Syria’s Secret Library, Jonathan Franzen on Fame, 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:

A basement in the war-torn city of Darayya, Syria, houses a secret library of more than fourteen thousand books. Engineering student Anas Ahmad founded the library as a refuge from the bombings that occur every day in the town. Soldiers in the Free Syrian Army who are tasked with defending the town note the library’s importance, including Omar Abu Anas, who says, “Books motivate us to keep on going. We read how in the past everyone turned their backs on a particular nation, yet they still made it. So we can be like that too. They help us plan for life once Assad is gone. We can only do that through the books we are reading. We want to be a free nation. And hopefully, by reading, we can achieve this.” (BBC News)

“I feel it’s really dangerous, if you are a liberal white American, to presume that your good intentions are enough to embark on a work of imagination about black America.” Novelist Jonathan Franzen discusses the influence of fame on a writer, approaching controversial subjects in his work, and having his latest novel, Purity, adapted for television. (Slate)

The New Yorker has published passages from late fiction writer Lucia Berlin’s unfinished memoir, which she was working on at the time of her death in 2004.

“If the novel’s answer in the eighteenth century was to sidestep the question of veracity with plausibility, the essay responds to that same question by plunging us head-on into unknowing, foregrounding our confusion and engaging directly with how we know a thing to be true, and why it matters.” Colin Dickey writes at the Los Angeles Times about the renewed focus on the essay in recent years, and John D’Agata’s conception of the genre’s current role in his latest anthology, The Making of the American Essay.

“I felt a kinship with that kind of propagandic language of the state…. It was so striking and scary at the same time, but also a little bit scarier because it felt like something that might actually exist in the world.” DiveDapper features an interview with poet Camille Rankine.

The Librería Barco de Papel bookstore in Queens, New York, is one of the few remaining Spanish-language bookstores in New York City. The store, which is run by volunteers, houses books by Latin American and Spanish authors, from medieval to contemporary works. (New York Times)