Remembering Denis Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial, and More


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:

“His humor was mordant, with a refined sense of the absurd, but never cruel…. But he had a sharp eye for the illusions and evasions and self-deceptions that lead us into absurdity, and this informed the essential generosity of his work.” Tobias Wolff remembers fellow writer Denis Johnson, who died on Wednesday. (New Yorker)

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani offers an appraisal of Johnson’s work. “He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders—the lost, the dispossessed, the damned—with empathy and unsparing candor.”

Publishers Weekly covers the history of indie poetry publisher Wave Books and its recent success with the publication of Tyehimba Jess’s Olio, which won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry this year.

“The most prominent characteristic of our era is not the monolithic power of one party, but the erratic personality of one man.” Ron Charles argues that the best literary precedent for the current presidential administration isn’t George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but Shakespeare’s King Lear. (Washington Post)

Writer Ann Birstein has died at the age of eighty-nine. Birstein wrote several novels and memoirs that drew on her experiences growing up in New York City and her marriage to the literary critic Alfred Kazin. (New York Times)

“No real person will ever match the image that I or a reader have in our minds. This is because the written word, of course, defines but by nature leaves much to reader’s imagination.” Writer Elena Ferrante discusses the television adaptation of her novel, My Brilliant Friend. (New York Times)

To celebrate the centennial of Gwendolyn Brooks’s birth, NPR remembers the poet and how she influenced a new generation of African American writers with her work and financial support.

The Guardian profiles Arundhati Roy, whose long-awaited second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, will be published next week. Roy describes writing the novel as “just delighting in all the crazies and the sweethearts, and the joy in the saddest places, and the unexpectedness of things.”

James Wood considers the humor of German writer W. G. Sebald, “whose fraught intelligence had reckoned, and self-reckoned, with the gravest questions of European history, and who had fearlessly founded a new literary form.” (New Yorker)