Posts by: Theodora Messalas

Queering the Canon

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For VICE, Lindsay King-Miller examines the literary tradition of retelling and reworking classic stories and the importance of bringing queer arcs in particular to our old standbys:

Revisiting a story gives us an opportunity to explore universal experiences from the perspective of those who weren’t represented in the original, and nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s generation of young writers and artists bringing overt queerness into the literary canon.

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Arm’s Length

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With a deep understanding of colonizing narratives, Emma Bracy at Hazlitt assembles historical and personal snapshots to form a record of the ongoing dehumanizations that have led to this continuing moment of white violence against black and brown peoples:

My grandfather’s contributions to aeronautics had a permanent impact on the science and practice of human-powered objects literally flying through the air.

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We Tell Ourselves Stories to Tell Ourselves Stories

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It’s not like we can all launch a Kickstarter or write a book—there’ve been hundreds of books about the border, and we still have the same problem. So I get angry, and perhaps it’s less about my feeling that all this testimony is useless and more my way of raging against my own impotence toward the situations we’re living through.

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All Talk, No Action

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Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, pens an essay for Lit Hub pointing out the meagerness of diversity as a meaningful end goal for creative communities. He critiques the repeated use of diversity panels, as they merely benchmark the fact that we have not even managed bring that small goal to fruition and remain heavily reliant on the efforts and labors of writers of color:

The problem with me coming to the table to talk about diversity is the belief that I have some role to play in us accomplishing it, and I don’t.

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Notes from the Underground

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For Hazlitt, Hugh Ryan attempts to document the many personas of mid-1900s drag performer Malvina Schwartz, bringing color to the landmarks and styles of a queer world that sometimes threatens to be forgotten. Ultimately his work illustrates the piecemeal nature of queer historiography and the intermittently rewarding and disheartening detective work of pursuing these stories:

The history of that recording is a microcosm for queer history itself: fragmented, discontinuous, and surprising to the modern ear.

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The Story of A New Name

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Earlier this week, Aaron Brady wrote presciently in his column for The New Inquiry about the ethical implications of revealing Elena Ferrante’s identity. He pointed out that in searching for her “real” identity, reporters were forgetting that one of the greatest things about Elena Ferrante is her fictions, and that at the heart of it, they are still committing the unconscionable act of violating a woman’s privacy:

The Neopolitan novels are literally and directly and magnificently about female self-making, the importance of names, and the meaning of being a woman in public.

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Bittersweet Symphony

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Though it’s clichéd and maladaptive to cast mental illness as the wellspring of great writing, to write about one’s life honestly often means writing about one’s mental illness. In an essay for Catapult, Colin Dickey writes lushly about his experiences with depression, musing on the historical conceptions of melancholy and how perhaps our highly clinical and problematized category of depression could afford to be complicated by it:

What I called my depression is the feeling one gets as the world shades away, as though a silent wall of water is holding everything else at a remove.

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Intervening in the Everyday

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For BuzzFeed Reader, Tamerra Griffin speaks with Claudia Rankine—author of Citizen and recipient of one of this year’s MacArthur Genius fellowships—about police violence, forms of protest, and how she would have woven these topics into her acclaimed book had she been writing it this year:

I would have added images around many of these protests that have happened.

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I Know What You Read Last Summer

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More and more, book publishers are turning to data studies and algorithms to predict which kinds of books will sell. Susanne Althof, in a piece for WIRED, interrogates the wisdom of such an approach, speaking with people in the industry who worry it will compromise the diversity of books being put out and the tech leaders who insist that this is simply the future:

What Archer and Jockers have done is just one part of a larger movement in the publishing industry to replace gut instinct and wishful thinking with data.

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Passing in Football

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The fear of expulsion from that collective black-boy body, of being deemed not black enough or male enough or straight enough, counterfeit somehow, terrified me.

As football comes under increasing scrutiny from all sides, Frederick McKindra, over at BuzzFeed, pens a lyrical ode to the naive dance of masculinity he witnessed on his childhood football teams—and the particular intricacy of this dance for the black boys who found the sport to be one of the only places they can carve out space for themselves.

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Fear and Loathing

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For Lambda Literary, Christopher Soto talks with Brenda Shaughnessy about her new collection of poetry and how she relates to her writing as someone who is already four collections in. She outlines the ways in which her work has been shaped by embarrassment, her experiences within the queer community, and the importance of a writer unselfconsciously leaving herself open to new things:

But I found that I could use my embarrassment against itself: a new kind of fuck-you to an inner critic I hadn’t realized I’d been listening to my whole life.

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Stranger Than Fiction

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I read the Assistant Warden’s e-mail four or five times, but I still could not grasp its implications. All I could think about was the ten copies of Toni Morrison’s Beloved I had just bought.

For Lit Hub, Mikita Brottman details her experience having the book club she ran at the Jessup Correctional Facility be inexplicably terminated.

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In the Air Tonight

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Over at Guernica, Jennifer Baum explores the poetics and the politics of soot, interweaving stories of her childhood growing up in a deeply polluted New York with a timeline of environmental laws and stats:

The flakes of black soot, which drifted onto our terrace like snow was particulate matter comprised mostly of carbon and sulfur dioxide, the result of burning fossils fuels.

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“Specialists in All Styles”

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In an interview with Tobias Carroll for Men’s Journal, Teju Cole discusses his affinity for the work of writer and critic John Berger, and how that relationship has informed his own writing:

I think what we get from the artists, writers, musicians, photographers, and so on who we admire is a sense of encouragement or permission to go ahead and do whatever it is that was maybe latent in us already.

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Barbizon Revisited

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For Lit Hub, Nathan Hill takes us through the history of the Barbizon Hotel, recounting its role as an incubator for young women writers of the mid-20th century and as a landmark for those same writers to touch upon and mythologize in their work:

Beyond Plath’s infamous retelling, the Barbizon has a strong association in popular culture as a rite-of-passage for “small-town” girls trying to make it in Manhattan.

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By the People, for the People

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At Guernica, Tana Wojcznick unpacks Shakespeare’s lesser-known and often-misread play, Coriolanus, to bring us s its timely political warning about populism and democracy:

It’s no accident that Coriolanus is not a favorite in America, where it’s rarely included in the mini-canon of plays each generation tends to play and re-play (such as King Lear today or Romeo and Juliet in the 1990’s).

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On the Road

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In his monthly series “The Lives of Others” over at the Paris Review, Edward White introduces us to globe-trotting Turkish writer, Evliya Çelebi, and the esoteric but lively book of travel stories he penned almost four centuries ago:

Evliya so adored the bustling energy of Istanbul that he dedicated the first volume of the Seyahatname to it.

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You Are Here

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Nabokov understood the seduction of maps as a way of ordering the fantastic, the disorderly, the sometimes contradictory nature of description, a visual aid to the internal eye.

For Lit Hub, Susan Daitch gives a sweeping textual overview of the ways in which different authors have used maps to enrich their work, demonstrating how they have been deployed to gain insight into both the imaginations of others and the realities at hand.

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A Eulogy for the Eulogy

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Twentieth century philosopher J.L. Austin asked in his writing what words and phrases could do in their utterance. In this tradition, Nick Ripatrazone examines Morgan Meis and Stefanie Anne Goldberg’s fictionalized eulogy collection, Dead People, to find out what the memorializing of public figures like Kurt Cobain and Christopher Hitchens actually do in their tellings, and how the eulogy as a genre can be turned on its head.

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A Poem That Sounds Like How the World Is

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In an interview at Lit Hub, Tommy Pico speaks candidly about the forces that drive his poetic process, the ways in which we police one another’s poetry with our preconceived notions of the genre, and the subsequent importance of writing in your own personal voice:

Life is weird and dumb and restrictive, but a poem can be whatever the hell you want it to be for god’s sake.

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It Was an Honor Just to Be Nominated

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We would all love to pretend that we’re above the euphoric rush of gaining approval. But winning feels good, and writing that truth in its fullness is a key step to understanding it. For the Guardian, Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses his novel The Sympathizer and describes the fascinating sensation of learning that he had won the Pulitzer Prize:

I was writing emails when Facebook and Twitter began beeping and pinging, telling me that Something Very Important had happened.

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Sorry, Who?

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Pop culture has been a steadfast element of public life for a while, but it feels like lately there’s even more pressure to keep up with a certain caché of writers, movies, TV shows, artists, and events. At The Hairpin, Rosa Lyster turns this impulse on its head and gives us an out with the Žižek game:

This is the beating heart of the Žižek Game: the disbelief that something you care about has failed to register on the consciousness of another.

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