• Susan Sontag, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ca. 1970s. Photo: Donald Dietz.
    November 07, 2019

    “She said she needed writing as a weapon”

    Was writing Susan Sontag’s biography an exercise in deconstructing the image of “Susan Sontag”?

    I think it became that. I wouldn’t say it started out that way. I didn’t have a set image I wanted to convey of her because I didn’t know enough about her at the beginning to have even that much of a preconceived notion. I’d read a lot of her but definitely not all. Susan’s work is very vast and very extensive, and her world is also vast and extensive. Her political world. Her social world. Her sexual world. There is a lot of it, and it’s hard to have an impression of it even when you do know about

    Read more
  • Fiona Alison Duncan. Photo: Stefan Schwartzman
    November 04, 2019

    “I want a full refund.”

    The first page of Exquisite Mariposa, the debut novel of Canadian-American artist, writer, and organizer Fiona Alison Duncan, finds the narrator, also named Fiona, pitching a reality TV show about her new housemates (“It’s like The Real World meets Instagram.”). But it’s a nonstarter: Fiona respects and admires her fellow subletters, and soon realizes that packaging their image for profit is no way to treat people one respects and admires. At this point, she’s known them all for about a week, but they have a Connection. Reality is, the show never gets made, and Fiona’s impulse to sell out fuels

    Read more
  • Cyrus Grace Dunham. Photo: Sam Richardson
    October 24, 2019

    “We're all pure and we're all evil.”

    Cyrus Grace Dunham’s memoir, A Year Without a Name, was written in real time over the course of two years, a name change, and what popularly constitutes a gender transition. The book emerged from a compulsive writing practice, an experiment in self-actualization that saw Dunham writing toward the version of himself he’d always fantasised about embodying. In spare language, Dunham writes through changing relationships, everyday setbacks, and resolutions.

    Dunham is acutely aware of what it’s like to be made a character of; one of the primary concerns of his book is how to write from life without

    Read more
  • Caleb Crain. Photo: Peter Terzian
    October 22, 2019

    Occupy Territory

    In Caleb Crain’s new novel, Overthrow, a thirty-one-year-old graduate student named Matthew meets a poet who recruits him to volunteer at Occupy Wall Street. The poet and his friends read tarot cards, and some of them even believe they can read minds: with a mixture of irony and earnestness, they refer to themselves as the Working Group for the Refinement of the Perception of Feelings. “It's about admitting that most of the time people are more aware than they'd like to let on of how other people are feeling,” one character explains. “And that it hurts to be aware, if you can't talk about it.”

    Read more
  • Natalie Diaz. Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
    October 10, 2019

    Not Just a Game

    What stands out most about the new anthology Bodies Built for Game is how broadly it defines “sports writing.” Edited by former pro basketball player and poet Natalie Diaz and Lambda Literary Award–winning poet Hannah Ensor, the collection moves beyond game recaps and celebrity profiles, opening up the genre to poetry, personal essays, and short stories. The diversity of form, structure, and voice in this anthology broadens the language and narrative around sport and sports writing. (Diaz prefers sport rather than sports “because it connotes a structure of power rather than a pastime.) Whether

    Read more
  • Kimberly King Parsons. Photo: Heather Hawksford
    September 24, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Kimberly King Parsons

    The Texan girls and women who populate Black Light, Kimberly King Parsons’s debut story collection, are messy and loud and unapologetic. They fall hard and fast. Parsons gives her characters ample space to make mistakes, and they do—repeatedly—but we love them no less for it. Case in point: in “Glow Hunter,” when the impossibly magnetic Bo gets shards of glass embedded in her hand while doing parking-lot cartwheels, she pours Mountain Dew on the gash, watches it fizz, and goes about her day (which involves hunting for magic mushrooms in roadside cowpats). Such is an ordinary sequence of events

    Read more
  • Tupelo Hassman
    September 19, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Tupelo Hassman

    Tupelo Hassman’s gods with a little g is out now, and announces its own universe—a town somewhere in California called Rosary. Like most towns, Rosary has its merits, but it has been overrun by Bible-thumpers. The book’s central character, Helen, nicknamed “Hell,” navigates the margins of the town, and dwells on topics like teen pregnancy, addiction, magic, sexuality. The novel is extremely funny and extremely dark—often both at the same time. Though fundamentalists are threatening to rule Rosary, pockets of freedom remain: There’s a magic shop, run by Helen's Aunt Bev; and there’s the neighboring

    Read more
  • Kristen Arnett. Photo: Maria Jones
    September 11, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Kristen Arnett

    Kristen Arnett has an enviable knack for creating dark comedy. I’m often unsure of whether to laugh or gasp at her work (I usually end up doing both). When we meet Jessa-Lynn Morton, the narrator of Arnett’s debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, her father has recently died by suicide and she has been left in charge of the family taxidermy business. Jessa-Lynn and her brother are also dealing with another loss: Brynn, Jessa-Lynn’s sister-in-law who also happens to be her first love, has left her husband and her lover without warning, leaving the brokenhearted siblings to care for the children she

    Read more
  • Xuan Juliana Wang. Photo: Ye Rin Mok
    September 06, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Xuan Juliana Wang

    “I wanted to evoke a certain kind of life that would be worthy of future nostalgia.” That’s a line from Xuan Juliana Wang’s story “The Art of Straying Off Course,” but it is also a way of reading all twelve stories in Home Remedies, her debut collection about Chinese millennials and their families. The book is a meditation on the nature of home, and how everything from immigration to the forward march of time precludes the possibility of ever returning there. In “The Art of Straying Off Course,” the narrator also says, “The secret to building things was listening.” Wang has listened to the

    Read more
  • Jia Tolentino. Photo: Elena Mudd
    August 26, 2019

    Bookforum talks to Jia Tolentino

    Jia Tolentino is the Jia Tolentino of our generation. Formerly a deputy editor at Jezebel and contributing editor at the Hairpin, Tolentino is currently a staff writer at the New Yorker. As she put it to me when we spoke recently, these jobs have allowed her to “push against the conventional wisdom of online feminism” and “make youth and internet culture legible to the New Yorker’s readership.” In her debut collection of essays, Trick Mirror, she explores her own feelings about certain systems governing contemporary life. The nine essays comprising her first collection aren’t entirely memoir

    Read more
  • August 19, 2019

    Lawrence Weschler Remembers Oliver Sacks

    Lawrence Weschler, a former staff writer at the New Yorker and director emeritus of the New York Institute for the Humanities, has a genius for spotting “convergences,” concepts that mirror other concepts and yield electric connections—like the way Lee Friedlander’s photo of a winter tree rhymes with both the capillaries in an eyeball and with Ruth Asawa’s tied-wire sculptures.

    In And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?, subtitled A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks, a rich, wry pleasure, Weschler uses this talent for dot-connecting to portray neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. He considers the multiple

    Read more
  • Chia-Chia Lin
    July 02, 2019

    Bookforum talks with Chia-Chia Lin

    Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel The Unpassing follows an immigrant family from Taiwan as they adjust to life in Alaska and grapple with the death of the family’s youngest child, Ruby. Exploring the fallout from this tragedy and the family’s attempts to create a home in the US, Lin describes their struggles in hauntingly beautiful prose. The never-ending winter mornings are “dark and joyless but with a scrap of a promise: more than this, there would be more than this.” In the immediate aftermath of Ruby’s death, Lin’s narrator remembers of his mother, “I could still hear her cracking voice, saying

    Read more