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On The Books: Claudia Rankine wins poetry prize; the trials of building Noah's Ark and Shakespeare's Globe Theater

Jamaican poet Claudia Rankine won the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize this year, which comes with a sweet award of $50,000. Rankine has published four books of poetry; her last was 2004′s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. She told The New York Times that she plans to publish a follow-up in October called Citizen. “Both books reside in the realm where one’s attempts to negotiate a day are complicated by racial interactions,” Ms. Rankine said. “Where ‘Lonely’ looked at the role of media in our private lives, ‘Citizen’ attempts to understand how black people, like tennis star Serena Williams, negotiate racism on a public stage.” Rankine was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets last year and currently teaches at Pomona College. [New York Times]

The Financial Times ran a story (on their salmon pink website to match their salmon pink paper) about the battle for Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theater. The Bard had a little known nemesis, the maniacal Lady Elizabeth Russell, who lived next door to his playhouse. She was your typical belligerent neighbor who’s always snooping in your business. To take her down a notch, “the playwright had lampooned members of the Dowager’s coterie in Henry IV, Part 1,” and he skewered her husband as a drunk buffoonso Russell was out for payback. She turned many of Shakespeare’s friends against him and pushed through a petition to have the Globe shuttered, but the story ends with an ironic twist – classic Will! – so you have to finish the article to get the joke of the whole thing. [Financial Times]

 

See the cover of David Mitchell's 'The Bone Clocks' -- EXCLUSIVE

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Check out the cover of David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks, which will be hitting shelves on September 9th. Mitchell, a two-time Booker Prize finalist, is the author of five novels, including Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and Number9Dream.

As with his previous books, this new story will feature mystical elements and skip through time and space. For more plot detail, Random House released this description:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

On The Books: Aboriginal author Doris Pilkington Garimara dies at 76

Doris Pilkington Garimara, the Aboriginal novelist who wrote Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, has passed away at 76 years old in Perth, Australia. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, her most well known book, was published in 1996 and tells the heart-wrenching story of her own mother’s life. As a young aboriginal in the 1930′s she was torn from her family and sent to a government “re-education camp,” but she broke free and spent nine weeks braving the Outback to return to her home. In 2002, the book was adapted into a film called Rabbit Proof Fence starring Kenneth Branagh. The success of Doris’ story helped draw attention to the aboriginal cause, and she used her fame to further promote reparations between natives and white Australians. The New York Times says that Doris was a member of the Reconciliation Committee and a principal promoter of National Sorry Day, an annual event started in 1998 to commemorate the government’s mistreatment of Aborigines.  [New York Times]

If you’re a vocabulary stickler, a strict constructionist for wordsmithing or just into useless apps, then you should be pleased to hear about this new app for Google Chrome that replaces all appearances of “literally” on webpages with the more proper usage of “figuratively.” So the next time one of your friends posts a status update like, “I’m literally perishing from the heat,” you’ll read “I’m figuratively perishing from the heat.” The caveat is that it will replace even proper usages of literally. So when I say that “I could literally kill someone for a coffee,” then you’ll think I’m kidding. It’s Monday – don’t cross me. [Slate]

Over at The Guardian, Elizabeth Edmondson is also getting into a huff over definitions. She’s taking aim at “literary fiction,” which she thinks is a crock. She argues that “Lit Fic” is just a fancy way of marketing books that posterity has decided are exemplary, while the original authors were just trying to entertain folks like the rest of us hacks. Agreed. [Guardian]

Ann Brashares, author of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, has a new book coming out and it’s less “traveling pants” and more “traveling time and blood plagues.” Her publisher probably told her that dystopian blood plagues are very now. [NPR]

Fans have browbeat the Hugo Award judging committee into shortlisting The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan’s 15 book, 4.5 million word epic series that a some Sci-Fi academics (What?) have slated as being “a long-winded Lord of the Rings.” Ouch. [Guardian]

 

See the cover for Pittacus Lore's newest I Am Number Four, 'The Revenge of Seven' -- EXCLUSIVE

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Check out the cover for Pittacus Lore’s The Revenge of Seven, the fifth installment of the I Am Number Four series. (God, that’s a numbers jumble, isn’t it?) The book goes on sale August 26th. HarperCollins gave this preview of the story: READ FULL STORY

On The Books: Laura Hillenbrand rewrote 'Unbroken' as a YA book

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Laura Hillenbrand has rewritten her best-seller Unbroken, the life story of Olympic runner Louie Zamperini, as a YA nonfiction book that will be published on Veterans Day (Nov. 11, 2014). The original Unbroken tells the tale of Zamperini’s Odysseian journey from a hard-scrabble kid in Southern California during the Depression to his meteoric rise as an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin Games. Later he signed up as a fighter pilot during World War II and flew planes in the South Pacific. His bomber crashed 850 miles off the coast of Hawaii and he spent 47 days stranded on a raft before being captured by the Japanese and brutally abused in a POW camp until the end up the war. But it’s not a downer! He perseveres and with the same buoyant spirit that carried him to the Olympics, he recovers from his wartime experiences and finds new life for himself.

I’m not sure why this needs a “YA” version. It sounds pretty appropriate for the 12+ ages of the “young adult” genre. Surely if you can be conscripted to read Lord of the Flies at 13, you can read this amazing real-life tale of the triumph of human spirit. Hillenbrand didn’t say specifically what she changed for the younger version, only that “Louie Zamperini’s story is spellbinding to people of every age. At the urging of librarians, teachers, and parents, I’ve created this edition specifically for younger readers. I’m delighted to bring Louie’s inspiring, exhilarating story to a new generation.” Since its original publication in November 2010, Unbroken has sold nearly 4 million copies and has remained on the bestseller list for over 160 weeks, with 14 weeks at #1. Angelina Jolie is directing a film adaptation (written by the Cohen brothers no less!) which is set for release on Christmas Day 2014.

READ FULL STORY

Kid Lit's Primary Color: White -- REPORT

Of 3,200 children’s books published last year, only 93 featured black characters—and the numbers weren’t great for Asians, American Indians, and Latinos either. What gives?

If you’re a parent of a child of color, finding relatable kids’ books can be something of a challenge. Just ask Lori Tharps, an African-American journalism professor and the mom of three bilingual, bicultural children. “I’m not trying to make my kids read about slaves all the time,” she says. “A black wizard story would be nice. Flat Stanley could be Asian or Latino. But they’re not there… at least it would be one less blond-haired, blue-eyed heroine or hero to worship.” A survey of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013—out of a total of 5,000—found that only 67 were by African-American authors, and only 93 titles centered on black characters. That’s the lowest number of black protagonists since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began tracking that data. The numbers were similarly abysmal for children’s books by or about American Indians, Asians, and Latinos — proving that publishing, like the film and TV industry, has a long way to go when it comes to fostering and promoting diversity.

So why are bookshelves so whitewashed? For one thing, children’s books about diverse characters don’t sell (though there are exceptions, such as Octavia Spencer’s middle-grade mystery, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit). Says one children’s-book executive, “If we thought there was a demand for more nonwhite characters, we would try to fill it.” Sales can “certainly impact visibility and output,” says Rosemary Brosnan, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Award-winning Mexican-American writer Gary Soto knows this all too well: He had to end his 20-year career writing children’s books due to low sales. “I think many buyers think, ‘We already have a Gary Soto book in our library or classroom; we don’t need any more.’” Tharps, a former EW staffer, says, “Part of this problem could be solved if the great books that are out there that feature characters of color were given more promotional push by publishers and not shoved into the multicultural section.” READ FULL STORY

2014 Pulitzer Prize winners announced; Donna Tartt takes the big fiction prize

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Donna Tartt’s sprawling literary epic that centers on a mysterious little painting has taken the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, besting other lengthy titles, such as The Son by Philipp  Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis, both of which received “A” grades from EW. READ FULL STORY

On The Books: 2013's Ten Most Challenged Books

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Every year the American Library Association publishes a list of the most challenged books in the country to keep the public informed of encroaching censorship. The ALA defines a challenge as “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. The group estimates that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. This year’s list is topped by the The Adventures of Captain Underpants series, which also held that slot in 2012. The humorous and cartoony book about two 4th grade boys and their imaginary-turned-real superhero Captain Underpants was cited for: offensive language, unsuited for age group, and violence. Fifty Shades of Grey also made the list, as did The Hunger Games. Check out the complete list. READ FULL STORY

On The Books: Hillary Clinton's latest memoir for June 10

Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir will be released June 10, 2014. An ad from the publisher gives only this information about it: “Hillary Clinton shares candid reflections about key moments during her time as Secretary of State as well as her thoughts about how to navigate the challenges of the 21st century.” How to navigate the challenges of the 21st century? As with every move that Hillary Clinton makes these days, people are wondering if the subtext of this release is “vote for me in 2016.” [The Wrap]

J.K. Rowling will be guest editing BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour later this month. She’ll be discussing her literary pseudonym Robert Galbraith and “the power and myth of the shoe in popular culture.” So quite a range of ideas there… I’ve always wanted to know how Lady Rowling felt about footwear. [Guardian]

Things I learned about Chuck Palahniuk from The Guardian this morning:

1. He has an online mentorship program for writers, who are encouraged to employ his “minimal style.” I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of Chuck as being “minimal.” Definitely more of a maximal guy in my memory.

2. He’s writing a graphic novel sequel to Fight Club.

3. Chuck is now releasing an anthology of his mentee’s writing that will be entirely focused on taboo subjects – his specialty. “Transgressive fiction authors write stories some are afraid to tell. Stories with taboo subjects, unique voices, shocking images – nothing safe or dry,” says its publisher. “These stories run the gamut from horrific and fantastic to humorous and touching, but each leaves a lasting impression. Some may say even a scar.”

On The Books: New Ian McEwan novel 'The Children Act'

Ian McEwan, the award-winning author of Atonement, has announced a new novel called The Children Act to be published on September 9, 2014. McEwan has written 15 books, including Amsterdam, which won the Man Booker Prize, Solar, The Child in Time and The Comfort of Strangers. His most recent novel, Sweet Tooth, about a beautiful intelligence agent during the Cold War whose undercover persona begins to unravel as she falls for a writer, came out in 2012. No word yet on what The Children Act will be about, other than that it will be “emotionally wrenching.” This coming from the man who wrote Atonement, so prepare to be very wrenched.

Philip Roth will be awarded the first annual Yaddo Medal from the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, NY. Founded in 1900 by financier Spencer Trask (a man who supported Edison when he was inventing the lightbulb), the colony hosts around 200 artists a year who would like to spend 2-6 weeks on their 400-acre ranch. Roth himself has resided at the colony seven times since 1964. I appreciate Yaddo going out on a limb and awarding their first medal to such an unsung hero like Phil Roth. [New York Times]

Kurt Vonnegut was quite the sketch artist. You may have seen some of his drawings in his books, or recognize his self-portrait scribble that doubled as his signature. But don’t miss the slideshow of his work that the New Yorker put together. Vonnegut felt that drawing was the window through which he could jump out of when his writing became too much to bear. “My own means of making a living is essentially clerical, and hence tedious and constipating.… The making of pictures is to writing what laughing gas is to the Asian influenza.”

Tin House has a deep Q&A with playwright Craig Lucas, whose play Ode to Joy is as the Cherry Lane Theater until April 19th. Lucas is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a two time Tony-nominee, who wrote Prelude to a Kiss, Reckless, and The Light in the Piazza. In describing the theme of the new play, he wrote: “Joy, motherfuckers. Joy.” The man truly has a way with words. We should all buy tickets. [Tin House]

Parul Sehgal has an essay on “What Muriel Spark Saw” in the New Yorker. A Scottish novelist who was a contemporary of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Spark’s novels are being rereleased in America. One of her famous quotes is “I aim to startle as well as please,” a motto to live by. Sehgal writes: “She loved lightning. It wasn’t her favorite weapon—fire was, or knives. But lightning has a brutal, beautiful efficiency, and she used it to good effect, once frying alive a pair of lovers.” So I’m buying everything she ever wrote.

Join NPR for National Poetry Month and help write their collaborative Twitter poem. See their website for details! [NPR]

 

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