paper trail

Scarlett Thomas on dark humor; Edwidge Danticat wins Vilcek Prize

Edwidge Danticat. Photo: Lynn Savarese

Literary critic, professor, and novelist George Steiner has died at the age of 90. Steiner wrote over twenty books and was the New Yorker’s senior book reviewer for three decades. “Admirers of Mr. Steiner found his erudition and his arguments brilliant,” the New York Times writes.

Edwidge Danticat has won the 2020 Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Literature. Danticat will receive the award at a ceremony in New York this spring.

Melissa Harris-Perry is joining Zora Magazine as editor at large.

Washington Post employees say that the recent suspension of reporter Felicia Sonmez is evidence of deeper problems at the paper. Staffers tell the HuffPost that Sonmez’s suspension is an “example of unequal treatment of men and women at the Post.” When reporter Shane Harris experienced similar social media harassment last year, the company sent a security guard to his home; Sonmez, in contrast, was told to stay at a hotel and suspended from her job. Several employees also spoke to the Daily Beast about another incident with reporter Wesley Lowery, who was chastised by editor Marty Baron for tweeting about racism in the Tea Party movement.

At Literary Hub, Lori Feathers talks to Scarlett Thomas about obsession, dark humor, and her new book, Oligarchy. “The voice came quite easily with this book, but I was worried at first because I found it quite shocking. I kept thinking, ‘But you can’t say that!’” she remembered. “I realized that the redeeming factor was that there was some humor in this. That moment when people say the unsayable, and it’s what you were thinking too? Of course it can fall flat. . . . But the response to the book so far has been extremely positive, and people do seem to find it hilarious in its dark awfulness.

“What we are really looking at is a failure of literary taste, which, like so much, has given way to corporate imperatives. But even works of mass-market and genre fiction need to meet standards of intelligence, awareness and discernment in order to earn their place in the literary culture of a free society,” writes Popula’s Maria Bustillos on Jeannine Cummins, American Dirt, and the state of the publishing industry. “The failure of taste—the real problem—is getting lost in the familiar contours of the discussion around the author’s personal political failings. What we could be discussing instead is why this book should have been so attractive to New York publishers. Because it still is!”