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Tom Wolfe: Fiction, Journalism, and Legacy

By Brian Hoey. May 16, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Literature

Tom Wolfe, acclaimed journalist and writer, has died at the age of 88. In his honor, we revisit his life and work today. The prospect of writing a blog post on Tom Wolfe and his influence is daunting. The man who has been such a presence in the world of American letters these past forty years, having authored The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), looms large, not just over a new generation of writers and journalists, but over the blogosphere in particular. He did, after all, call out blogs for being "a universe of rumors," citing Wikipedia in particular as being an institution that only "a primitive could believe a word of." How a primitive could successfully navigate all the way to Wikipedia may be a good inquiry for another time, but the pressing question still remains: how do you blog about the man who hated blogs?

     
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Hawthorne Heights: How John Updike Rewrote "The Scarlet Letter"

By Brian Hoey. Mar 16, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

Remember the film Easy A (2010), in which Emma Stone stars as a high-school student ostracized for her (invented) promiscuity? In the film, Stone’s character eventually takes to wearing a read letter “A” on her person in reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s seminal novel of adultery and Puritanism, The Scarlet Letter (1850), on which the film’s screenplay is partially based. In one sense, it’s amazing that Hawthorne’s novel, which was one of America’s first important literary works, continues to assert its cultural relevance in the 21st century. In another sense, though, we really oughtn’t be surprised. After all, there have been numerous instances of artists updating The Scarlet Letter for contemporary audiences. In one particular such instance, “contemporary” meant 1988, and the artist was the revered John Updike. 

     
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Teju Cole and the Art of the Twitter Novel

By Audrey Golden. Feb 28, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Literature, Book History

What defines a novel or a short story? In the age of e-books, novels and short stories clearly don’t need to be physical objects with pages that you hold in your hands. But must these works take certain forms? Certainly, many writers from the early twentieth century and onward have pushed the boundaries of the literary form, from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), which was initially published as short-story pieces and poems in various journals, to a work like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979) or Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000). Of course, if we’re being honest, books like Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) pushed similar formal boundaries decades earlier. Yet those texts share at least one thing in common: if you want to buy a hard copy, you can still do so. What about novels that require social media platforms in order to exist? We’re thinking specifically about Teju Cole’s “Hafiz” (2014), a work published in its entirety on Twitter, one tweet at a time.

     
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Four Interesting Facts About John Steinbeck

By Matt Reimann. Feb 27, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

There were only two authors whose work I encountered in each year of high school: Shakespeare and John Steinbeck. His novellas like The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, his novels The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, even his inspiring Nobel address, informed my burgeoning understanding of what an American writer sought to accomplish and examine. Steinbeck turned his attention and sympathy toward that majority of people—those who toil, who care for their family, who seek joy and exaltation in however rare supply those delights may be. His style, mixing the merits of both American plainspokenness and figurative language, comforts me whenever I need to pull something off the shelf.

     
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Anaïs Nin's Struggle for Success

By Adrienne Rivera. Feb 21, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

Anaïs Nin, born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in 1903, was the daughter of Cuban expats living in France. Though her early life was spent in Spain and France, her family moved to the United States when she was young. All of Nin's work was written and published in English. As a diarist, novelist, short story writer, and critic, Nin was embraced by the feminist movement in the 1960s, bringing a renewed interest to the craft she had honed her entire life. But before this recognition, Nin struggled to achieve any kind of success, self-publishing four out of the nine books she published in her lifetime. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for her work throughout the majority of her life and a scandal that erupted after her death that caused a temporary cessation in the publication of her work, she is today regarded as a feminist icon and pioneer in the melding of fiction and autobiography. She is likewise celebrated for her bold depictions of sex, abortion, incest, and other topics that were at the time taboo.

     
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In Their Own Words: Books to Be Inspired by on President's Day

By Matt Reimann. Feb 19, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature

The British have had ripe occasion recently to appreciate a leader whose oratory and philosophy were integral to his ability to improve the world. With movies like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour and TV shows like The Crown, memories of Winston Churchill, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, sting all the more sharply as they are juxtaposed against what many view as the failures of some of our current leaders to live up to truly noble aspirations. It's always good to remember our presidents and statesmen who led with a certain moral obligation, integrity of character, humanistic concern, and displayed a talent for language.

     
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Autobiography from the Civil Rights Movement

By Audrey Golden. Jan 31, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature, History

Have you been following news about civil rights activism on social media and in your community? Are you wondering more about how current protests for equality have ties to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in America, as well as similar movements in other parts of the world? We want to say up front that we couldn’t possible write about, in a short article, all of the significant biographies and autobiographies that concern leaders of civil rights and freedom movements in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. With that being said, we have selected a handful of texts that we think are not only important to read, but also offer interesting and distinct modes of autobiography from the Civil Rights Movement.

     
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Book Collecting: Taschen’s Limited Letterpress Edition of The Fire Next Time

By Audrey Golden. Jan 19, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, American Literature

James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) was published for the first time over 50 years ago. To commemorate its original publication, and to remind readers of its continued significance in the twenty-first century, Taschen released a letterpress edition of the book, which includes more than 100 photographs taken by Steve Schapiro. As a photographer for Life magazine, Schapiro traveled through the American South with Baldwin and captured images from the Civil Rights movement, including pictures from Selma and from the March on Washington. In addition to Baldwin’s texts and Schapiro’s photos, this letterpress edition of The Fire Next Time also includes an introduction from U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 while serving as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The edition also contains some of Schapiro’s stories from his travels with Baldwin, as well as an essay by Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Baldwin Karefa-Smart.

     
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Philip Roth, Philip K. Dick, and the Man in the High Castle

By Audrey Golden. Jan 6, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

What would our world look like if the Axis powers had won World War II? How would our daily lives have been transformed if the United States had been sympathetic to Nazi Germany? Posing “what if” questions about World War II and its aftermath has been popular among some of America’s most widely read authors. Notably, both Philip K. Dick and Philip Roth have imagined alternate histories in which Nazi Germany won the war. While the series The Man in the High Castle takes its title and storyline directly from Dick’s novel of the same name, we’d like to explore the literary precursors to the show and to consider the ways in which writers wield great power in the writing (and rewriting) of our histories.

     
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The Schomburg Center Purchases James Baldwin Archive

Are you familiar with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture? If not, you should be. It’s a division of the New York Public Library (NYPL) system, located on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. The Schomburg Center has a Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division that is open to researchers, in addition to divisions devoted to art and artifacts, moving images, recorded sound, and photographs, among others. There are a lot of good reasons to visit the Schomburg, but today we want to tell you about a recent addition: James Baldwin’s archive.

     
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