Jamel Brinkley Recommends...

“I’m beginning to realize that the primary engine of my writing may be loneliness. I don’t want to recommend loneliness, however. So what I’ll say is that there are certain works I return to that make me want to write, that never fail to punch me in the gut and wash out my eyes. The scene near the end of ‘Old Boys, Old Girls’ by Edward P. Jones, in which Caesar attends to the body and room of Yvonne, his former lover, provides the ache and clarity I mean. Or the essay ‘Documents’ by Charles D’Ambrosio. Or Raptus (Penguin Books, 2010) by Joanna Klink. Or ‘A Day’ by William Trevor, which completes itself like this: ‘He is gentle when he carries her, as he always is.’ Or listen to ‘Gold Boy, Emerald Girl’ by Yiyun Li: ‘They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.’ It’s not that these immediately get the sentences flowing again; many times I’ll reread them, or others among my favorites, and afterwards I’ll still fail to set down even a word. It’s that they prevent me from succumbing to numbness and despair, even as they take me into what are often the deepest depths of sadness. They make me feel, in powerful ways that shift writing back into the realm of the possible, which, for me, is enough.”
—Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man (Graywolf Press, 2018)