Eric Nguyen Learns to Live with History

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At the Chicago Review of Books, Eric Nguyen discusses his new novel, Things We Lost to the Water, and how Vietnamese American literature processes the ongoing influence of colonialism, as seen in two of the book’s characters, Công and Ben. “Công’s narrative is parallel with Ben’s, who doesn’t exactly embrace communism, but he falls in love with a communist and falls into a gang of so-called communists,” Nguyen explains. “[Those] ironies of history are what I was trying to get at. I’m interested in how history haunts us, but we can take that haunting and make it our own. One can’t change history, but one learns to live with it.”

Carmen Maria Machado on the Consequences of Banning Books

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For the New York Times, Carmen Maria Machado explains why banning books and challenging the ideas within them robs readers of a chance to better understand the world. “Those who seek to ban my book and others like it are trying to exploit fear — fear about the realities that books like mine expose, fear about desire and sex and love — and distort it into something ugly, in an attempt to wish away queer experiences,” Machado writes. “As anyone can tell you — as history can tell you — this is ultimately a fool’s errand. Ideas don’t disappear when they’re challenged; banned books have a funny way of enduring. But that doesn’t mean these efforts are without consequences.”

Imani Perry Looks at Richard Wright With Fresh Eyes

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At the Atlantic, Imani Perry delves into The Man Who Lived Underground, a previously unpublished novel by Richard Wright that sheds a new perspective on his legacy. “Now that I’ve read The Man Who Lived Underground […], I’m even more convinced that Wright deserves to be looked at with fresh eyes. At first, I texted a friend, ‘This novel is clearly a direct model for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.’ My friend wrote back, ‘That’s why he told Ellison to stop copying him!'”

Olivia Laing Conjures Up Complicated and Difficult People

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At Kirkus, Olivia Laing discusses her new book, Everybody: A Book About Freedom, and why she chose the idiosyncratic Wilhelm Reich as its central figure. “I’ve had a career of writing about difficult and complicated people,” Laing says, “and Reich takes the biscuit. He had been a sexual liberationist, he’d been an anti-fascist. He had this visionary idea in the 1920s of uniting the ideas of Freud and Marx; he thought that trauma was encapsulated in the body, that it lived in the body. And at the same time, he saw our bodies as agents of change.”

Larissa Pham and the Gift of Being Seen

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At the Believer, Larissa Pham discusses her new book, Pop Song, with Adalena Kavanagh, and shares her hope that it resonates with Asian women who do not often see themselves in writing. ” I don’t know if I can center my Asianness in my writing any more than it already is,” Pham says, “which is to say, it’s part of every fiber that gets woven. It’s weird to think that my book will be coming out in a climate where, due to an awful, really awful incident of violence, people are looking at Asian women and thinking, yeah, we should probably care. I am wondering how my identity might play into how my book is received, particularly the sections that deal with this particular racialized trauma. My hope is that other Asian women might encounter it and it will contain some bit of truth that feels, if not completely relatable, if not completely comforting, something like a lighthouse spotting another lighthouse from far away.”

An Ode to the Female Slacker with Jean Kyoung Frazier

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At the Rumpus, Jean Kyoung Frazier discusses her novel, Pizza Girl, which centers around a pregnant pizza delivery girl who redefines the genre of slacker fiction. “I think when people shit on characters like [slackers] it’s because they don’t want to be reminded of those questions,” she says, “or that there’s something about watching a lost, fuck-up character who makes them uncomfortable, reminds them of the ugliness, the difficulty of life. If that character is also woman, well, there are going to be even more issues since beauty and perfection are so inherent to how we view and judge women. It feels really important to, even if it’s difficult, talk about characters that don’t live up to societal expectations, because ultimately, the way you make people feel ugly is by not having nuanced and widespread portraits of them in popular, mainstream media.”

Lauren Groff Finds Joy in Bending Time

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At the New Yorker, Lauren Groff discusses her new novella, What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?, and how allowing herself to play with time breathed new life into the story. “Time is the subject and material of fiction,” Groff says, “and playing with time—pleating it, bending it, cutting it—is one of the great joys of writing. In any event, I tend to speed up when I want temporal texture and a change in momentum.”

Image credit: Ryan Hyde

Natalie Diaz Seeks the Physical Power of Poetry

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To mark the end of National Poetry Month, Natalie Diaz spoke to Michael Martin at NPR about how her involvement with the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program has influenced her work as a poet. “We have a word called cavanam (ph), which was lost for a long time, but one of my elders remembered it,” Diaz says. “And it’s a way that we heal and press and touch the body. And so that small, tiny word, cavanam – bringing it back into our lexicon and into our spoken conversations, it also led us toward touching one another differently. So I think that’s something that the language work has given me, is the understanding that poetry is physical, that language is physical, and it has a power of touch as we carry ourselves to one another.”

Nikki Giovanni Discovers Something New With Every Poem

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At the Artemis Speaks Podcast, Nikki Giovanni is in discussion with host Jeri Rogers on why she always aspired to write and the joy she gets out of creating new worlds. “My dream was not to publish or to even be a writer,” Giovanni says. “My dream was to discover something no one else had thought of. I guess that’s why I’m a poet. We put things together in ways no one else does.”

Image credit: Elsa Dorfman

Finding Your Writerly Voice with Alexander Chee

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At Creators Hub, Alexander Chee offers advice on how to listen to your writerly voice and how this voice manifests and changes with each work. “A writer’s voice is always created in relationship to the persona adopted for the piece of writing,” Chee writes. “Some writers are stylists, and each sentence insists on the attention of the reader for not just content but also style; some writers vanish into their characters, and each sentence is never going to ask you to do more than read it with the attention on the performance of the voice. And so I think of these directions as roles of a kind — what I call the Poet or the Ghost. Anne Carson, for example, has an arresting style that is utterly unlike that of others, across different kinds of writing. We go to her for that. Kazuo Ishiguro, on the other hand, is different novel to novel. Those of us who love these writers wouldn’t have them do their work any other way.”

Image credit: Larry D. Moore