Brit Bennett on the Opposite Sides of the Color Line

Brit Bennett discusses her latest book, The Vanishing Half, with Simran Hans at the Guardian. The novel, which was an instant bestseller and quickly optioned by HBO, follows twin sisters who decide to live on opposite sides of the color line, one as a white woman and one as a Black woman. “I think there’s a larger social context into which the book entered the world,” Bennett says. “It explores racial identity at a time when people are really eager to read and engage with conversations about that, which is true all around the world as you see with these protests in all these countries.”

Bonus Links from Our Archive:—Thinking Another Person’s Thoughts: The Millions Interviews Brit BennettA Year in Reading: Brit BennettPressing Closer: On Brit Bennett’s ‘The Mothers’

Colson Whitehead on Making Eccentric Ideas Plausible

Two-time Pulitzer-winner Colson Whitehead spoke to Hillel Italie at AP News about his latest book, The Nickel Boys, his quarantine routine, and his childhood reading habits. “I wanted to write from a very early age, just from reading Marvel Comics and Stephen King, and Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury,” Whitehead says. “I consumed fantastic fiction and loved how you could make possible whatever weird idea you had in your head. Your taking your eccentric ideas and trying to convince the reader that they’re plausible.”

A Longtime Pen Pal Meets Emily Dickinson

Author Thomas Wentworth Higginson was pen pals with poet Emily Dickinson for eight years before the two finally met face-to-face. For the Atlantic, Martha Ackman describes when the two finally met and how Higginson saw a different side to the poet. “Higginson’s visit would be no ordinary call for Dickinson—not that she received many guests.” Ackman writes. “Her great literary productivity of the Civil War years had tapered off. She had stopped collecting her poems in stitched booklets—fascicles—and new poems remained unbound on loose sheets. Nearly 40 years old, she was more patient, less insistent, and more forgiving of perceived slights from those close to her. Although others around her were busy with their own lives, she did not feel as forsaken as she once had. Dickinson’s sense of self made the difference.”

Image source: Amherst College Archives

James McBride on How the Writing Chooses You

James McBride discusses his latest book, Deacon King Kong, with Sam Sanders at NPR, as well as the the importance of writing without regard for other people’s expectations. “I don’t think you can write books if you worry about what people think and what they’re going to say,” McBride says. “You know, the craft of putting together a story with a kind of complicated matter that is involved in story structure, you know, in a 300- or 350-page book, it’s too complicated to worry about whether someone’s going to say this […] You have a purpose to do something. You don’t choose writing. Writing chooses you.”

Alexander Chee on a Life in Restaurants

As restaurants make tentative steps towards re-opening amidst a pandemic, The New York Times asked writers such as Sloane Crosley, Samantha Irby, and more to reflect on some of their most memorable restaurant experiences. Alexander Chee remembers his time as a waiter, particularly when he (almost) met his favorite childhood author. “Working in a restaurant in this part of New York is like starring in a film about yourself where the extras are all stars,” Chee writes. “I waited on Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, Greg Louganis and Conan O’Brien, among others. One electrifying night, as I picked up the signed check from the table, I saw the name Madeleine L’Engle—the author of a favorite childhood novel—and looked up, but she was already gone, whisking herself across the street to the opera, and universes beyond.”

Image credit: Riyadh Al Balushi

Susan Choi on Her Quarantine Reading Schedule

Susan Choi spoke to Brad Listi about the writer’s responsibility to read, over at Lit Hub, and how she’s had more time to read during this time of quarantine and dread and confusion. “There’s been a lot of peace in this quarantine,” Choi says. “Just time to read a book. It’s ridiculous, but I constantly puzzle over the problem of when to read. As writers, it’s important to read, and I can never figure out when that’s supposed to happen.”

Image credit: Larry D. Moore

Jericho Brown and Carmen Maria Machado on the Meaning of Pride

For The New York Times, authors Jericho Brown and Carmen Maria Machado examine their personal relationships to Pride, 50 years after the first Pride March. “When I think of Pride and its marches,” Brown says. “I think of my younger self overwhelmed by those crowds at that parade almost 20 years ago. Indeed, the earliest Pride celebrations I attended looked more like Mardi Gras parades than the civil rights marches I was raised to revere.” Meanwhile, Machado reflects, “Pride should not be a smug acknowledgment of a job well done, or a job that’s done at all. If you understand the work to be over, you are mistaken.”

Image credit: Ben Tavener

Hanif Abdurraqib on the Generous Music of Protest Chants

On GEN, poet and author Hanif Abdurraqib reflects on the empowering sounds of protest chants and the ways it gives purpose to movements. “The protest chant is generous music: It can pull someone to exactly where they need to be, even when they don’t always know if they have the energy to make it there. One weekend before this one, when the police rolled their SWAT tanks into the streets and tried to shout down the masses over their loudspeakers, it was the people united who drowned them out. A better, sweeter sound swallowing a wave of horrible noise.”

Image credit: Hanif Abdurraqib