The Link Between Writing and Listening with Tracy K. Smith

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At Time, Tracy K. Smith discusses her newest poetry collection, Such Color, whose poems allowed her to face this past year and a half with a sense of peace. “Lately, it feels like, is a future even possible?” Smith asks. “That’s the question, but all of those things—joy, humor, and the hope that a future might be possible—have long existed to sustain communities of people who are imperiled in some way. Not as an escape, but as a way of saying, you and your body and your story, matter. That you are vital, necessary, and you are loved in some way. And that’s a way of keeping going.”

The Case for Picture Books for All Ages

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At the Atlantic, Amitava Kumar makes a case for more images to appear in literature for adults, as tools to prompt questions and multiple interpretations. “Drawings and photographs run the risk of making everything literal,” Kumar writes. “In books for children, they mostly are mere illustrations, directly representing the ideas on the page. Virginia Woolf once wrote about paintings: ‘A story-telling picture is as pathetic and ludicrous as a trick played by a dog.’ But it is possible to imagine a more complex dialogue between art and narrative. Writers can use images to question the truth instead of simply underlining it.”

Eugene Lim Faces the Transformative Power of Grief

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At Poets & Writers, Eugene Lim discusses his newest novel, Search History, which examines grief through his signature mix of the mundane and extraordinary. “Even if there are many things going on in it, I think at its heart this novel is a book about grief,” Lim says. “And writing about that subject while enduring its wound makes you doubt yourself, makes you wonder whether one is being honest or honoring or insensitive or sentimentalizing. I wanted to articulate and be honest to the emotion of grief but also I wanted it to be both original and transformed by and into fiction—not so that the emotion was made into mere artifice but so that the artifice and strong emotions could stand together without either feeling manipulated or made false by the other.”

Lucy Ellmann Flies Off the Handle

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At the Chicago Review of Books, Lucy Ellmann discusses her new book, Things Are Against Us, a nonfiction collection that offers many of the surprises and insights from her fiction. “My essays aren’t exercises in fact-finding, I’m glad to say,” Ellmann explains. “They’re merely vehicles for the expression of opinion. Fiction allows me to get my opinions across too, but sometimes it’s fun to just fly off the handle. My essays are also full of good advice, since the only real self-help is self-hatred, and that I can teach. Otherwise, the job is the same as in fiction: to write things the way they ought to be written.”

Reginald Dwayne Betts Finds Freedom in Poetry

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At WBUR, self-described “lawyer poet” and recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship Reginald Dwayne Betts discusses how he uses poetry and law in his day-to-day life to learn about the world. “I think in a real way, freedom begins with a book,” Betts says. “The reason why I was able to engage in those ways was because I had spent all of this time literally just reading books, imagining that it wasn’t just a fanciful place that they were taking me, but I was learning something about being in the world that I didn’t fully know.”

Creating Markers of the Moment with Sanjena Sathian

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At the Atlantic, Sanjena Sathian discusses why she chooses to use concrete pop culture references that ground her work to our current time period, most notably in a recent short story, “The Missing Limousine.” “Among writers,” Sathian says, “there’s a sense that pop culture weighs down ‘serious’ art—like we’re afraid of burdening our work with specific markers of the moment. But all art and thought is a product of its moment, whether we acknowledge it or not.”

Read more about Sathian’s debut novel, Gold Diggers, in her recent conversation at the Millions with Maria Kuznetsova.

Richard Powers Resets Earth’s Trajectory

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At Time, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Powers discusses his newest novel, Bewilderment, which is set during a period that resembles our own—but not quite. ” I was thinking a little bit along the lines of the form that science fiction writers like to call the ‘near-term future,'” Powers says, “where the story treats a world that’s a lot like ours, but set in some undesignated time in the future, in a way that allows the writer to speculate about the potential of the present to unfold in different ways. I guess it’s what Brecht would call the estrangement effect, where the realistic is made unusual again by just slightly changing the perspective from which you view it. And by putting the Earth on a slightly different trajectory, I was hoping to intensify and to make real again a lot of the things that we readers would probably simply gloss over because we’ve already discounted them as familiar.”

Alice McDermott Lets Beautiful Language Chase Her

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At Bomb Magazine, Alice McDermott discusses her first collection of nonfiction, What About the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction, where she dissects everything from voice, language, and the trap of beautiful writing. “Don’t strain after the beautiful language,” she says. “The language will find you if what you’re going after is something true and authentic. Auden said, ‘Truth, like love and sleep, resents approaches that are too intense.’ Straining after beauty is the same thing. Don’t do it too directly. Let the language find you, rather than chasing after it too directly and self-consciously.”

Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s Remembers the Beauty of the World Through Poetry

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At the Creative Independent, Melissa Lozada-Oliva discusses her new novel in verse, Dreaming of You, and the role poetry plays in keeping us attuned to the beauty around us. “I think poetry is about, for me, remembering the beauty of the world. I have the capacity to do it endlessly. Sometimes I’m like, is that fucked up? Should I just be, like, this sucks. Everything fucking blows. But I feel like poetry’s job is for beauty. And I think that is important. I think it keeps us human. I don’t think it saves the world. I think that’s impossible.”

Marie-Helene Bertino Breaks the Laws of Physics

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At Electric Literature, Marie-Helene Bertino discusses the importance of disrupting realism in her fiction and opting to explore the fantastical to get closer to the truth. “Perhaps we want to break the laws of physics because it’s fun,” Bertino says, “because we want to reach a particular emotional resonance unable to be accessed through conventional methods. Because we do not think using the supernatural elements is out of the ordinary. Because the supernatural is our ordinary and to write realism would be, for us, stranger. Perhaps we venture outside realism because to express our understanding of life, because removing the middleman of simile and making the figurative real feels more honest.”