paper trail

Colson Whitehead wins National Book Award; Elena Ferrante on women in fiction

Colson Whitehead. Photo: Larry D. Moore

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad has won the National Book Award for fiction. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America won for nonfiction, and Representative John Lewis’s graphic memoir March: Book Three won for young people’s literature.

Alex Jones, head of Infowars, told the New York Times that he received a thank-you call from Donald Trump soon after the election. Although Jones said he will be holding the president-elect accountable to his campaign promises, including a continued investigation of Hillary Clinton, it’s fine if Trump leaves some of them by the wayside: “If he gets 20 percent done, people will be happy.”

Paul Horner, who earns money through viral news hoaxes, tells the Washington Post that he put Trump in the White House: “His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything.” A BuzzFeed analysis of election coverage shows that twenty of the highest performing fake articles earned more engagement than twenty pieces from major news organizations. At a press conference in Berlin, President Obama criticized the role of fake news in the 2016 election, noting that viral misinformation means that citizens “won't know what we're fighting for.”

Sheila Heti talks to Elena Ferrante, through emails translated by Ann Goldstein, about what is lost and gained through a public persona, why trust should not be unconditional, and the remaining discomfort with intellectual woman characters in fiction. “We’re still incapable of a convincing portrayal of female intelligence,” Ferrante writes. “Though we have now acquired the sense of our inner richness and our intellectual autonomy, we portray them in a minor key, as if our capacity to produce ideas and culture were a presumptuous exaggeration, as if, even having something extra, we ourselves didn’t really believe in it.”

The Los Angeles Times talks to the many publishers and magazines still reeling from Clinton’s defeat. Knopf Doubleday public relations director Paul Bogaards wrote in a memo to his staff that, similar to the media, publishing “exists in a bubble. . . . We are, for the most part, a bastion of the liberal elite.”

To the Democratic Party, author Viet Thanh Nguyen asks, “Now that playing it safe as a strategic and moral principle has failed, can we try something different?”

Zadie Smith talks to the Times about the books on her to-read list, what she assigns to her students, and the insularity of novel-writing. “Writing novels can make you very stupid,” she says, “just writing about something that doesn’t exist for three or four years.”

Tonight at the New York Public Library, James McBride discusses his book Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul.