• Dawnie Walton. Photo: Rayon Richards
    April 01, 2021

    Dawnie Walton discusses her novel about an iconic proto-punk singer

    One night in the spring of 1970, up-and-coming British singer-songwriter Nev Charles sees a young woman named Opal Robinson singing at a Detroit open-mic. She is wearing crushed velvet and a long blue-black wig, and he is, in his own words, “absolutely gobsmacked.” Her strange voice wields just the power his act is missing. When Opal starts performing with him in the New York City rock scene, a cult idol is born.

    Opal is the fictional musician and provocateur of Dawnie Walton’s debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, which begins by revisiting the duo’s origins. It goes on to cover

    Read more
  • Jo Ann Beard. Photo: Franco Vogt
    March 25, 2021

    Jo Ann Beard on how she found the deep imaginative spaces of her new essay collection

    With a year of lockdown and a year at home, what’s helping you stay in what you’ve described as the “underwater” imaginative space of writing, and what’s making it harder?

    I’m on sabbatical this year, and made a decision, even before the pandemic, that I was going to use it as an opportunity to do nothing. I’ve more or less worked full-time since I graduated from high school, and as you know, if you’re a writer, whatever you do for a living you always feel you have another full-time job on top of that. So I decided that I was going to spend this year not writing but experiencing what it is

    Read more
  • Bett Williams. Photo: Beth Hill
    March 15, 2021

    Bookforum talks with Bett Williams about her mycological journey

    If mushrooms are having a moment, psilocybin mushrooms are having their own red-carpeted star turn. Multiple double-blind studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University, which has its own Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, have shown how psilocybin mushrooms, administered in hours-long, therapist-guided sessions (with a playlist), have helped those with depression, various types addiction, fear of death. Microdosing is widespread, and psilocybin mushrooms have been decriminalized in Oregon and various cities around the country. Bett Williams recounts her own “psilocybin odyssey”

    Read more
  • Vivian Gornick, 2020.

    Wisdom in the Work

    EMILY GOULD: Can you tell us about the process for making your new collection, Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time (Verso, $27)? What went into it and what was left behind?

    VIVIAN GORNICK: A lot got left behind. I don’t know how any writer puts together this kind of a collection. Someone like Janet Malcolm solves the problem by just putting out book after book of collected writing. I don’t think I’m going to do that.

    My devoted editor at Verso, Jessie Kindig, made some suggestions that triggered other suggestions of mine. I didn’t want anything from

    Read more
  • Lucie Elven. Photo: Sophie Davidson
    February 23, 2021

    Bookforum talks with Lucie Elven about her new novel

    In her fiction, Lucie Elven delves into the uses and abuses of language—the way it can obscure or uphold power dynamics, and act as medicine, a shield, or a trap. Elven’s new novel, The Weak Spot, is a fable and a tale of workplace power dynamics. The book’s nameless narrator accepts a pharmacy apprenticeship in a mountain town, where the pharmacy’s owner, Mr. Malone, trains her to think of her work as a type of therapy. She hears her customers’ fears and complaints, teasing out their secrets while Mr. Malone eavesdrops. This comes naturally to the narrator, who nurtures a faith in the ability

    Read more
  • February 09, 2021

    Bookforum talks with Andreas Malm about his new book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline

    In his new book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire, Andreas Malm questions a central tenet of activist orthodoxy: strategic pacifism is always preferable to violence no matter the situation, the stakes, the actors, or the consequences. Malm, a lecturer in the human ecology division at Lund University in Sweden, has written several books on fossil fuels, climate change, and political economy. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (2016) presents a detailed historic account of the role played by coal in the industrial revolution.

    Read more
  • Women from Boston and Charleston, West Virginia, holding signs, demonstrating against busing and textbooks, Washington, D.C.
    November 30, 2020

    Rick Perlstein, Leon Neyfakh, Sam Adler-Bell, and Matthew Sitman on how the Right keeps winning

    In his podcasts Slow Burn and Fiasco, Leon Neyfakh and his team have covered Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Iran-Contra affair, and more, making seemingly familiar stories feel both fresh and suspenseful. In the third season of Fiasco, Neyfakh turns his attention to the battle over school desegregation in Boston in the 1970s, during which white Northerners took pains to distance themselves from racist Southerners while fighting against school integration in their own city. An activist and two-time mayoral hopeful named Louise Day Hicks led the opposition to Judge W. Arthur Garrity

    Read more
  • Kevin Young. Photo: Melanie Dunea

    The Difficult Miracle

    AMBER ROSE JOHNSON: In the face of this title, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (Library of America, $45), you’re intentionally widening the geographic and aesthetic scope. It’s much more diasporic than “African American” might seem to suggest. And you have prose, songs, epics, formally constrained poems, poems that make us question what poetry can be, and look like, and do. What was your approach to the scale and scope of this anthology?

    KEVIN YOUNG: The African diaspora is so rich and important, yet I couldn’t call it “Black Poetry” because that would be worldwide, and

    Read more
  • Emily J. Lordi
    November 24, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Emily J. Lordi

    Emily J. Lordi’s new book, The Meaning of Soul, is her third, and it continues her larger project of examining how the work of Black vocalists embodies Black music in both historical and practical forms. She’s written extensively on Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin, who appear here alongside Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Minnie Ripperton, and a half dozen other artists. Over the summer, I talked about the book several times with Lordi, who works as a freelance writer and an English professor at Vanderbilt University. Those conversations have been combined, condensed, and edited for clarity.

    Read more
  • Helen Macdonald. Photo: Bill Johnston Jr.
    October 27, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Helen Macdonald about Vesper Flights

    In the introduction to Helen Macdonald’s new collection of nature essays, Vesper Flights, she describes a trend in sixteenth-century European palaces and halls—Wunderkammer. These were ornamental display cabinets, similar to Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, filled with “natural and artificial things together on shelves in close conjunction,” like coral, fossils, miniature paintings, tiny instruments. Macdonald’s aim was to replicate the experience of Wunderkammer in her book. She so successfully achieves her goal, we wander around Vesper Flights amazed by flocks of songbirds migrating over the

    Read more
  • Legacy Russell. Photo: Mina Alyeshmerni
    September 29, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Legacy Russell about Glitch Feminism

    In her first book, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, writer and curator Legacy Russell argues that our online identities can be tools for emancipation. Glitch Feminism portrays the online avatar as a laboratory where Black, queer, and gender-nonconforming artists have explored, experimented, and ultimately expanded notions of the self.

    By creating online identities that do not conform to society’s expectation of the body, the book asserts, Black, queer, and gender-nonconforming people can introduce glitches into the binary software of gender. “We will be not ‘single beings,’” Russell writes, “but

    Read more
  • Stephanie LaCava
    September 10, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Stephanie LaCava

    Stephanie LaCava’s new novel The Superrationals is a destabilizing read—like coming across a sudden anagram in a sentence. The book’s strikingly true-to-life characters are similarly jarring: constantly misunderstood and misunderstanding and fiercely protective of fortresses of self-delusion (though LaCava resists moralization at every turn). The story is told from the point-of-view of three main characters: Mathilde, a young art-world initiate who is haunted by trauma and the death of her mother, a legendary editor; Gretchen, Mathilde’s best friend, who travels alongside the protagonist in

    Read more