I recently had the chance to sit down with Abdellah Taïa and Chiké Frankie Edozien at the CUNY Graduate Center for an evening of discussion put together by Words Without Borders, Belladonna* Series, and Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. It was an absolute honor––Taïa and Edozien are talented, fiercely passionate writers whose work challenges political and social boundaries. Video of the event is now available and you should also check out their work!
Earlier this week, I interviewed South Korean human rights activist Do Hee-yun– the person said to be responsible for helping the manuscript of “The Accusation” escape North Korea– at the New York Public Library. He told me that he hoped to make contact with the author, Bandi again this spring, and– incredibly– that he believed the stories in “The Accusation” may actually have been the work of not just one writer, but a group of writers (!). That conversation was part of an extraordinary evening, with readings from Min Jin Lee and Heinz Insu Fenkl, and a performance from the opera-in-progress based on one of Bandi’s stories. (UPDATE: Audio and video of the event are now online.) Here’s my original piece on “The Accusation” for The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-collection-of-north-korean-stories-and-the-mystery-of-their-origins
I recently got to spend an evening at Columbia University’s j-school moderating a conversation between novelists Hirsh Sawhney (author of South Haven) and Akhil Sharma (author, most recently, of Family Life) for the South Asian Journalists Association. They’ve both written intensely dark books about death/loss and dysfunctional families, so I’m not sure why we’re all grinning ear to ear, but it was very nice to talk with them.
I interviewed Daniel Mendelsohn for Virginia Magazine. It was a treat to sit down with a critic whose work I’ve admired for a long time and talk about how he approaches his work. The headline comes from his take on Love Actually. I’ve always loathed that movie, but on his urging, I’m going to try to let my guard down next Christmas when it’s on TV.
Do you believe in “guilty pleasures” of cultural consumption?
I really do believe that the high-low distinction is more invidious than not. The aesthetic components of “guilt”-inducing pleasures are usually melodrama and sentimentality. I have a great aversion to the aversion to sentimentality. To me, what made Mad Men unbearable was its own incredible overweening need to be cool. And because it was so cool and so cynical about everything, I just didn’t care about it, whereas in the first five minutes of watching Friday Night Lights, I thought I was going to die if I didn’t know those people were going to be okay.
Why not love something like Love Actually? What’s so terrible about just caving into your crazy human heart every now and then? You don’t always have to be armored.
Licensed NYC tour guide Joseph Alexiou walked me along the symphonically stinky Gowanus Canal and discussed his new book, Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal. Hear my WNYC story here.
If you’ve clicked through any “best books of the year” lists– like The New York Times‘, the Wall Street Journal‘s, NPR ‘s, or the Atlantic‘s– you may have noticed a title which made all of them: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg.
The buzz around City on Fire began back in 2013, when Knopf acquired it for nearly $2 million. Once it’s invested big in a book, how does a publisher ensure that it succeeds?
Here’s her story, which aired on WNYC last week:
Tomorrow night at The Greene Space, I’ll be hosting a conversation with three particularly brave and brilliant Muslim-American New Yorkers who have each made tremendous journeys– with their families, and alone; across the world, and deep into their own hearts.
Sadia Shepard is the author of The Girl from Foreign: A Memoir, in which she investigates her grandmother’s childhood among the Bene Israel, the small Jewish community she belonged to in Mumbai before converting to Islam when she married.
Comedian and performer Alaudin Ullah has been featured on HBO, Comedy Central, MTV, BET and PBS. His one-man show “Dishwasher Dreams” is the story of how his father, a Bengali steamship worker, landed in New York in the 1920s.
Kenan Trebincevic was born in a town called Brcko in what today is Bosnia and Herzegovina to a Bosnian Muslim family in 1980. He came to the United States in 1993 while his country was in the midst of war, went to college in Connecticut, and became an American citizen in 2001. He is the author of a memoir, The Bosnia List.
UPDATE: Video of the event is now online! http://livestream.com/thegreenespace/events/4083076
I recently spent a glorious spring afternoon with Gregory Pardlo, the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in poetry. We chatted on his stoop, and then we walked to a few of the neighborhood spots that feature prominently in his poetry– including the Fulton Street Foodtown, which is the setting for his poem “Problema 3.” There, we talked about Baltimore, Toya Graham and being a black parent. Hear my story for The Takeaway and listen to him read and discuss a few other poems on The Takeaway’s site.
UPDATE: A second version of the story I filed for the WNYC newsroom is now online too. In it, we talk about the changing visual landscape of his neighborhood, and why his young daughters have mixed feelings about his Pulitzer.
I reviewed The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits and Ongoingness: The End of a Diary Sarah Manguso– and reflected on my own diary-keeping habits– over at The Los Angeles Review of Books. The essay starts like this:
TODAY I DUG OUT an old diary from one of the large cardboard boxes that my husband and I never unpacked after our last move. It’s a spiral notebook with a multicolored cover. Thin lines of text, written in a black Pilot Precise pen, fill its pages, and my handwriting is narrow and mostly neat. The diary begins in the spring of 2005, a few months before I moved to New York. Flipping through it, I hoped to find some observation from my first hours, days, or weeks in New York — some early impression of the city that might foreshadow how the place would shape me.