Moving Beyond Mary Shelley

For the Los Angeles Review of Books blog, Rachel Feder considers why Mary Shelley is often credited as the “ingénue inventor of speculative fiction,” while authors like Margaret Cavendish remain relatively unknown. “To take Shelley seriously means acknowledging the unromantic nature of this time in her actual human life,” Feder writes. “It also means including Shelley’s long career as a working single mother, publishing to support and maintain custody of her only surviving child, as part of the story. And if we want to take women writers seriously in general, then we need to see past the fantasy of Mary Shelley as the inventor of a genre to the authors who innovated the Gothic and science fiction genres on which Frankenstein is based.”

Image credit: Richard Rothwell

Viet Thanh Nguyen and the Refugee’s Narrative

There is no single refugee story, and as the editor of The Displaced, a collection of refugee writers exploring and reflecting on their experiences, Viet Thanh Nguyen gives these stories room to breath and unfurl. In an interview with Piper French for Asymptope, Nguyen discusses the complexity of writing these narratives. “I resist the temptation of representation—of trying to turn [my mother’s] story into something for publication,” he explains. “All that is potentially very dangerous. Especially when somebody like me is telling her story—speaking for her. So how do we get around that? For me, part of the key is to transform the story of an individual like my mother or any other refugee into a larger story about the history that produces refugees. My mother’s story is interesting beyond its own personal relationship to me, for what it has to say about how millions of people were drafted into histories that they did not want.”

Image credit: Fourandsixty

Decolonizing the Card Catalog

Wednesday was National Librarian Day, and over at Smithsonian Magazine, Zita Cristina Nunes honors an important figure in library science: Dorothy Porter. As a librarian at Howard University, Porter made it her mission to collect and preserve works related to the global black experience—and to address how these works needed to be catalogued in new and specific ways. “Starting with little, she used her tenacious curiosity to build one of the world’s leading repositories for black history and culture: Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center,” Nunes writes. “But she also brought critical acumen to bear on the way the center’s materials were cataloged, rejecting commonly taught methods as too reflective of the way whites thought of the world.”

Image credit: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Manuscript Division, Howard University

The Fire in Fiction

When tragedy hits, what do we read? In the wake of the Notre Dame fire in Paris, at least, the answer is 19th-century fiction: Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame has risen to the top of France’s bestseller list, with multiple editions of the book filling five out of the top 10 slots. As this Guardian article points out, many critics have suggested that the cathedral is the true protagonist of the novel—and, obviously, of the Disney adaptation.

Image credit: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

The Future United States of America

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.”

Death and Taxes

Did you do your taxes? In Souvankham Thammavongsa’s new fiction for The Paris Review, a woman loses her job of 15 years and enrolls in classes at a tax-prep company. Although she is more of a humanities person, the numbers make sense to her; tax returns, she discovers, are all about people. “The tax return,” she thinks, “is, in some ways, a record of truth. People give you what they have. Or, at least, you count on that.” Required reading for anyone who’s ever had a meltdown in an accountant’s office.

Isaac Asimov Takes on ‘The Bible’

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.”

On the Road with Hurston and Hughes

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.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Apologizing to Strangers

Edward Hirsch used to write at night, now he writes in the mornings. He bumps into strangers often, because of his eye disease. And he thinks poems tell you things about people’s deep interiority that can be difficult to square with their public personae when you meet them. Asked, in an interview with Ben Purkert, how he thinks of his reader, Hirsch says, “the oddity of reading poetry is that there is a remarkable intimacy established between two people who do not know each other, who are physically removed from each other by space and by time. And this, somehow, enables a kind of connection that’s difficult to establish in ordinary social life.”

Image credit: Michael Lionstar