Old School

9.26.19

The abacus: a time-tested tool or outdated artifact? A recent New York Times article showcased an annual abacus tournament in Kyoto with competitors ranging in age from eight to sixty-nine years old. Children across Japan were taught proficiency in using the tool for calculations until the early 1970s, but since then instruction has been cut down to a couple of hours of basic use during elementary school, though advocates are pushing for reinstatement. Think of an object, tool, or method that you currently use that might be considered old-fashioned. Write an essay that reflects on why you continue to use this method. What are its drawbacks and advantages?

National Book Award Longlists Announced

Last week the National Book Foundation released the longlists for the 2019 National Book Awards. The awards are presented annually for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translated literature, and young people’s literature published between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Ten semifinalists have been nominated in each award category; the finalists, who will each receive a $1,000 prize, will be revealed on October 8. The winning authors will each receive $10,000 and will be announced at an awards ceremony in New York City on November 20.

The semifinalists in poetry:
Dan Beachy-Quick for Variations on Dawn and Dusk (Omnidawn Publishing)
Jericho Brown for The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press)
Toi Derricotte for “I”: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Camonghne Felix for Build Yourself a Boat (Haymarket Books)
Carmen Giménez Smith for Be Recorder (Graywolf Press)
Ilya Kaminsky for Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press)
Ariana Reines for A Sand Book (Tin House Books)
Mary Ruefle for Dunce (Wave Books)
Arthur Sze for Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press)
Brian Teare for Doomstead Days (Nightboat Books)

The semifinalists in fiction:
Taffy Brodesser-Akner for Fleishman Is in Trouble (Random House)
Susan Choi for Trust Exercise (Henry Holt)
Kali Fajardo-Anstine for Sabrina & Corina: Stories (One World)
Marlon James for Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Riverhead Books)
Laila Lalami for The Other Americans (Pantheon Books)
Kimberly King Parsons for Black Light: Stories (Vintage)
Helen Phillips for The Need (Simon & Schuster)
Julia Phillips for Disappearing Earth (Knopf)
Ocean Vuong for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press)
Colson Whitehead for The Nickel Boys (Doubleday)

The semifinalists in nonfiction:
Hanif Abdurraqib for Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (University of Texas Press)
Sarah M. Broom for The Yellow House (Grove Press)
Tressie McMillan Cottom for Thick: And Other Essays (New Press)
Carolyn Forché for What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press)
Greg Grandin for The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (Metropolitan Books)
Patrick Radden Keefe for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Doubleday)
Iliana Regan for Burn the Place: A Memoir (Agate Midway)
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor for Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (University of North Carolina Press)
David Treuer for The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (Riverhead Books)
Albert Woodfox with Leslie George for Solitary (Grove Press)

The semifinalists in translated literature:
Naja Marie Aidt for When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book translated by Denise Newman (Coffee House Press)
Eliane Brum for The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty (Graywolf Press)
Nona Fernández for Space Invaders translated by Natasha Wimmer (Graywolf Press)
Vigdis Hjorth for Will and Testament translated by Charlotte Barslund (Verso Fiction)
Khaled Khalifa for Death Is Hard Work translated by Leri Price (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
László Krasznahorkai for Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming translated by Ottilie Mulzet (New Directions)
Scholastique Mukasonga for The Barefoot Woman translated by Jordan Stump (Archipelago Books)
Yoko Ogawa for The Memory Police translated by Stephen Snyder (Pantheon Books)
Pajtim Statovci for Crossing translated by David Hackston (Pantheon Books)
Olga Tokarczuk for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Riverhead Books)

The semifinalists in young people’s literature:
Kwame Alexander
and Kadir Nelson for The Undefeated (Versify)
Laurie Halse Anderson for Shout (Viking Books for Young Readers)
Akwaeke Emezi for Pet (Make Me a World)
Cynthia Kadohata for A Place to Belong (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
Jason Reynolds for Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks (Atheneum)
Randy Ribay for Patron Saints of Nothing (Kokila)
Laura Ruby for Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (Balzer + Bray)
Martin W. Sandler for 1919: The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Hal Schrieve for Out of Salem (Triangle Square)
Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw for Kiss Number 8 (First Second Books)

Mixing It Up

I have been speaking to numerous venue owners in Detroit about what it means to host a series in the city. Open mics allow for a variety of artists to take the stage while I have seen other shows and reading series offer a workshop afterwards. These are the shows that introduced me to the world of poetry. It’s been enlightening to explore all the different literary series offered in Detroit and to see how they impact audiences.

Recently I had a conversation with Dan Wickett, a local poet and event organizer, about hosting the Brain Candy series. The series showcases one poet, one prose writer, a musician, and a visual artist performing together at the local comic bookstore Green Brain Comics. When asked about how he chooses the artists and curates events, Wickett says that his hope is for audiences to find something unexpected to enjoy. “I’m exposing different art forms to those that show up to see a painter or a musician,” he says. “I’m also hoping to develop a community of artists that helps each other, supports each other’s events, and that finds hints of their own work in those around them.”

Brain Candy is presented by Green Brain Comics and the Emerging Writers Network, and has shows every third Monday of the month. For more information on events in your area, and to post your own, visit the Literary Events Calendar.

A reading for the Green Book Comics Brain Candy series.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Talking to Strangers

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“A stranger is someone who we know in only one dimension.” Malcolm Gladwell talks to the Economist’s Anne McElvoy about his latest book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know (Little, Brown, 2019), in which he examines how interactions between strangers often go wrong using high-profile cases such as the trial of Amanda Knox and the death of Sandra Bland as examples.

Agree to Disagree

9.19.19

The summer season is always ripe for trends that pair with warm weather like beaded necklaces, tie-dye T-shirts, and the bright orange Aperol Spritz cocktail. Some might revel in what’s in vogue, and others might scoff at the buzz. Now that the fall equinox is just around the corner, reflect on what’s been all the rage and pen a humorous essay declaring a controversial opinion about something trivial but trendy. Consider the reasons behind the proliferation of the fad of your choosing—Cronuts, standing desks, axe throwing bars—and then discuss why you find the craze overrated, absurd, or downright dangerous while interjecting personal history and experiences.

Applications Open for Black Mountain Institute Shearing Fellowships

Applications are now open for the Black Mountain Institute Shearing Fellowships. Hosted at the institute’s home at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the fellowships each include a $20,000 stipend, free housing in downtown Las Vegas, work space at the institute’s campus offices, and eligibility for health care coverage. The upcoming fellowships will take place during the 2020–2021 academic year; candidates may apply for residencies of one or two semesters. While the fellowship has no formal teaching requirements, incoming fellows will be expected to maintain a regular in-office presence and to engage with the Black Mountain Institute literary community.

The fellowship is open to emerging and distinguished writers who have published at least one critically-acclaimed book of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. Recent fellows include Hanif Abdurraqib, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Tayari Jones, Ahmed Naji, and Claire Vaye Watkins.

Using only the online application system, submit a one- to two-page cover letter, a ten-page writing sample, and a résumé or curriculum vitae by November 1. Finalists will be asked to submit copies of their books. There is no application fee. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute is “an international literary center dedicated to bringing writers and the literary imagination into the heart of public life.” Located within the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the institute is home to the Believer, a bimonthly magazine of literature, arts, and culture.

Photo: 2018–2019 fellow Claire Vaye Watkins

A Million Little Pieces

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A Million Little Pieces (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003), the controversial and fabricated best-selling memoir by James Frey, has been adapted into a feature film directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Odessa Young, the film focuses on the life of a young writer seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

The Illegible Layer

9.12.19

In Marguerite Duras’s 1985 essay, “Reading on the Train,” from the collection Me & Other Writing (Dorothy, a publishing project, 2019), translated from the French by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan, Duras writes about reading the first half of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace while on a train and feeling that in speeding through the story, she’d sacrificed a more intense, less narrative-driven understanding of the book. “I had realized that day and forever after that a book was contained between two layers superimposed with writing, the legible layer that I had read that day as I traveled and the other, inaccessible.” Write an essay about a beloved piece of literature in which you discuss both the legible layer and attempt to decipher or articulate a deeper resonance of the writing. What can you glimpse—in the story and in yourself—when you delve beyond the literal reading?

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