Sonia Sanchez’s Essential Black Literature

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At Philly Mag, Sonia Sanchez shares her picks for the “essential books” of Black Literature. “Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery. The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois. And Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston,” Sanchez says. “You cannot teach Black literature without them. And of course, then you have Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Amiri Baraka. All of the women who came out of the Black Arts Movement, talking about what it was to be a Black female in a place called America.”

The Prophetic Visions of Octavia E. Butler

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At NPR, Ramtin Arablouei reflects on the the urgency of Octavia Butler’s novels and why her work calls on us to use our greatest power: to change. “As we celebrate Black History Month, we should also remember her as a prophetic visionary like so many before her,” Arablouei writes. “She imagined worlds like the one we are living in, but encouraged each of us to dream our own dreams and to respond to the fear of uncertainty with creativity and bravery. As the Earthseed maxim tells us, ‘All that you touch, You Change …'”

The Second Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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At the Guardian, biographer Fiona Sampson, author of Two Way Mirror, reflects on the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose forced isolation due to respiratory illness led her to find an escape through writing — a respite we can find relatable during this pandemic. “She escaped via paper rather than a screen, of course; but her grasp of self-invention through a kind of ‘second life’ reminded me of all the friendships we were suddenly reconfiguring on Zoom,” Sampson writes. “I also realised how closely her practice prefigured today’s digital communicators: not just the teenagers and geeks, bloggers and TikTok stars, but citizen journalists, activists and those policed by authoritarian regimes too.”

Beverly Jenkins on the Importance of Black 19th Century Romance

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At NPR, Beverly Jenkins, known as the queen of of Black historical romance, discusses the importance of the genre reflecting the identities of those who read it. “There’s a lot more African and African American women, women of color, all identities, really, now writing romance,” Jenkins says. “And that’s one of the great things about the genre. It’s starting to reflect the country.”

Charles Yu on Switching Between TV and Novel Writing

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At the Los Angeles Times, Charles Yu discusses the novelistic techniques he employs in his television writing and, conversely, how his TV projects influence his fiction. “I find myself trying to import skills and tools from scripts to novels and back again,” Yu says. “From TV I’ve learned about structure and outlining and how to thread multiple storylines through a longer work. Going in the other direction, I try to find ways to incorporate my voice, my tone and a sense of being experimental from my books into my TV projects.”

Raven Leilani on Unapologetically Writing Towards Want and Rage

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At the Believer, Raven Leilani, author of Luster, discusses her desire to write Black women who actively resist conforming to society’s preconceptions about them. “I wanted to afford a Black woman the latitude to be fallible,” she says. “I wanted to write against the idea that there is a particular way to comport yourself to earn the right to empathy. Black women are especially subject to this expectation, and I think to have to expertly navigate racist and sexist terrain to survive and be denied the right to a human response is to deny that person dignity. It’s a recipe for a repressed, combustible person. I’ve been there, and I’m still unlearning that reflexive curation as we speak, so it was a relief to write a Black woman who leads with her id. It was a relief to write toward her want and rage without apology, which is, unfortunately, what some people might find unlikeable.”

Jane Smiley on Comfort Reading Anthony Trollope

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At the Guardian, Jane Smiley discusses the author she turns to when she needs something comfortable and reassuring: Anthony Trollope. “No matter what I’m reading or rereading,” Smiley says, “I am intrigued and reassured by Trollope’s insights into the minds of both men and women, as well as the undercurrent of good humour that runs through all the books (including one of my favourites, He Knew He Was Right).”

Victoria Chang on the Humor and Oddity in Obituaries

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At the New York Times Magazine, poet Victoria Chang discusses with Malia Wollan the art of the obituary poem, as seen in her newest collection, Obit, a memorial to the dead and a reflection on grief. “’There’s a lot of humor and oddity, strange tensions and funny stuff about people and the things they do together,’ Chang says. Obituaries, even simple ones, remind us of our briefness. After watching her mother die, Chang understood in a visceral way for the first time that she, too, would die. She thinks that if people spent more time acknowledging their mortality they’d live differently — kinder, more present. Writing an obituary can be a wake-up call. ‘This person is dead,” Chang says. “You’re alive.’”

Melissa Broder on Writing Her Obsessions

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At BOMB Magazine, Melissa Broder discusses her latest book, Milk Fed, which was born from one of her many obsessions. “We write our obsessions,” Broder says. “Some people have trouble writing about sex. There are workshops on how to write sex. It’s an area that’s not everyone’s strength. But for me, I have trouble not writing sex. When I write sex, I have to turn myself on, first and foremost. The first drafts are always for me. Then through editing, those scenes become for the audience.”