Tochi Onyebuchi on Writing to Abate the Terror

For, Tochi Onyebuchi reflects on his role as a black writer during protests against police brutality and the killing of black men and women. “And there I was, walking past that hollowed-out grocery store that November night, writing. Struggling with the possibility that this writing does nothing,” Onyebuchi notes. “I know it is a thing that brings me joy. I feel useful doing it, even if that feeling is an illusion, smoke keeping me from seeing a difficult truth reflected back at me. Writing will not rebuild that Foodtown that went up in flames that night. It will not restock it with cereal and toilet paper and canola oil. But terror abates when I write.”

Jenny Zhang on the Importance of Funny Writers

At Lit Hub, Jenny Zhang recounts the important books in her life, from the first book she loved to her favorite reread. On the books that have made her laugh out loud: “Pnin by Nabokov, the stories of Janet Frame and Grace Paley make me laugh. Tommy Pico and Morgan Parker’s poetry make me laugh. Tony Tulathimutte and Karan Mahajan’s fiction make me laugh. Qiu Miaojin and Kathy Acker and Paul Beatty make me laugh. I think more writers should try to be funny. Being dementedly funny is the hardest and most worthwhile thing to achieve in writing.”

Nadia Owusu on Validating Each Other’s Experiences

At Catapult, author Nadia Owusu, in a column titled “Exit Interviews,” gives voice to the grief of people of color—grief that is so often silenced. “We can choose to permanently change how we view each other,” Owusu writes, “how we work together, validating each other’s experiences and fears and losses—not just in the current moment, but into and through whatever comes next. And the change that is possible within the microcosm of a workplace might also be possible in other workplaces, in a society, in the wider world.”

Reflecting on Time During Quaratine Reading

At The New York Times, Parul Sehgal examines time through the writing being produced during the pandemic, as well as the books she reads (and re-reads). “To describe the passage of time has always been one of the favorite challenges of the writer or philosopher,” Sehgal writes. “‘Where is it, this present?’ William James wondered. ‘It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.’ In Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor, the heroine declares: ‘We can never know Time. Our senses are simply not meant to perceive it.’ The mysteries of time are bound up in the great unknowns of the body and universe, from consciousness to black holes.”

The 2020 Best Translated Book Awards Goes Virtual

Looking for a way to celebrate the best of this year’s translated literature? The Best Translated Book Awards reading and ceremony will be streamed online this year. Join them on Wednesday, May 27, at 6 p.m. EST for a reading from the finalists (RSVP here), and then don’t miss the announcement of the winners on Friday, May 29, at 6 p.m. EST (RSVP here). In the meantime, catch up on this year’s longlists and finalists, and start making your predictions.

The Reading Habits of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein

For the first time, the records of Parisian bookstore and lending library Shakespeare and Company have been digitized, revealing the reading habits of its famous patrons, such as Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, thanks to a project led by the Center of Digital Humanities at Princeton University. At the Guardian, Alison Flood takes a look at what these handwritten records tell us. “The records reveal that Hemingway borrowed more than 90 books,” Flood writes, “from P.T. Barnum’s autobiography to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which he checked out for eight days in September 1929—the year D.H. Lawrence’s novel first appeared in France, 30 years before it was published in the U.S. In 1926, he borrowed a copy of Tom Jones’s Bull Fighting—the running of the bulls played a central part in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises. He also bought a copy of his own novel A Farewell to Arms at the store.”

Image credit: Shadowgate

E.M. Forster’s Prescient Sci-Fi Story

At Lit Hub, Gabrielle Bellot examines “The Machine Stops,” the sole science-fiction story written by E.M. Forster, which contains eerie echos of today’s socially distanced world. “‘The Machine Stops’ would become famous a century after its publication for supposedly having envisioned technologies like social media—and the dangers thereof—long before they appeared,” Bellot writes. “People live in isolation in chambers, where they can call up music and real-time video-chatting at a click; the Earth’s surface is, authorities declare, uninhabitable, so people are advised to stay in their cozy rooms, which everyone has adapted to as their standard for normality.”

Queer Literature’s Role in the Revolution

For Entertainment Weekly, David Canfield hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on the future of queer literature, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic, with authors Naoise Dolan, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Akwaeke Emezi, and Garth Greenwell. “The kids who need queer books still need them,” Emezi says. “They probably need them actually more than they did before. And so that I think gave me a little bit of permission to be like, ‘Okay, this is still important.’ I think in any revolution, I suppose everyone has a particular role. And I think there’s often a lot of guilt about not being more on the front lines, or being safe or all these different things. But I think as storytellers, one of the things that I try to keep in mind is, I can just find my pocket, and I can fight from that pocket, and do my job that I’m here to do.”

Image credit: Abhi Sharma

Ada Limón on Reading Ray Bradbury in High School

For Teacher Appreciation Week, Joumana Khatib at The New York Times asked writers about the books they were recommended to read by their teachers. Poet Ada Limón was given Ray Bradbury’s The October Country by her high school English teacher. “I had never read stories like this,” Limon says. “The sense of surprise. The distrust of human beings. How the enemy could be the wind or a crowd, or how a farmer could be forced to cut wheat that isn’t wheat at all with his giant scythe. I also learned the word scythe! It was just weird enough for me at 13. Just forbidden enough. Just dark and morbid enough to keep my interest. I still think about those short stories, their strange and eerie turns, how it gave the world another magical (and creepy) possibility.”

A Generation of Writers Influenced by Octavia Butler

For Detroit News, Hillel Italie speaks to writers like N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okarafor about Octavia Butler’s undeniable influence on a generation of thinkers and artists. “[Butler] seems to have seen the real future coming in a way few other writers did,” says Gerry Caravan, associate professor at Marquette University who is co-editing Butler’s work for the Library of America. “It’s hard not to read the books and think ‘How did she know?’”

Image credit: Nikolas Coukouma