Against Reason with Margo Jefferson

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At Vulture, Margo Jefferson discusses her new memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, and how she worked to shake the “haute bourgeoisie” habits of her childhood. “There was a certain well-behaved manner even when I was arguing, standing firm, that I didn’t want to stay in thrall to,” she says. “I was talking about this with a student of mine the other day who was Black and was writing about race. And I said, ‘There are moments where you are very good. But you are working a little too hard to be reasonable and obliging, to make it something that your audience will be able to move toward. I don’t want you to do exactly the opposite, but look at what this is doing.’ So now transfer this back to me: ‘Margo artfully switched it to a student!’”

Jenny Tinghui Zhang on Tuning Out Publishing Noise

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At Write or Die Tribe, Jenny Tinghui Zhang discusses her debut novel, Four Treasures in the Sky, and shares advice for emerging writers trying to finish their books. “Don’t get distracted by the progress of others and that’s a roundabout way of saying, you know, don’t compare yourself to the progress of others or what others are doing,” she says. “Don’t feel panicked or in distress because something good is happening for someone else. You know, they got an agent or they sold their book or whatever it is. The goals that you have and the work that you’re trying to do, remember that you’re the only one that can tell the story you want to tell. I hate to use this platitude, but it really is a marathon and not a sprint for people who want to be writers and write books. That’s a lifelong thing. That’s a lifelong journey. And hopefully, you will write many books over the course of your lifetime. I certainly hope I write more books after this one. But zoom out from all of the announcements on Twitter and all the book news on Instagram. This is our life’s work. So just remember that you have all of your life to make it happen for yourself.”

Mai Al-Nakib and the Power of Not Belonging

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At Electric Literature, Mai Al-Nakib discusses her debut novel, An Unlasting Home, a family saga that follows generations of women across Kuwait, the U.S., India, and more. “There is a degree of empowerment in not belonging; it allows you to pivot and to create possibilities for yourself that are often fruitful,” she says. “This is the case for Maria, moving herself from Goa to Pune and then to Kuwait, making a life for her children that would not have been possible without her capacity to tolerate non-belonging.”

Characters on Fire with Sandra Cisneros

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At World Literature Today, Sandra Cisneros discusses her forthcoming poetry collection, Woman Without Shame, and why she is attracted to writing about characters and stories with an urgent quality. “I write about people whose lives are on fire,” she says. “If you think of people you love who are living in houses on fire, would you run in and save them? Yes, you would risk your own being. So, I think about people whose lives are on fire. Maybe you know them so well. Maybe you lived in that house once. You think nothing of running in there and saving them. And that’s what’s on your mind.”

The Banning of ‘Persepolis’ Spawns a New Legacy

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Book Riot reports on the history of book banning and censorship in relation to Marjane Satrapi’s influential graphic novel, Persepolis. Its legacy continues in an upcoming graphic nonfiction work called Wake Now In the Fire, written by Jarrett Dapier and illustrated by AJ Dungo. “In 2013, library science graduate student Jarrett Dapier filed a Freedom of Information Act request that made public the Chicago Public School district’s attempt to quietly remove Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi from school libraries and classrooms. […] News of the banning caused a public outcry, especially after Dapier brought his finding to the news and the ALA. Now, Dapier is turning this story into its own graphic nonfiction work called Wake Now In The Fire. It’s illustrated by AJ Dungo and follows a group of Chicago high school students who fight back against the attempts at censorship in their own school.”

Janice Lee Explores the Worldview of a Sentence

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At Catapult, Janice Lee explores story structures at the sentence level, as seen in her recent novel, Imagine a Death. “We often glean meaning from the overall structure of a story, the narrative shape revealing something about subjects like reality, transformation, life and death. But before the story, there is the sentence. Across cultures and languages, the subject/object and noun/verb relationships we see in English are neither universal nor inherent. Not all languages focus on a subject’s action upon an object (many Asian languages, for example, put the emphasis on the verb, rather than the subject coming first), and many indigenous languages have an increased focus on verbs, rather than nouns. […] The sentence itself can reveal an entire worldview through the shape it assumes, through the relationships it maps, which ideological systems it upholds, what power structures it validates simply through its grammar.”

Art Is Not a Neutral Act

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At Crime Reads, Grace D. Li discusses her debut novel, Portrait of a Thief, which follows a group of Chinese Americans as they pull off a heist to reclaim priceless Chinese art. “It can be all too easy to view art as a neutral act, or museums as institutions that solely preserve history instead of shape it,” she says. “In Portrait of a Thief, I wanted to challenge the presence of looted art in museums. Why is it acceptable to keep stolen art, especially when its country of origin has already asked for it back? Why do Western institutions assume they can better preserve, display, or educate about pieces that doesn’t belong to them? The art world is awaiting long overdue change, and I hope my book can help push that forward.”

Catriona Ward Brings Her Fears Out Into the Open

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At Lit Reactor, Catriona Ward discusses her latest book, Sundial, and why the horror genre best allows her to access her vulnerability. “As a writer, when you write what you’re afraid of, you’re making yourself vulnerable to the reader,” she says. “Each book is you showing your soft parts and asking the reader if they’re afraid of those things too. I’m a big believer in this mutual reciprocity becoming a great empathetic exercise. By bringing your fears out into the open, you’re showing something private that people don’t tend to talk about. I think that’s very powerful and makes people feel less alone. It’s a huge part of why I read and write that kind of fiction.”

Constantly Questioning with Tanaïs

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At the Creative Independent, Tanaïs discusses their expansive memoir, In Sensorium: Notes for My People, in which they examine alternate histories and universes of memories and scent. “I think that community building is really important and I think it’s also equally as important to distinguish your own voice and your own mind from that community,” they say. “I think there’s a lot of emphasis placed on literary citizenship, which is in the most simple definition, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ You give and you take and you offer help and you pick other people up; you’re just in an ecosystem. This book is questioning what it even means to be a citizen or to belong to anything. I belong to many things and I feel like what I started to become very aware of is how other minds and other writers’ opinions, and the way that I would feel my energy was being drawn from me was actually affecting my own work.”

Ocean Vuong and the Grieving World

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At Time, Ocean Vuong discusses his new poetry collection, Time Is a Mother, which he wrote while mourning his mother, bearing witness to love, loss, and trauma. “I was grieving, the world was grieving, and the only thing I really had was to go back to poems […] All the things I’d written, it was all to try to take care of her,” he says. “I went to school for her, I worked for her—she was the source. When that was taken away, I didn’t have anything else to answer to. And so I finally wrote for myself.”