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Throughout his long career, Philip Levine has established a reputation for poems honoring the working class, beginning with the people he encountered as a young man laboring in the factories of Detroit. Though he has taught in writing programs nationwide since the 1950s, his poetry has maintained a stronger identification with the autoworker than the academic. Poets & Writers Magazine asked Levine, who turned eighty in January, how his writing is going these days.

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The author of four poetry collections talks about his obsession with the unknown and the poem as a descendent of God.

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A. J. Jacobs is an editor at large for Esquire and one of the premiere immersion journalists and humorists working today. His previous book, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to be the Smartest Person in the World (Simon & Schuster, 2004) recounted his attempt to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. His new book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, published this month by Simon & Schuster, tells about another quixotic endeavor. Needless to say, it was a difficult one, given the Bible’s eight hundred explicit rules, many of which are bizarre and unexplained—no mixed fibers; no touching unclean women—plus lots of guidelines and suggestions.

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In June, twenty-nine-year-old Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the 2007 Orange Prize for Half of a Yellow Sun (Knopf, 2006), a novel set during the Biafra-Nigeria civil war of the 1960s. Adichie weaves the stories she heard from her parents and family friends along with political history in the novel she describes as having "emotional truth." Told from three different perspectives and spanning a decade, Half of a Yellow Sun has garnered glowing reviews for its powerful narrative and compelling characters.

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Best known as the young and sometimes controversial editor of Poetry magazine, Christian Wiman created a different kind of stir earlier this year with the publication of an essay in the American Scholar that revealed, among other things, that he has a potentially fatal illness. Wiman, 41, suffers from Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, a rare and incurable blood cancer.

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Although The Human Line, published last month by Copper Canyon Press, is Ellen Bass’s fourth collection of poetry, the sixty-year-old poet says it feels like her second. After all, it's only the second book she’s published since taking a more than ten-year hiatus from writing poetry.

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Cathy Park Hong is a poet interested in the porous boundaries between languages and cultures. In her newest collection, Dance Dance Revolution (Norton, 2007), winner of the 2006 Barnard Women Poets Prize, Hong creates a poem sequence that takes place in a future city called the Desert. It is in this tourist town, modeled on the likes of Las Vegas and Dubai, that Hong introduces the Guide, an amalgam of new and extinct English dialects, Korean, Latin, Spanish, and other miscellaneous pidgins. Acting as the reader's escort, Hong uses the Guide to address the issues of identity, both personally and geographically, in an increasingly globalized world.

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Earlier this month Chronicle Books published Severance, a book of extremely short stories, each told from the point of view of a person who has been decapitated. Nicole Brown Simpson, John the Baptist, and Cicero are among the narrators. But Severance isn’t the work of some drooling, maniacal scribbler. In fact, the author, Robert Olen Butler, has published over a dozen books of fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain (Henry Holt, 1992).

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Akashic Books recently published poet and novelist Chris Abani’s sixth book, the novella Becoming Abigail. Abani’s previous book, the novel GraceLand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), won the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a Silver Medal in the California Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

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Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s most visible writers and certainly its most visible poet. The country’s inaugural poet laureate, Manhire is the author of more than ten books of poems, including Lifted, recently published by his long-time New Zealand publisher, Victoria University Press.

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