The Legacy of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

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At The New York Times, Dan Saltzstein reflects on the legacy of Korean-American experimental artist and poet Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and how her artistic reputation has flourished after her early death. “It can also sometimes feel like Cha is grappling with her own mortality in Dictee,” Saltzstein writes, “in a hauntingly prescient line that might be autobiographical, she writes of struggling with how to move forward against ‘the onslaught of time,’ adding, ‘She says to herself if she were able to write she could continue to live.'”

An Examination of the Trauma Plot

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At The New Yorker, Parul Sehgal reflects on the trauma plot and how it has come to dominate stories both on the page and on screen. Sehgal argues that “The trauma plot flattens, distorts, reduces character to symptom, and, in turn, instructs and insists upon its moral authority. The solace of its simplicity comes at no little cost. It disregards what we know and asks that we forget it, too—forget about the pleasures of not knowing, about the unscripted dimensions of suffering, about the odd angularities of personality, and, above all, about the allure and necessity of a well-placed sea urchin.” She explores how the ways we write about trauma have evolved over time, and poses the question, “In a world infatuated with victimhood, has trauma emerged as a passport to status—our red badge of courage?” 

Jami Attenberg on Building a Writing Life

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At the Guardian, Jami Attenberg, author of the recent memoir I Came All This Way to Meet You, reflects on how a key moment of rejection allowed her to carve out her own path as a writer. “I’m old enough to realise that there is one more important part to carving out your creative life: honouring your successes no matter the size,” Attenberg writes. “And honouring the bad moments too. Laying your burdens down. Building this writing life has always been about recognising what was holding me back so I could move on. One writer told me no. I honour his rejection. He said no, but I said yes.”

Raven Leilani on Writing Complex and Contradictory Black Women Protagonists

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At The Guardian, Hephzibah Anderson interviews Raven Leilani, author of the award-winning novel Luster. Now published in paperback, Leilani’s sexy and blisteringly honest debut follows Edie, a 23-year-old black woman and aspiring painter trying to stay afloat in New York City. But after being fired from her publishing job, she finds herself moving in with her married white lover and his family.

Leilani discusses her own connection to painting, books currently on her bedside table, literary characters that played a part in the creation of Edie, and her choice to write a scene in which Edie fantasizes about being hit and permits her older white boyfriend to actually strike her—a moment that incited a lot of reactions from readers. “It’s a deeply tricky thing to write about a black woman who is inviting this kind of violence,” Leilani says. “I wanted her to be a character who has the freedom to find pleasure where she finds it, but it is, too, still quite intertwined with the fact that because she is a black woman, she experiences these loud and soft violences in her public life, and choosing it in her private life is a way to exert that control that she doesn’t have elsewhere.”

Constantly Reading, Constantly Changing with Eloisa James

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At the Creative Independent, romance novelist and Shakespeare professor Eloisa James (whose real name is Mary Bly) discusses how she keeps her writing process fresh, whether it’s for her bestselling romance novels or academic texts. “If you’re going to have a long career in writing,” she explains, “you need to be constantly reading in your genre. What you’re going to write is going to change. It has to change.”

The Affirming Aspirations of Anthony Veasna So

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At On the Seawall, Hamilton Cain examines the ghosts that haunt Afterparties, the beautifully crafted short story collection by the late Anthony Veasna So. “So writes with grace and panache; his characters leap off the page,” Cain says. “Walmarts, side jobs, SAT prep: these conventions open the door to better lives, mystically affirming aspirations born out of torture chambers and totalitarian purges. In this regard, Afterparties bears a kinship with an emerging generation of writers grappling with genocides in the former Yugoslavia, among them Sara Nović, Pajtim Statovci, and Saša Stanišić.”

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s Dystopian Debut Is a Must-Read for the New Year

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At The Rumpus, Sequioa Nagamatsu discusses How High We Go in the Dark, his much-awaited debut novel told through interconnected first-person narratives about people living in a future beset by the Arctic Plague. Nagamatsu discusses the various media and books that were influential to his conception of the book, what eco-conscious novels can contribute to the environmental movement, and how he went about choosing the particular professions of the characters featured in this prophetic novel. “In thinking about how the world in my novel has been unhinged, I wanted to explore how society’s relationship with death, grief, and climate evolve while still staying close to the everyday movements and concerns of a person trying to hold onto life and move forward,” he says. “The professions I chose nodded at these societal evolutions while also giving me a rich basis for considering how their jobs would elevate or influence personal struggles. And for many of my characters, the pandemic simply highlighted or fast-tracked an existing problem or inner anxiety.”

Lily King Is in the Business of Hope

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At Electric Literature, Lily King speaks to Amy Reardon about her new story collection, Five Tuesdays in Winter, which she considers a rebellion against our dark times. “A number of people have said, ‘You’re not afraid of a happy ending,'” King says, “and I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and why that is true. It’s funny, everybody kind of sees what they want to see. I think even in stories that don’t have cleanly, purely happy endings, I am in the business of hope. I do believe in hope, and I do believe in change, and I do believe that we’re better than we think we are, and we’re better than this time we’re in. We are. I just… I hope we can get there before the world ends.”

Female Abjection Through the Eyes of Jean Rhys

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At Gawker, Mariah Kreutter examines the work of Jean Rhys, and how her exploration of femalle suffering still echoes throughout contemporary fiction, particularly in works by Ottessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney. “It’s there in Rhys’s frank writing about sex,” Kreutter writes, “financial precarity, romantic abjection; it’s there in her fragmentation, in her flat sentences, in her heroines’ relentless indifference; in her mining of her own experience; in her blatant yet canny deployment of self-pity.”

Rebecca Solnit on the Value of Nonlinear Narratives

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At Literary Hub, Rebecca Solnit discusses her latest work, Orwell’s Roses, a reflection on George Orwell’s life, politics, and passion for gardening and nature.

Solnit examines how depth in meaning can be acquired by meandering, detouring, and lingering in the details, and cites notable works of nonfiction that have non-chronological structures, including her own book, which moves from a range of topics related to the natural world, the meaning and purpose of art, Stalinism, climate, feminism, and slavery.

Its structure, “is akin to taking seven walks from the same starting point…I learned from labyrinths that to get to the center you turn away from it again and again as you follow the windings that will, in the end, take you to the center,” Solnit says. “There are subjects you can better understand through analogy, context, parallels, the view from the distance, rather than via direct and dogged pursuit.”