A 19th-Century It Girl

As a prolific English poet of her time, Letitia Landon was something of an It Girl during the 1820s and 1830s. For the Poetry Foundation, Rachel Vorona Cote takes a look at Landon’s many identities and how she went on to become a cautionary tale about talented women.

“Landon was invested in the fissures and slippages that prevent easy conflation of writerly and personal identities,” writes Cote. “Once, an incredulous male party guest asked her, ‘You never think of such a thing as love, you who have written so [much] poetry upon it?’ She replied, ‘Oh! That is all professional, you know!’ As Miller notes, designating oneself as ‘professional at love’ is all the more provocative with its allusion to sex work. As with her poetry, Landon invited people to interpret her words as they wished.”

Image credit: British Library

Democrats and the Written Word

For The New Yorker, Jill Lepore brings a critical eye to the memoirs of 2020’s Democratic presidential candidates, comparing the lyricism and romance of Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home to the force and anger of Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight Is Our Fight to the less inspired liberal-cum-Republican coming-of-age narrative in Ronald Reagan’s Where’s the Rest of Me? “Most of the books,” Lepore notes, “are not great books, and some of these people just don’t seem like good people. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make good Presidents, I guess, but it raises a question: Why do they write this stuff?” What are political autobiographies really for?”

Cinderella, as Told by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit gives the classic and rather dated tale of Cinderella an empowered, nuanced update. Brainpickings takes a look at Cinderella Liberator, Solnit’s version of the fairy tale that examines cultural myths about measures of prosperity. This illustrated retelling is “at once an empowering gift to any young person beginning to behold the landscape of possibility we call life and powerful existential reboot for any grownup ready to break free of the world’s limiting stories.”

Books for a Post-‘Game of Thrones’ World

Game of Thrones is dead. Er, over. Oh no! What to read now? Over at Electric Literature, Seth D. Michaels has you covered, suggesting a list of books to read post-GoT that includes work by N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Kirstin Downey. “At its best,” Michaels writes, the original book series “is both a page-turning adventure and a revisionist fantasy, surfacing some of the hard questions underneath the tropes of the genre. Who has a legitimate claim on power, and what can they do with it? How does the past determine and constrain today? How can women exert power in a cruel and oppressive world? How do personal relationships shape politics, and vice-versa?”

In Defense of Unread Books

Do you feel like that pile of unread Tolstoy and Márquez on your bedside table is mocking you? Fear not. According to Karen Hopkin at Scientific American, just the presence of those books is enough to encourage literary habits. “What we were able to demonstrate,” states sociologist Joanna Sikora, “was that people who grew up around books had better literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving skills than people who had fewer books growing up but had similar education levels, similar jobs and even similar adult habits in terms of reading or engaging in various numeracy-enhancing activities.”

Image credit: Abhi Sharma

Karen Russell, Short Story Sorcerer

For the release of her new collection, Orange World, Karen Russell spoke to Brian Gresko at Poets & Writers on supernatural metaphors for motherhood, lonely mutants, and the pleasures of world-building. “With short stories it feels possible to hop across time zones and zip into new skins; also to take risks that I think would prove unsustainable for the length of a novel,” Russell says. “World-building is such a pleasure for me, as a writer and as a reader, and I love story collections because they feel like a miniature universe, with all these interrelated worlds-in-progress.”

Daniel José Older and Marlon James Aren’t Genre Snobs

For LitHub’s Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast, Marlon James and Daniel José Older talk genre (as in, according to James, “that thing creative writing programs don’t know how to teach”), gender identity in ancient Africa, and James’s deep-seated love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Plus, Older discusses the process for his book Dactyl Hill Squad: “There’s so many amazing stories of people of color resisting, and finding different ways to fight for freedom throughout, whether in New York, or all over this country, in Mexico…And kids aren’t growing up learning about them because of white supremacy, and it’s hurting us. And they don’t get to see themselves as heroes or protagonists, either in history or in fantasy. And this is a way of bringing those stories to life.”

Walt Whitman: Bottled and Brewed

Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The poet’s wide reach will soon be showcased by Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich., which is releasing a series of seven beers in tribute to Whitman’s famous poetry collection Leaves of Grass. Each brew is named after an iconic line from the work, and the first one, “Song of Myself,” is a “a German-inspired American IPA.” The first beer will be released in July, so until then, you can brush up on Leaves of Grass, “a marvel of enigmatic charm.”

Image credit: Bell’s Brewery