Ntozake Shange Has Died, Best Books of the Year, and More

by Staff

Every day Poets & Writers Magazine scans the headlines—from publishing reports to academic announcements to literary dispatches—for all the news that creative writers need to know. Here are today’s stories.

Ntozake Shange, the poet, novelist and playwright whose choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” opened on Broadway in 1976, died on Saturday, October 27, at age seventy. Having suffered multiple strokes in recent years, Shange passed away in her sleep in an assisted living facility in Bowie, Maryland. “It’s a huge loss for the world,” Shange’s sister, Ifa Bayeza, told the Star Tribune. “I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”

Publishers Weekly’s annual roundup of the best books of the year includes the novels Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and Insurrecto by Gina Apostol; the story collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson; creative nonfiction titles Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee; and others. 

“I could talk about it forever.” Amal El-Mohtar reviews Edward Carey’s new book, Little, a historical novel that tells the origin story of Madam Tussaud and more: “It’s about humans, and bodies, and art, and loneliness, and it’s deeply, painfully sad.” (NPR)

“Like a feminist C. S. Lewis, she talks about God, politics and other unmentionables, and gently exhorts her readers, as she does herself, to find joy in a bleak and chaotic world: a leftie guru of optimism.” The New York Times profiles Anne Lamott, whose new book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, was published by Riverhead Books earlier this month.

“As I write this, I can see that most if not all of my closest friendships have at least a single book at their root.” Alexander Chee recalls his first move to New York City: a cross-country bus ride from San Francisco, during which he read Robert Graves’s The White Goddess.  (Longreads)

The Orwell Foundation has announced plans to launch a political fiction prize. The new prize, to be awarded for the first time in June 2019, will recognize “outstanding novels and collections of short stories first published in the UK that illuminate major social and political themes, present or past, through the art of narrative.” The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction will be sponsored by the Orwell estate’s literary agency, A. M. Heath, and George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair. The Orwell Book Prize, which was previously given for both nonfiction and fiction, will be renamed The Orwell Prize for Political Writing and will be open to nonfiction only. (The Orwell Foundation)

Stephen King really doesn’t like the word “amazing.” (Mashable)

“I have a high tolerance for soporific research materials if I know they’re leading me into someplace worthy. It’s part of the artist’s deal, trying to spin gobbledygook into gold.” Barbara Kingsolver, whose new novel, Unsheltered, was published by Harper, is the latest subject of the New York Times Book Review’s By the Book series.

Read “A Talk in the Woods,” a conversation between Kingsolver and fellow best-selling novelist Richard Powers, in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

“Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a story written by Sylvia Plath in December 1952, when she was a twenty-year-old student at Smith College, will be published for the first time by Faber in January 2019. “The story, which describes a fateful train journey, follows a young woman being ushered by her mother and father through a cathedral-like station and onto a train platform, before abandoning her in a carriage. There, Mary meets a woman who guides her as the train travels through dark tunnels and bleak landscapes.” (The Independent)