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Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: The Closing of the Russian Mind?

The Closing of the Russian Mind

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! Last night, Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar attended “The Closing of the Russian Mind? Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia,” sponsored by PEN America (watch the video here). She wrote up a brief reaction to the event for today’s post.

The Closing of the Russian Mind?
By Christine Dunbar

Last night I attended a PEN America-sponsored event at the Manhattan JCC titled “The Closing of the Russian Mind? Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia.” These events are always a little surreal. All six people on stage—headliner Ludmila Ulitskaya, novelist Anna Nemzer, poet Maria Stepanova, publisher Ilya Danishevsky, moderator Masha Gessen, and the interpreter—were native speakers of Russian, and only Gessen is bilingual. The audience was comprised of at least 80% native or heritage speakers, and I revised that estimate down during the closing Q and A. In my immediate vicinity in the top row of the sold out event, I saw only two other non-native speakers. The desire to reach a wide public, however, necessitates an English-language event. So you have either very smart, very eloquent people attempting to express complex ideas, on the fly, in a second (or third, for all I know) language in which they are highly, impressively competent but far from fluent (Nemzer, Stepanova) or you use an interpreter (Ulitskaya, Danishevsky), and most of the audience hears the same thing twice. If you are lucky, they are polite about it, keeping quiet while they mentally quibble with the interpreter’s word choices, which is easy to do when you don’t have to consider syntax, grammatical agreement, or cultural references. (How, for instance, is the poor interpreter to render Ulitskaya’s seemingly simply statement, “We have the kitchen again,” where the kitchen is a cultural shorthand for, well, literally sitting in the kitchen, which becomes the central location of cultural life, a place where poems are read, songs are sung, and issues are debated, in the absence of a functional public square?) If you are unlucky, the audience loses patience, and the whispering starts. It’s a bind, and one I saw no way out of, until today.

Of the six people on the stage, other than the aforementioned beleaguered interpreter, Ilya Danishevsky is probably the least well known. And he seemed the least comfortable. But he was a masterful performer. He spoke with animation and conviction, but softly, forcing the auditorium to quiet in order to hear him. But to me, most impressive was his orchestration of the interpretation, which tended toward short statements with frequent pauses, allowing him to retain control of the momentum throughout his statement, rather than losing it after each three or four sentence block. The high point, however, was his use of the interpretation to create an enjambment, when he says something along the lines of “we are speaking about the Russian landscape, and for me, this landscape is connected to two concepts” and then he signals for the interpreter to take over, forcing the audience to wait to find out what those two concepts are. (Fear and solipsism, in case you are curious.) I had noticed before that a practiced public speaker, used to working with an interpreter, could make the process seem less onerous for everyone involved, but I had never before witnessed a speaker using the very fact of interpretation as a rhetorical device. I’m looking forward to checking out more of Danishevsky’s work.

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Book Giveaway! We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

“In these essays there is a lovely sense of witnessing a brilliant and judicious mind at work. Shirley Hazard has a way of finding the right phrase, and capturing a tone and a rhythm, that offer a sort of sensuous pleasure to the reader. She cares passionately about writing, the life of the mind but also the public realm. As in her novels, her essays display the quality of her sympathy, her ability to make distinctions as well as connections, and her acute analysis. She is an inspiring presence in our literary life, and having these essays is both a gift and a revelation.” — Colm Tóibín

This week, our featured book is We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard, edited with an introduction by Brigitta Olubas. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

“In Sebald one encounters an ethics of melancholy outrage” — Carol Jacobs on W. G. Sebald

Sebald's Vision, Carol Jacobs

“In Sebald one encounters an ethics of melancholy outrage, but he also sets forth his moral position with an astonishing sense of self-certitude.”—Carol Jacobs

In the following excerpt from the preface to Sebald’s Vision, Carol Jacobs details some of the distinctive features of W. G. Sebald’s fiction:

Three aspects of Sebald’s writing must inevitably strike every reader. To begin with, it is a question of a postwar German author addressing the Holocaust (and other historico-political and ecologi­cal disasters) in a manner the reading public had never before wit­nessed. In Sebald one encounters an ethics of melancholy outrage, but he also sets forth his moral position with an astonishing sense of self-certitude.

Second: every reader is struck by the visual oddity of literary and essayistic works peppered with images: photographs, documents, diagrams, sketches, and reproductions of artworks. The temptation, of course, is to assume that, given the ethical stance, the visual materials are there as illustrations. In Sebald’s writings one soon notices that this assumption is particularly vexed, since he openly plays with the purposeful uncertainty of what he places be­fore our eyes. The visual materials, as Sebald admits in an interview, often serve the purpose of readerly disorientation. And then one en­counters in each of his writings an astonishingly innovative writing style. Given his performances of meandering detours, his shatter­ing of frames, crossing borders, writing tangentially, disintegrating the name, surreptitiously citing, and announcing blindness, what is called for is a careful analysis of the highly unusual literary practices of his texts. How to reconcile such a radical stylistics with moral cer­titude? This is the question. How to understand, as Sebald will assert in interviews, that he can only speak indirectly? The task in reading Sebald, then, is to account for a whole range of concepts: what Sebald called our moral capacity alongside the vagaries of perception and, more generally, how representation in art and literature relates to the epistemological crises that he shows us arising out of the juxtaposi­tion of all these.

That his writings are about vision as the ability to see can escape no reader. Alongside the unusual, interspersed visual materials that rightfully engage so many Sebald scholars a theme of sight is oft en woven into the text. In “Air War and Literature” Sebald reproves those writers who directly witnessed the Allied bombings. What was called for was a steady gaze at what was before them (“Air War”) rendered in a concrete prose that might make the reader see. Still in The Rings of Saturn the narrator will celebrate not only Rembrandt’s verisimilitude but also his rebellion against mimesis. That refusal to copy nature emerges as Rembrandt’s social commentary. Sebald also writes of the remark­able realism of the art of Jan Peter Tripp, while nevertheless insisting that it is less its identity with reality that is worth considering than the “far less apparent points of divergence and difference”. In a late interview, Sebald will go on to insist that the Holocaust, which so concerned him, can only be spoken of indirectly: “So the only way in which one can approach these things, in my view, is obliquely, tangentially, by reference rather than by di­rect confrontation.” These are atrocities, he often takes the opportu­nity to remind us, that he himself, in any case, born in 1944, could not possibly have experienced head-on.

The degree to which written texts are called upon to see and report a factual or historical world of the artist’s experience fluctuates wildly in Sebald’s works and, more crucially, also within each individual work. In the texts we are about to read, neat conclusions about vision-of-the-eye are impossible. And then we encounter the prolific acts of citation, both visual and verbal, that are bound to seem twenty-twenty from a certain point of view. As we all know, however—and no one better than Sebald—the play of montage alters the incorporated material and puts it into new relations that cause us to see and read otherwise.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Rebecca Walkowitz on Writing in Translation

In the following video, Rebecca Walkowitz discusses her new book Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. In this section of her talk from the Novel: A Forum on Fiction conference, Walkowitz discusses writing in translation:

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Will the New Man Booker International Prize Challenge English’s Dominance in World Literature?

Born Translated, by Rebecca Walkowitz

“Upgrading the status of translators, the prize upgrades the status of multilingualism. It also upgrades the status of translations. No longer merely derivations or adaptations of original works, translated editions will be assessed as works in their own right.”—Rebecca Walkowitz on the new Man Booker Prize for Translated Fiction

The following post is by Rebecca Walkowitz, author of Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature

Earlier this month, the organizers of the Man Booker International Prize announced that they are scrapping the old prize, recognizing the career of a single novelist working in any language, and launching a new prize for a single novel translated into English. So, next year, we’ll have the Man Booker Prize, which celebrates the best novel published in English and also written in English. And we’ll have the Man Booker International Prize, which celebrates the best novel published in English translated from another language. What are the consequences of this change?

The new International Prize is likely to increase the visibility of translated books. All but two of the past International Prize winners have been English-language novelists. That group is no longer eligible, so the Man Booker’s enormous publicity machine will be focused at least half the time on writers who work in other languages. Greater publicity for translated books, it is hoped, will lead to a greater number of readers for those books. Not simply celebrating excellent translations, the Man Booker organizers want to increase the number of foreign-language works contracted by UK publishers.

To be sure, the new Prize is a boon for “foreign” writers, by which they mean writers who use languages other than English. But the organizers also have local readers and local publishing houses in mind. They want English-language readers to have more translations to choose from because they believe that reading books from other languages will help British citizens compete with their more worldly European neighbors. In this sense, the new International Prize, for all its cosmopolitanism, also has nationalist motives: the education of English-only readers. Of course, it may be that reading novels in translation will lead some people to learn additional languages and to think about English as one language among many.

In my view, the new Prize is likely encourage that kind of thinking not because it rewards foreign books but because it rewards translators of foreign books. The prize money (£50,000) will be split evenly between authors and translators, who will share credit for the production of the translated work. Upgrading the status of translators, the prize upgrades the status of multilingualism. It also upgrades the status of translations. No longer merely derivations or adaptations of original works, translated editions will be assessed as works in their own right. Readers will be asked to notice (instead of forget) that the work they are reading was brought from another language.


Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Interview with Rebecca Walkowitz, author of Born Translated

Born Translated, by Rebecca Walkowitz

“For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a ‘native language,’ and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected ‘world literature’ to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature…”—Rebecca Walkowitz

In Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, Rebecca L. Walkowitz argues that translation should be understood as the engine rather than the caboose of literary history. She analyzes the ways in which contemporary novelists such as J. M. Coetzee and Jamaica Kincaid incorporate the themes, forms, structure, and visual devices of translation in their works to tell this story.

Question: What is a “born-translated” novel?

Rebecca Walkowitz: I call some contemporary novels “born-translated” because they have been published simultaneously, or almost simultaneously (within a few weeks or months), in several different languages. For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a “native language,” and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected “world literature” to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature—and this is especially true for novels that are written in English. In my book, I am interested in how Anglophone novels have begun to reflect on this situation, embedding their existence as translated works into the stories they tell and even into their structure and style.

Q: How does this affect the way contemporary novels are written?

RW: From the perspective of fiction-writing, the fact that novels will appear in translation right away has changed the way writers use language. Kazuo Ishiguro has talked about his efforts to design his books around structure and narrative architecture rather than around individual phrases or puns. David Mitchell’s novels often tell us about the presence of foreign languages on the page rather than representing them directly (through direct quotation or inflected dialogue). We can see in Ishiguro’s and Mitchell’s novels a focus on narrating languages—describing their relationship to other languages, explaining how they circulate and who can use them, observing which characters understand them and which don’t—rather than a focus on playing with them or reproducing their characteristics on the page. Ben Lerner has noted that his novel Leaving the Atocha Station, about a young American’s experience of learning Spanish in Madrid, emphasizes the encounter with a language one does not understand rather than the “surface effects” of that language. In Jamaica Kincaid’s work, the reader is asked to think about the words they are not reading, because they have been spoken or thought by someone who does not have access to literacy or publication. These novels represent the different ways that characters speak English and other languages by explaining those differences, by telling us about the historical and political conditions of language education, and by developing generic, syntactical, and visual cues that can communicate multilingualism in multiple languages.


Monday, June 29th, 2015

Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature

Columbia University Press  Russian Flag

We were very excited to read today’s New York Times included an article on our ambitious and very exciting new series of Russian literature in translation. The series, tentatively titled the Russian Library (on Twitter at @RusLibrary) will publish dozens of works in modern Russian literature as selected by the Press and a committee of Russian and American scholars.

While the first books are unlikely to be published until after 2017, the books will include some modern classics in need of new translations with a majority of the titles being contemporary and post-Soviet works. In addition to bringing these works to the attention of English-language readers, the hope is that the series will also contribute to improving relations between the United States and Russia. Stephanie Sandler, a professor in the Slavic Department at Harvard University and one of several American professors to travel to Moscow for the conference, commented:

Think about the good work that can be done by making available a wide variety of perspectives on Russia both from the past and the present. For many of us, the reason to be involved in the project and have it happen precisely at what would seem this inauspicious, high-tension political moment, is that we can start to find bridges between the two cultures and ways to talk to each other.

The series will also help develop a canon for more recent Russian literature, a project that’s not without its challenges as Caryl Emerson, a professor of Slavic Literature at Princeton University, explains:

Part of the problem is the delicacy of trying to define a future canon. The past is established. The Russians take their identity from what they read. What happens when you have a traumatic regime shift? People want things out there that are not known in the West but at what point are they worthy of being known?


Thursday, May 14th, 2015

On the making of trout amandine and cauliflower gratin, an excerpt from “The Author and Me”

The Author and Me

In this week’s Thursday Fiction Corner, we continue our celebration of The Author and Me, written by Éric Chevillard and translated by Jordan Stump, which has been named as a finalist for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction! Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from the book which truly gets to the heart of the story: the contrast between the delicate and delightful preparation of trout amandine and the brutal and horrifying cooking (if one can use a word with such limited negative connotations to describe the process) of cauliflower gratin. Bask in the glory of the description of the first, and shiver in fear at the description of the second:

On the making of trout amandine and cauliflower gratin, an excerpt from The Author and Me
By Éric Chevillard, translated by Jordan Stump

So you begin, of course, by cleaning the trout, through the gills if you know what you’re doing, or more simply by making an inch-long incision in its belly, starting from the anus, taking care not to puncture the bile sac, lest you impregnate the fish’s pink, delicate flesh with a bitterness it succeeded in containing better than I, I must confess, Mademoiselle, but I have my reasons. Now rinse your trout, with care once again: there are sometimes little clots of blood still clinging to the spine. Cut off the fins, slash the end of the tail to prevent it from curling up in the frying pan like a scorpion’s, which would introduce into your lunch a note of aggression that will sooner or later be sounded by one of your tablemates anyway—whereupon you will lower your nose to your plate to find the exquisite tenderness your fellows deny you. Next, melt a tablespoon and a half of butter in a frying pan and, in another, dry roast a half cup of sliced almonds, stirring them gently with a wooden spatula. In your enthusiasm, you will have grown a third hand for snipping the parsley. Lower the heat under the first pan and, while in the other the almonds turn golden, brown your trouts (I put in two: I’d like one myself), dusted with flour and perhaps stuffed with a sprig of thyme. After eight minutes—men will have been born by the thousands, men will have died, that will give you a sense of those minutes’ import—turn the fish, salt and pepper the browned side, and add the parsley along with half the almonds. Let a few more minutes go by, turn the fish once again, scatter over the reserved almonds, drizzle the whole thing with the remaining butter and a little spray of lemon.

What do you think?

How much we’d have to say, if it weren’t rude to talk with your mouth full!


Whereas that woman.

Whereas, quite to the contrary, that woman.

Whereas, quite to the contrary, that woman began by dividing a cauliflower into little florets! (more…)

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Friday Fiction Corner: Éric Chevillard, the Best Translated Book Awards, and Cauliflower

The Author and Me

Congratulations to Éric Chevillard, Jordan Stump, and the team at Dalkey Archive Press! Chevillard’s The Author and Me has been named as a finalist for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction!

The last line of Éric Chevillard’s brief biography on his website reads: “Hier encore, un de ses biographes est mort d’ennui.” Once translated: “Yesterday, one of his biographers has died of boredom.” For the non-Francophone reader researching Chevillard, it is difficult to uncover more biographical details on this French author. While he is relatively young, he published his first novel at age twenty three, and has been prolific enough to publish more than twenty works of fiction, including The Author and Me and Demolishing Nisard, both published in translation by Dalkey Archive. Writing in support of The Author and Me in the BTBAs at the Three Percent Blog, Michael Orthofer of the Complete Review gives a more complete run-down of Chevillard’s translated works. (more…)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

David Foster Wallace on Hedonism

Freedom and the Self

“Although Wallace would laud value hedonists for sticking out their necks and saying that life should be about something, he nevertheless expresses deep worries about the role of pleasure in a good life.” — Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. In today’s post, the final post of the week’s feature, we’ve excerpted another section from Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi’s essay, “David Foster Wallace on the Good Life.” In this section, Ballantyne and Tosi discuss DFW’s

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: David Foster Wallace on Ironism

Freedom and the Self

“Wallace’s insight on irony is this: when worn as a mask, irony helps one cast a striking figure, but it is privately, personally destructive.” — Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. In the concluding essay in the collection, Nathan Ballantyne and Justin Tosi argue that David Foster Wallace’s “writings suggest a view about what philosophers would call the good life.” In today’s post (an intersection of this week’s feature and our weekly Thursday Fiction Corner), we’ve excerpted the section of Ballantyne and Tosi’s essay in which they discuss DFW’s conception of irony as a source of unhappiness in contemporary culture.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Read Steven Cahn and Maureen Eckert’s Introduction to Freedom and the Self

Freedom and the Self

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Today, we are happy to present Cahn and Eckert’s Introduction, in which they explain their hopes for Freedom and the Self, and discuss the essays contained in the volume.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

David Foster Wallace as a Philosophy Student and a Philosopher

Freedom and the Self

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Freedom and the Self follows up on Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, our recent publication of David Foster Wallace’s critique of Richard Taylor’s philosophical work, with essays examining DFW’s philosophical views in more depth.

To set the stage for the week’s feature, today we are featuring the afterword from Fate, Time, and Language, written by Jay Garfield, a professor who worked with Wallace at Hampshire College, as well as a set of “Brief Interviews with Philosophy Students” in video form, explaining and delving into different aspects of Wallace’s work. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Freedom and the Self!

David Foster Wallace as a Philosophy Student

Brief Interviews with Philosophy Students

On DFW the Philosopher:

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace

Freedom and the Self

“In the last decade, Wallace scholarship has often confined itself to very narrow corridors, covering and re-covering excursions that have become increasingly familiar. This collection opens up a new wing of the critical mansion, building up not only our understanding of Wallace’s important early engagement with Taylor, but also pressing his investigations toward lively new dialogues with John McFarlane, David Lewis, Archilochus, Richard Rorty, and many others.” — Stephen J. Burn, University of Glasgow

This week our featured book is Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Freedom and the Self. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 1st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Our 2015 Best Translated Book Award Nominees!

A huge congratulations to Dalkey Archive Press and East Slope Publishing, our distributed client presses, for making the 2015 Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist and Poetry Longlist!

According to Three Percent:

these twenty-five titles will be narrowed down to a select group of finalists on Tuesday, May 5th, and the winner will be announced at a panel during BEA on Wednesday, May 27th. As always, thanks to Amazon.com’s grant, the winning author and translator will each receive a $5,000 cash prize.

Fiction Longlist

The Author and Me by Éric Chevillard, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Dalkey Archive Press)

Works by Edouard Levé, translated from the French by Jan Steyn (France, Dalkey Archive Press)

Snow and Shadow by Dorothy Tse, translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman (Hong Kong, East Slope Publishing)

Poetry Longlist

Soy Realidad by Tomaž Šalamun, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Thomas Taren (Slovenia, Dalkey Archive)


Check out some of our previous blogposts about the value of literature in translation below!

Words Without Borders interview with Susan Bernofsky, co-editor of IN TRANSLATION: Translators on Their Work and What It Means

World Literature Today interview with IN TRANSLATION editors Susan Bernofsky and Esther Allen

The Value of Publishing Translation

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Columbia University Press wishes you a very happy St. Patrick’s Day from New York! For St. Paddy’s, take a look at a few of the many impressive titles from Dalkey Archive’s Irish Literature Series.

The Dalkey Archive
Flann O’Brien

Hailed as “the best comic fantasy since Tristram Shandy” upon its publication in 1964, The Dalkey Archive is Flann O’Brien’s fifth and final novel.

From Out of the City
John Kelly

From Out of the City is intricate, outrageous, sophisticated, funny and wonderfully entertaining: what more could a reader ask?”
— John Banville

The Cold Eye of Heaven
Christine Dwyer Hickey

“Christine Dwyer Hickey’s tale of a very ordinary Dubliner, starting at the close of his life, is the most profound novel I have read for years.”
The Guardian

The Key (Dual-Language Edition)
Máirtin Ó Cadhain
Translated by Louis de Paor and Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg

“He is one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.”

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: James Davis on the Writing of Eric Walrond

Eric Walrond, James Davis

For our Thursday Fiction Corner, we asked James Davis, author of Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean, to discuss what makes the fiction and journalism of Walrond so distinctive.

All of Eric Walrond’s writing has a kind of restless quality, a turbulence that is a bit disturbing yet intensely compelling.

Besides Tropic Death, which I enjoy for these sensory appeals as much as its critique of colonial relations, I really like Walrond’s story “Miss Kenny’s Marriage” and his essay “White Man, What Now?” The first is a sly trickster tale set among Brooklyn’s early 20th century black bourgeoisie. It’s shrewd and hilarious, published originally in 1923 in The Smart Set, a New York magazine edited at the time by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. A sendup of the social pretensions of the “strivers” of the race, the story chronicles the rise and fall of a pompous Atlantic Avenue hairdresser—or as Miss Kenny puts it, “not a hairdresser at all, but a beauty culturist.” Day and night she’s in the shop, coiffing “girls and old women, spinsters and preacher’s wives, scrubwomen and colored ladies of gentility,” and saving bundles of cash. But despite her work ethic and churchgoing ways, she is arrogant and her striving for respectability involves deep prejudices. “I am not like a lot of these new niggers you see floating around here,” she tells a client, “A few hundred dollars don’t frighten me. Only we used-to-nothing cullud folks lose our heads and stick out our chests at sight of a few red pennies.” No, she adds, “there ain’t none of the nigger in me, honey.”

Walrond delivers her comeuppance in the form of Elias Ramsey, a prominent young lawyer, member of Brooklyn’s “olive-skinned aristocracy,” twenty-three years her junior. Courting Miss Kenny with professions of love and adulation, he absconds soon after their wedding with all her hard-earned savings. Although the story is just a lark, it exhibits Walrond’s flair for code switching, alternating idiomatic registers between Southern migrant characters, black New Yorkers, and his own wry narrative voice. A twenty-four year old writer only a few years removed from the Caribbean, Walrond’s performance in “Miss Kenny’s Marriage” is a kind of masquerade, a way of becoming a New Negro author by writing like an American. The story also stages a theatrical punishment for its title character because she commits the cardinal sin of harboring contempt for less respectable members of her race.


Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Interview with Ishmael Reed

In conjunction with Black History Month, this Thursday’s Fiction Corner features an interview of author and activist Ishmael Reed from the Dalkey “Review of Contemporary Fiction” archives. Reed is not one to mince words. The homepage of his website features blurbs from three different writers, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Sam Tanenhaus, all praising him as, “Great,” “Great,” and “Great.”

Reed has published dozens of books, including the novels Juice!, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, The Terrible Threes, The Terrible Twos, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, The Last Days of Louisiana Red, and Reckless Eyeballing. He also wrote plays collected in Ishmael Reed: The Plays. See the available books here.

In this interview, Professor Reginald Martin speaks with Ishmael Reed, who excoriates a kind of “Eastern, Manhattan” intellectualism. In addition to his vociferous critique of the academic establishment, responsible, he argues, for the construction of “the black aesthetic,” their conversation veers into topics such as jazz, voodoo, and black feminism. Reed has faced backlash for his views. In a more recent interview with the Paris Review, Reed stated: “When Tupac mentioned me in a song, it compensated for all of the hostile responses to my nonfiction and fiction.” The song is ‘Still I Rise’.

The following interview was conducted July 1-7, 1983, in Emeryville, California, a suburb of Oakland and San Francisco.

REGINALD MARTIN: Camus wrote in “Neither Victims nor Executioners” that the only really committed artist is he who, without refusing to take part in the combat, at least refuses to join the regular armies and remains a freelance. In many respects, I see you that way, but many of your critics, Houston Baker, Jr., and Addison Gayle, Jr., for example, seem to throw out any possibility that issues they support may also be issues that you equally support.
ISHMAEL REED: I saw Houston Baker, Jr., recently in Los Angeles. I don’t bear any ill feelings toward him. In fact, he was very cordial toward me. I feel that the piece published in “Black American Literature Forum” that was edited by Joel Weixlmann was irresponsible, and my point is that they would never attack white writers the way they do black writers in that magazine, and I still maintain that. All these scurrilous charges that Baraka made against black writers—and I’ve discussed this with Baraka—those charges were outrageous—he called them traitors, capitulationists. (more…)

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner — Minae Mizumura As Novelist

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

Minae Mizumura, author of The Fall of Language in the Age of English is also a well-known novelist. Her most recent novel, A True Novel, is a reimagining of Wuthering Heights and has been widely praised, including a glowing review in the New York Times.

Recently, The White Review, a literary magazine, ran an excerpt from Mizumura’s novel published in Japanese as Shishosetsu from left to right. The unusual title, a mixture of Japanese and English, represents the novel’s content and form. The novel is narrated by a Japanese young woman who, like the author, grew up in the United States in a bilingual environment. ‘Shishosetsu’ refers to a genre of autobiographical novel that characterizes much modern Japanese literature. Since English words and phrases are woven into the text, the novel was written horizontally, from left to right, unlike other Japanese novels, which are written vertically on the page and read from right to left.


As white morning sunlight poked through the cracks in the blind, I inserted the cord into the telephone jack, digesting the usual sick realisation that another day had begun. No sooner was the telephone plugged in than the ringing gave me a start.

Sudden fear shot through me. It might be the French Department Office.

Is this Minae Mizumura?

Yes it is.

What on earth are you doing?

What on earth was I doing? If they asked me, what could I say? I could not explain it even to myself. I was afraid that somehow the way I was living—holed up in this apartment that remained dim even in the daytime, fearful of the dawning of each new day, for all the world like a snail coiled tightly in its shell—might become shamefully and unmistakably exposed to the light of day.

As hopes of an international call from Tono gradually faded, I fell into the habit of unplugging my telephone every night; apart from the practical desire to avoid being awakened by my sister, the main reason was this very fear.

It is of course a neurotic fear. Every department has one or two delinquent graduate students on its rolls, and there is no reason why the department should care if I put off my orals indefinitely on the pretext that my advisor is in and out of the hospital. It’s not only the department—in the whole huge United States, apart from Nanae hardly anyone is aware that I even exist. And why should they be? Still, I am afraid. From the time I wake up in the morning till five in the evening, when the office closes, I live in fear that at any moment the telephone will ring and I will be given final notice—Your time is up!—and stripped of my identity as a graduate student.


Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: “Samuel Taylor’s Last Night,” by Joe Amato

Samuel Taylor's Last Night

“[Samuel Taylor's Last Night] has an appeal and an intensity to it that are both personal and cultural, both emotional and critical, and the images, insights, and considerations tarry with you, lending the book a marked, essayistic and moral dimension that calls for a slow digestion.” — Christian Moraru

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! Today’s Thursday Fiction Corner post features Joe Amato’s recently published novel, Samuel Taylor’s Last Night. Amato’s academic novel has been reviewed in both the Los Angeles Review of Books and Inside Higher Education. Read on for excerpts from both reviews, as well as a short excerpt from the novel itself!

In the LARB review, Christian Moraru explores the ways that the novel “is a text at war with itself”:

Samuel Taylor’s Last Night is a text at war with itself because the narrator S.T. is at war with himself, but on a deeper level, Joe Amato is staging, with humor and inventiveness, an agonistic poetics — an antipoetics in the best (anti)tradition of self-reflective surfiction and avant-pop parodic bricolage. As in Ronald Sukenick, Raymond Federman, Steve Katz, Curtis White, Mark Amerika, and Mark Leyner, this modus operandi speaks to a paradoxically clarifying “anti-transparency.” They all seek to debunk the pseudo-realistic, instrumentalist myth of writing as, in S.T.’s words, “a transparent medium through which a reader might be transported to untold representational or ideational coordinates.” The myth rests on a misconception perpetuated by lay audiences and “storyteller entertainers” alike, for whom “the telling of stories is not the primary aim” of storytelling. Instead, what matters to such “tribes,” S.T. says, is that language might take you beyond itself, to some “places foreign to the text itself.”