A Longtime Pen Pal Meets Emily Dickinson

Author Thomas Wentworth Higginson was pen pals with poet Emily Dickinson for eight years before the two finally met face-to-face. For the Atlantic, Martha Ackman describes when the two finally met and how Higginson saw a different side to the poet. “Higginson’s visit would be no ordinary call for Dickinson—not that she received many guests.” Ackman writes. “Her great literary productivity of the Civil War years had tapered off. She had stopped collecting her poems in stitched booklets—fascicles—and new poems remained unbound on loose sheets. Nearly 40 years old, she was more patient, less insistent, and more forgiving of perceived slights from those close to her. Although others around her were busy with their own lives, she did not feel as forsaken as she once had. Dickinson’s sense of self made the difference.”

Image source: Amherst College Archives

James McBride on How the Writing Chooses You

James McBride discusses his latest book, Deacon King Kong, with Sam Sanders at NPR, as well as the the importance of writing without regard for other people’s expectations. “I don’t think you can write books if you worry about what people think and what they’re going to say,” McBride says. “You know, the craft of putting together a story with a kind of complicated matter that is involved in story structure, you know, in a 300- or 350-page book, it’s too complicated to worry about whether someone’s going to say this […] You have a purpose to do something. You don’t choose writing. Writing chooses you.”

Alexander Chee on a Life in Restaurants

As restaurants make tentative steps towards re-opening amidst a pandemic, The New York Times asked writers such as Sloane Crosley, Samantha Irby, and more to reflect on some of their most memorable restaurant experiences. Alexander Chee remembers his time as a waiter, particularly when he (almost) met his favorite childhood author. “Working in a restaurant in this part of New York is like starring in a film about yourself where the extras are all stars,” Chee writes. “I waited on Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, Greg Louganis and Conan O’Brien, among others. One electrifying night, as I picked up the signed check from the table, I saw the name Madeleine L’Engle—the author of a favorite childhood novel—and looked up, but she was already gone, whisking herself across the street to the opera, and universes beyond.”

Image credit: Riyadh Al Balushi

Susan Choi on Her Quarantine Reading Schedule

Susan Choi spoke to Brad Listi about the writer’s responsibility to read, over at Lit Hub, and how she’s had more time to read during this time of quarantine and dread and confusion. “There’s been a lot of peace in this quarantine,” Choi says. “Just time to read a book. It’s ridiculous, but I constantly puzzle over the problem of when to read. As writers, it’s important to read, and I can never figure out when that’s supposed to happen.”

Image credit: Larry D. Moore

Jericho Brown and Carmen Maria Machado on the Meaning of Pride

For The New York Times, authors Jericho Brown and Carmen Maria Machado examine their personal relationships to Pride, 50 years after the first Pride March. “When I think of Pride and its marches,” Brown says. “I think of my younger self overwhelmed by those crowds at that parade almost 20 years ago. Indeed, the earliest Pride celebrations I attended looked more like Mardi Gras parades than the civil rights marches I was raised to revere.” Meanwhile, Machado reflects, “Pride should not be a smug acknowledgment of a job well done, or a job that’s done at all. If you understand the work to be over, you are mistaken.”

Image credit: Ben Tavener

Hanif Abdurraqib on the Generous Music of Protest Chants

On GEN, poet and author Hanif Abdurraqib reflects on the empowering sounds of protest chants and the ways it gives purpose to movements. “The protest chant is generous music: It can pull someone to exactly where they need to be, even when they don’t always know if they have the energy to make it there. One weekend before this one, when the police rolled their SWAT tanks into the streets and tried to shout down the masses over their loudspeakers, it was the people united who drowned them out. A better, sweeter sound swallowing a wave of horrible noise.”

Image credit: Hanif Abdurraqib

Teju Cole’s Meticulously Curated Playlists

During these uncertain times, Teju Cole is curating playlists that reflect current events and his own thoughts on history and music. Brittle Paper has compiled the playlists, which include titles like “songs without words” and “melodious uncle.” For the playlist titled “take my hand,” Cole writes: “Thinking with Arthur Jafa about making culture in freefall. Thinking with Saidiya Hartman about grieving as a way of making life with one another. A moment of rebuilding will come—for the survivors—and the features by which we will recognize each other in that rebuilding are being quietly established right now.”

Rachel Eliza Griffiths on the Rhythms of Grief

At Poets & Writers, Rachel Eliza Griffiths describes the challenges she faced writing her new book of poetry, Seeing the Body, which follows her as she mourns the death of her mother. “The uneven rhythms of grief don’t allow you to do or to feel life as you did before,” Griffiths says. “Even the writer you were before is altered. It’s unquantifiable. Losing my mother forced me into the most difficult transformation of my life. Each poem drew me further into something I didn’t want to accept, which was that my mother was dead. Slowly, I understood that I also needed to put a lot of things in my life that frightened me to rest so that I could hear my own voice.”