Series Archive

The Readers: Cynthia Ozick and Backward Glances

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It seems fitting that the title of Ozick’s latest book reads like a list or exercise in taxonomy: the book is rampant with clear-eyed perceptions and smooth digs, classic wit and a keen interest in dividing and categorizing, in speaking to the differences between things.

Big Picture, Small Picture: Context for James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

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James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” is published in the summer 1957 edition of the New York City literature magazine, Partisan Review. The story’s narrator is a high school teacher from Harlem struggling to reconcile his relationship with his younger brother, Sonny, a jazz pianist hooked on heroin.

Stories Strangely Told: Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”

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When I was twenty and thought I had just about figured out what a story was, my fiction teacher walked me to the oven-sized scanner outside his office to copy onto legal paper the first twelve pages of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son.

The Black Aesthetic: Lyrical Dominance in Kendrick Lamar’s Damn

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Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn maintains his position as the most profound rap lyricist alive. With songs such as “DNA” Kendrick asserts his Black male dominance despite the media’s emphasis on Black male inferiority.

The Readers: Hilton Als and the Queer Imagination

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Recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for theater criticism, Hilton Als often writes about the intersections of performativity, popular culture, and reflection—that is, the ways art can and cannot reflect something resembling truth. I first found my way to his writing through his book White Girls.

Confronting Our Environmental Apocalypse: Emerson and the Search for Reality

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If we cut through the soft, friendly Emerson, we find that for all its optimism and apparent naivety, Emerson’s work is immersed in a mature, tragic vision that asks us to confront the mean aspects of life, the inherent limitations and necessary failures we all must face.

Fiction Responding to Fiction: Henry James and John Cheever

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While Cheever pays homage to James in both the themes of change and loss, as well as in the construction of his story, he uses the differences between the two stories to critique the mid-century American way of life.

Big Picture, Small Picture: Context for William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”

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In June of 1939, William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning” is published in Harper's Magazine, marking the first appearance of the fictional Snopes family of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Eleven years later, Faulkner accepts the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Readers: Maureen Corrigan and the Fictions That Endure

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If you listen to NPR, you might vaguely recognize Maureen Corrigan’s voice. Even and deliberate, it always has an elusive quality: Corrigan’s book review segments on Fresh Air, usually ranging from five to eight minutes, are self-contained things, and every word feels carefully chosen.

The Limits and Freedoms of Literary Regionalism: Truman Capote’s Shifting Proximity to New Orleans

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Truman Capote often returned to New Orleans, his hometown. In his 1950 book of essays entitled Local Color, Capote writes detailed observations of the cities he visits, the first among them his Louisiana home.