their writing skills with, but also as places to escape to, which they did well into their adulthoods.”

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Landlines, as Seen in Nabokov, Kafka, and More

In the New Yorker, Sophie Haigney bids farewell to the presence of landlines in literature, which have made important appearances in the work of Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Muriel Spark, and more. “Uncertainty is invaluable in fiction,” Haigney writes. “It is often what makes reading a novel so pleasurable: the instability of the world that we enter; the sense that something is going to happen, though we do not know what; the promise that what we imagine might, in fact, unfold. The mechanics of this uncertainty have often required certain objects: the broken-down car, the doorbell, the unopened package. The landline telephone is perhaps the greatest of these objects.”

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Sigrid Nunez on Rejection and the Writer’s Life

At the Cut, writers including Alexander Chee, Emma Straub, and Samantha Irby discuss how rejection has shaped their writing careers. Sigrid Nunez notes that it’s almost synonymous with the craft. “Rejection is an enormous part of a writer’s life,” she says. “It’s just the way it is. There are so many people out there wanting to show and sell their work. It’s easy to get lost and very difficult to get attention. As you would expect, I found it very discouraging, but I was also prepared for it because I knew writers. I knew what the life was like, and I knew that the only thing that you could do, if you really wanted to do this, if you really wanted this life, you had to accept that it came with a certain amount of rejection.”

Inclusions and Omissions in Edith Wharton’s Library

At Lapham’s Quarterly, Sheila Liming browses the bookshelves at Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass., where Wharton owned books by H.G. Wells, James Joyce, George Sand, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, all celebrated authors who weren’t bestsellers during her day. “After traveling the globe following her death in 1937, Wharton’s books—or at least the 2,700 of them that remain—came home to the Mount in 2006, after being sold by a British collector who had reassembled her library,” Liming writes. “These books have much to say about the person who was Edith Wharton, but particularly about the reader behind the enormously successful author who was Edith Wharton. They show us her wide-ranging and seemingly paradoxical interests in subjects like evolutionary science, religious history, and pragmatist philosophy—but so too do they reveal omissions she elected as a reader.”

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Alison Bechdel on Howard Cruse’s Landmark Queer Graphic Novel

For the 25th anniversary of Howard Cruse’s powerful graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, (which you can read an excerpt of here) Alison Bechdel reflects on Cruse’s impressive portrayal of his place in history. “Stuck Rubber Baby is a story, but it’s also a history—or perhaps more accurately a story about how history happens, one person at a time,” Bechdel writes. “What does it take to transcend our isolation and our particular internalized oppressions to touch—and change—the outside world? As Toland Polk begins to engage truthfully with his inner self, his outer self is able to connect with others more authentically and powerfully. Actually, it’s just as accurate to put this the other way around, because those two actions are inextricable from one another.”