The World of Wordy Cartoonists with Alison Bechdel

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At the Believer, Alison Bechdel spoke to Kristen Radtke about her newest book, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, and how she reflected on her own creative process as it came together. “I feel like I’m an unusually wordy cartoonist,” Bechdel says. “I often worry that that makes me somehow not quite authentic, like I should rely on the images more or give them more space, but I really do equally love to write and draw. I feel like these two elements are constantly fighting one another for space on the page. There’s never enough room for the drawing, there’s never enough room for all the words I want to use. And I like that process of just trying to trim it all down, and in the end not really being able to.”

The Evolution of the Asterisk

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At Lapham’s Quarterly, Claire Cock-Starkey traces the history of the asterisk, from its appearance in medieval texts to its modern-day use in footnotes and pseudo-censorship. “The asterisk (often used interchangeably with the dagger or obelus) persisted as an editing mark but was also frequently used as a caveat,” she writes, “showing that the passage highlighted by the asterisk was served by a footnote or side note. By the eighteenth century the asterisk was being deployed as a sort of censorship, covering up letters to represent a d * * n vulgar word without actually b* * * * y spelling it out. But, as W. Somerset Maugham points out, this has become somewhat outmoded: ‘We have long passed the Victorian era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.'”

Image credit: Tom Magliery

Enjoying the Freedom from Scrutiny with Leanne Shapton

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At the Creative Independent, Leanne Shapton looks back on her work, which ranges from novels to illustrated books, and reflects on the freedom that allows her to create. “I just really think a lot of my work slips between the cracks,” Shapton says. “I get a little pay here and there, but I feel lucky that it doesn’t have to stand up against something else, you know? I risk obscurity, I risk being completely ignored, but it gives me some freedom to not have scrutiny.”

Applying Emerson to Post-Pandemic Friendships

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At The New Yorker, Jane Hu reflects on how the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson have allowed her to see post-pandemic friendships in a new light. “To be decent to one of your friends, Emerson suggests, is to be decent to all of them,” Hu writes. “This might sound obvious, but its logic lately has played out for me during quarantine, when anxious projections and ungenerous readings haunted too many interactions. Shit-talking can be a bonding mechanism; but let us do it with, not about, our friends. Emerson’s ecosystem of equitable friendships offers a cautionary tale for social distancing, when many of us felt increasingly at odds with another, our inequalities sharply revealed.”

Image credit: J. H. Wade Fund

In Search of the Impossible with Sabrina Orah Mark

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At the Creative Independent, Sabrina Orah Mark shares how her writing style evolved over the years, and how the blurring of poetry and prose gave her freedom to explore. “I think when I started writing prose poems,” Mark says, “that was when I felt like I could have the real and the unreal live inside of a little box together. Charles Simic talks about the prose poem as being this impossible form. It’s the coming together of prose and poetry and it shouldn’t exist, but it does. And finding that form allows for this marvel, for the impossible to live inside of a space. And that was really how I accessed that aesthetic or mindset or dream I was always after.”

Kristen Arnett Seeks the Unreliable Narrator in Every Family

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At Autostraddle, Kristen Arnett discusses the inspiration behind her latest novel, With Teeth, and her ongoing obsession with dysfunctional families. “I’m obsessed with writing about families and thinking about families because families are so fucked up,” Arnett says. “It’s the most fun thing to write about. Every family, even families that are doing okay, have some fucked up elements to them. So I wanted to write about lesbians who were obviously very fucked up in their family and what that looks like both from the outside and what that looks like from the inside. Think about it this way — everybody in a family is an unreliable narrator. Even families who share the same stories don’t tell those stories in the same way. I wanted it to be this claustrophobic, sometimes terrifying, feeling story of how motherhood and queerness in this specific space could feel weirdly oppressive. You don’t understand yourself and the dysfunction gets to a point where it turns into this cyclical bad way to behave.”

Sam Bett and David Boyd Translate New and Familiar Voices

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At Full Stop, Sam Bett and David Boyd discuss the process of translating the works of Kawakami Mieko and how they approach presenting her work to a spectrum of readers. “Translations are often talked about as offering a different voice from a different place,” Bett says, “but a book that feels like a new world to one reader might feel like home to another. I think we need to translate for readers who find the work to be familiar as much as for those who find it distinct from their lived experience.”

The Gift of Creativity from Eric Carle

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At the Los Angeles Times, artists reflect on the enduring legacy of children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle, whose spellbinding images and narratives captured readers’ imaginations for generations. “Carle’s ultimate gift was the idea of creation,” Daric Cottingham says, “the notion that every transformation in life is the invention of something new. When I grew older and became an uncle, I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my niece and nephew, who will continue to pass it on — sparking new generations of creation and change, a gift that won’t stop giving.”

Amy Tan on the Importance of Imagined Listeners

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At Harpers Bazaar, Alexandra Chang interviews Amy Tan on a recently documentary made about her life, as well as the enduring legacy of her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club. “When I started writing The Joy Luck Club, for some of the stories, I imagined what my mother was trying to say to me,” Tan explains. “One of the stories, ‘Magpies,’ was about the girl who goes to live with her mother and this rich man her mother has married as his fourth wife, who later kills herself after her son was born. That is probably the most factually true story. That was the one where I tried to very much imagine my mother’s voice telling me this story and what it means. It’s been a constant learning experience about the importance of the imagined listener. It has to be somebody who knows what I’m capable of understanding and then helping me to understand.

T Kira Madden Revels in the Tedium of a Good Recipe

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At Catapult, T Kira Madden discusses her favorite foods, and why soup in particular plays a prominent role in her memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. “Soup is incredible because I love—as any of my friends will say—I love tedium,” Madden says. “Tell me anything in excruciating detail, all the steps, every step, and the many reasons why something interacts with something else. It’s how I’ve lulled myself out of anxiety or panic attacks. It’s how I’ve managed depression.[…] Soup, of all things—at least the soups I like to make—require careful thought and order. I love understanding that order of flavor development, understanding why something should be salted or roasted first, why something else could fall apart. It’s a step-by-step thing, with this gorgeous result at the end, and you can taste those many layers and flavors.