• September 08, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Lauren Collins

    When in French: Love in a Second Language is New Yorker staff writer Lauren Collins's memoir of falling in love with a Frenchman and navigating life overseas. It isn't a linear story; instead Collins combines episodic anecdotes with heavily researched passages exploring linguistics. Appropriately, section headings make use of complicated French verb tenses. Flashbacks are simply “The Past” (Le Passé composé), for example; Collins's childhood is “The Imperfect” (L’Imparfait); and the more recent past is “The Past Perfect” (Le Plus-que-parfait). As Collins tells it, “I could have given each

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  • August 24, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Jesmyn Ward

    August 2 would have been James Baldwin’s ninety-second birthday. Across the Internet, people celebrated by quoting his work, sometimes with just text, sometimes through memes, so much so that by early Tuesday morning, “James Baldwin” was trending on Twitter. But over the last few years, in our extended cultural moment of racism becoming tangible to more than those it affects, Baldwin—his ideas and forecast for this country—has resurfaced like a message in a bottle, the words he wrote always true, yet now eerily prescient.

    His 1963 work, The Fire Next Time, with its forward-glancing title, was

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  • Emma Cline
    July 19, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Emma Cline

    A month ago, I attended a reading by Emma Cline at BookCourt, in Brooklyn. Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, had just come out to breathless reviews, and the event was well attended. Cline, twenty-seven, seemed neither nervous nor overeager to please. She announced she’d be reading from the beginning of her novel and read its opening passage and then another page or two, stopping after a few minutes and making a joke—that she always wished readings would end sooner than they did—that was at once unpretentious and spot-on. Less-is-more is a concept Cline understands. The Girls is taut and gripping,

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  • Brontez Purnell, photo by Robbie Sweeny
    June 28, 2016

    Mike Albo in conversation with Brontez Purnell

    Mike Albo’s first book, Hornito: My Lie Life (2000), labeled a novel, switches between the viewpoint of a gay kid trying to stay alive physically, mentally, and spiritually in the American suburbs, and that of his adult self, hanging out in New York City’s queer scene in the 1990s. He tries to find love, or decide if he even wants love, while dealing with the world’s association of being gay with “dirtiness.” It feels both true and wildly imaginative, as if the “this is just a novel” shield protected Albo the writer so he could let Albo the character slide all the way off the rails. Some of

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  • June 20, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Helen Oyeyemi

    Depressed as a teenager in London, Helen Oyeyemi wrote a novel instead of studying for her A-level exams, had it published at the age of twenty, and headed off to Cambridge, where she wrote two plays. Oyeyemi then spent her twenties writing four more novels and traveling the world before settling in Prague, a city with which she felt a mysterious affinity—she sensed there the potential for fantastical happenings.

    In her seventh book and first collection of short stories, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Oyeyemi stretches the bounds of fiction with fairytale-like parables that contain more locks

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  • May 24, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Gary Indiana

    “Sometimes I joke, well, I must be really good,” says Gary Indiana, sweet and wry, lighting his third cigarette of the four he allows himself daily. “To have been such a fucked-up mess, and to still have a body of work that I think—I hope—will live after me, that means I must really have been good.” We are outside Lucien, the Lower East Side bistro, after our interview, during which he did not swear at all. I note this because in his memoir, I Can Give You Anything But Love, out last year, he complains that one young interviewer added obscenities to his answers to make him sound edgier. As if

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  • May 02, 2016

    Karan Mahajan talks with Adam Ehrlich Sachs

    That Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s caustic and absurdist collection Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables, and Problems is being released in time for Father’s Day resembles nothing more than a joke you might find in the collection itself: A well-meaning father (here, the publisher) misinterprets the son’s book (a work of emotional terrorism aimed at both fathers and sons) as an act of love and exalts it within a stifling tradition of filial affection (Father’s Day). Dark hilarity ensues.

    Sachs, who is thirty and has written for Hollywood, is a newcomer to fiction, but it’s hard to imagine a more

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  • March 31, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Darryl Pinckney

    Darryl Pinckney’s second novel, Black Deutschland, is drifting and elliptical. At its center is Jed, a recovering addict from the South Side of Chicago who makes several long visits to West Berlin. It’s the 1980s, an era Pinckney portrays as blank, scattered, purged of optimism: perfect for a gay black man like Jed, who wants only to snap free of the burdens of “identity.” He falls into affairs and agonizes over the ones that work, all the while navigating an uneasy emotional détente with his cousin Cello, a failed pianist raising mixed-race children with her white, bourgeois husband.


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  • March 23, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Joni Murphy

    Joni Murphy’s debut novel, Double Teenage, ends with the words, “This is a spell for getting out of girlhood alive,” but it speaks equally well to anyone alert to the ways in which a culture of violence can inflect all aspects of life. Growing up in the American Southwest during the 1990s, Murphy’s two upper-middle-class protagonists are stunned by the murder of Donna Beth, their sometime-babysitter and role model. As they get older, they begin to see that the violence around them is systemic, extending to the routine killings of the narco wars and the way these horrors are normalized until

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  • March 14, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Garth Greenwell

    When I first became aware of Garth Greenwell, he was the enigmatic new English teacher at the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria, the high school I had graduated from a year before his arrival in 2009. He became an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights on campus—something that made the school, still attached to its missionary origins, distinctly uncomfortable—and he also introduced a much-discussed fiction assignment that required students to write their own stories modeled after James Joyce’s Dubliners: He wanted them not to look away from the incongruities of their own city, but to make an

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  • January 21, 2016

    Bookforum talks with Brian Evenson

    Brian Evenson has been disturbing readers with his stylish and macabre fiction since the 1994 release of his collection Altmann’s Tongue, which included a story about, among other things, a corpse whose mouth has been stuffed with bees and sewn shut. Evenson’s latest book, A Collapse of Horses, reveals that his unsettling talents have grown subtler and stronger—seventeen stories featuring unsolvable mind-games, drugged-out cults, and space-station claustrophobia, all rendered in Evenson’s unmistakable prose, which is capable of suggesting both grounded realism and jittery paranoia, often at

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  • October 28, 2015

    Bookforum talks with Carrie Brownstein

    From the opening pages of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, it’s clear that Carrie Brownstein, best known as a guitarist and singer in the seminal band Sleater-Kinney, and now as an actor and the cowriter and star of Portlandia, is a writer first. Covering her childhood in the Seattle suburbs, her time in the 1990s Olympia, Washington music scene, and her years recording and touring with Sleater-Kinney, the book sets itself apart from the general run of music memoirs: Well turned, subtle, and clear-eyed, it’s a striking literary accomplishment. I was curious above all about what she read and which

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