Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s Remembers the Beauty of the World Through Poetry

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At the Creative Independent, Melissa Lozada-Oliva discusses her new novel in verse, Dreaming of You, and the role poetry plays in keeping us attuned to the beauty around us. “I think poetry is about, for me, remembering the beauty of the world. I have the capacity to do it endlessly. Sometimes I’m like, is that fucked up? Should I just be, like, this sucks. Everything fucking blows. But I feel like poetry’s job is for beauty. And I think that is important. I think it keeps us human. I don’t think it saves the world. I think that’s impossible.”

Marie-Helene Bertino Breaks the Laws of Physics

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At Electric Literature, Marie-Helene Bertino discusses the importance of disrupting realism in her fiction and opting to explore the fantastical to get closer to the truth. “Perhaps we want to break the laws of physics because it’s fun,” Bertino says, “because we want to reach a particular emotional resonance unable to be accessed through conventional methods. Because we do not think using the supernatural elements is out of the ordinary. Because the supernatural is our ordinary and to write realism would be, for us, stranger. Perhaps we venture outside realism because to express our understanding of life, because removing the middleman of simile and making the figurative real feels more honest.”

James Hannaham Takes on the Many Faces of Fernando Pessoa

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At Bookforum, James Hannaham recounts his experience reading the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet who wrote under 75 different names throughout his career. “I’m often motivated to write by what makes me mad; in this case I felt compelled to pen a rebuttal to every last poem in Fernando Pessoa & Co,” Hannaham writes. “I knew that directing outrage toward Caeiro’s emphatically superficial spirituality would be like shadowboxing, but to me that made the prospect more attractive. I would wrestle with ideas instead of venting against some real human and accusing him of various reprehensible isms. Everyone else seemed to be doing that, anyway.”

Colson Whitehead’s Voice Is Here to Stay

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At Entertainment Weekly, Colson Whitehead shares how he found his voice for his newest novel, Harlem Shuffle, and how it has evolved over time. “After my poker book, The Noble Hustle, I’ve been able to find my voice really quickly,” Whitehead says. “I think it was writing in that first-person voice: There was a confidence there, and it stayed with me. Not a lot of people liked that book, but I’ve felt sure-footed ever since. [While] I can easily find flaws with my earlier novels, I really feel 100 percent behind my last four. I also know it can all come crashing down, so I keep working and trying not to coast. The fear that my luck has run out keeps me going.”

Yiyun Li and the Extraordinary World of ‘War and Peace’

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At the Paris Review, Yiyun Li revisits Tolstoy’s War and Peace and reflects on the many ways it continues to resonate throughout generations. “Books that I feel drawn to and reread, War and Peace among them, are full of uncommon sense and common nonsense,” she writes. “(Uncommon nonsense makes exhilarating literature, too, in Lewis Carroll’s case, but uncommon nonsense does better to stay uncommon: in less skillful hands, it becomes caprice or parody.) One imagines that Tolstoy did not seek to write about uncommon sense. He simply presented the world, and the world, looked at closely, is often extraordinary.”

Lauren Groff Ponders the Bewilderment of Human Attachment

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At Lit Hub, Lauren Groff discusses the existential issues within her latest novel, Matrix, which explores the life and struggles of Marie de France. “Human attachment is always so sticky and constantly bewildering; we’re longing for the impossible, to be less alone, which even in the closest relationships happens sporadically, not constantly,” Groff says. “It’s also why the hunger for god is so pervasive in human history, and why some of us choose—why I have chosen—to spend life writing and reading. Literature is folding another consciousness into our own, letting it overwhelm our own, so that we briefly become plural, bigger than that first small and singular self.”

Accessing Your Inner Childhood Spy with Qian Julie Wang

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At Shondaland, Qian Julie Wang discusses her memoir, Beautiful Country, a story of immigration and discovery seen through the eyes of an undocumented child. “I was very inspired by Harriet the Spy,” Wang says, “and I wrote down a lot of mundane details of my worlds in hopes that I might be able to solve some sort of mystery. That mystery never materialized, but it really helped me as an adult to look back and try to place myself in that little kid’s shoes. Once I opened the floodgates and really let myself feel everything, it came back fairly quickly. It was really important for me to share the story from that childhood perspective because I know that some of the horrors of life can be much more palatable when presented to adults through the lens of a child, but at the same time deeply disturbing because this is a child who’s filtering it through and not seeing everything that the adult should.”

Between Grief and Fighting for Survival with Kat Chow

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At Ploughshares, Kat Chow discusses Seeing Ghosts, her memoir that examines grief and sorrow through the lens of three generations of her Chinese-American family. “I’ve always been drawn to writing about the body—our physical selves and how they reflect our inner lives—and how our bodies are an inheritance from our parents and the generations that come before. […] It was also important for me to shift around with active voice and passive voice when writing about these physical details: things happening to our bodies, often without our control. I wanted to reflect the ways we can sometimes feel maneuvered through exhausting systems that make up our society and force us to fight for our survival.

Transforming Thought Problems into Cultures with Ursula K. Le Guin

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At Tor, Matt Bell reads the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to examine the joy and skill woven into her prose, particularly her worldbuilding. “More than anything else,” Bell writes, “I loved Le Guin’s worldbuilding, with her well-made ecologies and cultures tied to the unique geographies evoked in her hand-drawn maps, like that of the sprawling archipelago of Earthsea, with its islands waiting to be explored by Le Guin’s imagination. I thrilled at how she turned thought problems into intricate cultures, working from the big picture down to the minutiae of local life, filling books with pleasurable details like the “common table implement” on Gethen ‘with which you crack the ice that has formed on your drink between drafts,’ a necessity for drinking hot beer on a frozen planet.”

Image credit: Marian Wood Kolisch

Vinod Busjeet on the Importance of Whimsy

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At the Paris Review, Vinod Busjeet discusses his book, Silent Winds, Dry Seas, an autobiographical novel that balances brutal conflicts involving Indian indentured laborers in Mauritius with moments of whimsy. “It enables you to deal with such darkness,” Busjeet says. “You need to have the ability to laugh at it and laugh at yourself as well. Otherwise it’s too hard to cope. You could say it’s a kind of defense mechanism.”