What will the United States become? In Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams’s new anthology, A People’s Future of the United States, they gathered a group of writers to answer the question using speculative fiction. Over at Electric Literature, LaValle discusses his thought process while editing the collection. “In the case of this anthology we took it for granted that if we invited a genuinely diverse group of wildly talented writers into the anthology, we would see wildly diverse pictures of the future. Somewhere in the world, someone always has a boot on their neck. That’s true of the past, and the present, and will be true of the future, too.”
What happens when one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers decides to take on the most widely-read book in the world? Over at Open Culture, Josh Jones takes a look at Isaac Asimov’s “fun, chatty, non-academic” exploration of The Bible. “[Asimov] explains that while humans are inherently irrational creatures, he nonetheless felt a duty ‘to be a skeptic, to insist on evidence, to want things to make sense,’” Jones writes. “Part of that duty, for Asimov, included making the Bible make sense for those who appreciate how deeply embedded it is in world culture and history, but who may not be interested in just taking it on faith.”
How did Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston become friends? For Longreads, Yuval Taylor tells the story of a fortuitous road trip, on which Hurston drove Hughes from Mobile to Tuskegee in her Nash coupe. “The road trip provided the perfect opportunity for Zora and Langston to compare notes from their Southern travels, exchange ideas, and explore, along the back roads, the characteristics of African American culture that informed their greatest work,” writes Taylor. “They had both kept meticulous records of songs, sayings, turns of phrase; they related their impressions of conjure wisdom, including the names of potions and powders; they delighted in the cultural riches of their Southern black brethren.” And thus, one of the great literary friendships was born.
“There’s only two kinds of books, shit you like, and shit you don’t like,” Colson Whitehead told the crowd in his lively AWP Keynote. Summarized by Evan Allgood at Vulture, the speech gives out noteworthy writing advice (“Tackle a story that you’re scared to begin, that you don’t know if you can pull off.”), as well as general wisdom useful for all (“If it tastes like shit, it’s cultural appropriation.”).
Image credit: Larry D. Moore
Salvador Dalí, the face of the Surrealist movement, is known for many things: melting clocks, his signature moustache, and his dream-like film work. Fewer people, however, know about his illustrations for famous works of the Western canon, including Don Quixote, Macbeth, Paradise Lost, and even The Bible. For Artsy, Jackson Arn takes a closer look at this lesser known aspect of Dalí’s career. “Dalí’s illustrations aren’t some kind of subversive prank on their stodgy subjects,” Arn writes. “While Dalí did bring his trademark flamboyance to his illustration projects (for Don Quixote, he smeared snails in ink and then let them crawl over his paper), overall, he illustrated too many classics, too well, and for too many years to dismiss his work as a big, ironic joke.”
Image credit: Roger Higgins, World Telegram staff photographer
Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has changed readers’ lives for generations, but for one man in particular, the epic novel saved his life. Over at NPR, we learn the story of Mohamed Barud, a man who was sentenced to life in prison in Somalia for complaining about the conditions at the local hospital. During the years of his imprisonment, he exchanged knocks on the wall with an inmate in the next cell, creating a code for each letter of the alphabet. And, in this way, Barud read the entirety of Anna Karenina to the prisoner next door. “”[Barud] says it didn’t matter how different their lives seemed. This 19th-century Russian noblewoman seemed to be suffering exactly as he was. An honest suffering drives her into a state that Mohamed most feared for himself. Anna throws herself under a train and regrets it at the last moment. ‘I really cried. I felt for her.'”
How do we approach the tarnished legacy of a renowned writer? Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of The Yellow Wall-Paper and Herland, is known for her feminist classics—but she was also a devotee of eugenics. In an excerpt from her introduction to a new Penguin Classics edition of Gilman’s writing, author Kate Bolick reflects on Gilman’s career, beliefs, and place in society. “It was not until the 1970s, amid the renewed interest of second-wave feminists, that scholars rediscovered this forgotten writer,” Bolick writes. “Yet their initial rush of excitement in doing so was often replaced, as her writings on race came to light, with a sense of confusion and disappointment. How could it be that this progressive feminist activist followed such an injurious line of thinking?”
Image credit: C.F. Lummis
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s classic coming-of-age novel about Socs and Greasers in Tulsa, Okla., has been a staple of required reading in schools since its publication in 1967—even gaining new life as a 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola (which starred much of the ’80s Brat Pack). Now the book returns in a new form: a musical. According to Deadline, a musical adaptation of The Outsiders is scheduled to debut in Chicago this summer, directed by Liesl Tommy and written by Adam Rapp. Time will tell whether or not audiences will be treated to a touching ballad called “Stay Gold,” or a choreographed rumble featuring the Socs versus the Greasers.
For the New York Review of Books, Madeleine Schwartz examines the works of Sally Rooney, who was recently crowned “the great millennial novelist,” by many critics. Rooney’s two novels, Normal People and Conversations with Friends, are both intimate portraits of Irish college students set in the recent present. “As a portrait of young people today, Rooney’s books are remarkably precise—she captures meticulously the way a generation raised on social data thinks and talks,” Schwartz writes. “Rooney’s characters love to announce where they fall on the matrix of taste and social awareness. They read Patricia Lockwood and watch Greta Gerwig movies; they read Twitter for jokes. Decisions are made according to typologies.”
Photo credit: Jonny L Davies
Poetry has been around for millennia, so perhaps it would make Homer, Chaucer, and Bashō proud to know that poetry is making quite a comeback among American youth. Jennifer Hizaji takes a look at this rise in popularity for PBS, noting that this is the first increase in poetry reading since about 2002. “Young people are taking the opportunity outside class to continue pursuing and reading and engaging poetry, whether it be in print or through YouTube videos,” says Joseph Green, director of youth programs at Split This Rock, a founding member organization of the Poetry Coalition. “They want it and then they’re replicating it; they’re starting to write their own poems.”
Image credit: Steve Johnson