Word Aversion, the Brain’s Language Atlas, 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:

Sorry to do this to you, but think of a word you hate. A word that for some reason just makes your skin crawl. Why do certain words repel us? There is evidence to suggest that phonological improbability, or something that doesn’t sound like it should belong in your language, provokes visceral disgust. (New York Times)

An essay by Daniel Harris published earlier this week in the Antioch Review, “The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate,” has come under intense criticism, as many readers found it deeply offensive to transgender people. The essay criticizes transgender people, calling the “physical manipulation” of gender a “mass delusion.” A letter denouncing the Review’s decision to publish the piece and calling for an end to transphobia in the literary community has gathered more than 2,600 signatures from writers, editors, professors, and librarians, and a Moveon.org petition calling the essay hate speech has urged Antioch College’s leaders to support its transgender students. The college published a statement on its website yesterday responding to the criticism, saying that while the college does not “always agree with the viewpoints expressed in the Review,” it does “have confidence in the Review’s editor and editorial process, and supports a key Antiochian value—the free expression of ideas and opinions.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates is scheduled to publish two new books, one fiction and one nonfiction, with Random House’s One World imprint. The books were acquired by One World publisher Chris Jackson, who edited Coates’s National Book Award–winning Between the World and Me. (Associated Press)

“It’s the hardest thing, writing humor into a book. But it’s also essential.” At the Minneapolis Star Tribune, best-selling author Louise Erdrich discusses her fifteenth novel, LaRose, which comes out next Tuesday from HarperCollins.

At Literary Hub, poet Tyehimba Jess discusses the decade-long process to complete his collection Olio, a multi-layered poetic project exploring the history of Nineteenth Century African American musicians.

Poet and critic Stephen Burt profiles poet Janine Joseph at the Los Angeles Times. Of Joseph’s debut collection, Driving Without a License (Alice James Books), Burt writes, “It stands far apart from most first books, and from most books of autobiographical or narrative poetry, for the unpredictable vigor in its rhythmically irregular lines, especially in its depictions of youthful adventures.”

A group of neuroscientists at the University of California in Berkeley have made language maps that show the regions in the brain where words’ meanings are located. To create the maps, researchers scanned the brains of subjects who listened to two hours of stories, and then looked at how each responded to certain words. They found that words with similar meanings lit up in similar areas of the brain. These findings “contradict two beliefs nonscientists commonly have about the brain. First, that only the left hemisphere handles language. Second, that the brain has localized regions that handle specific tasks.” (NPR)