Critical Essays Archive

Attention Span Training for Book Lovers

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The internet giveth and it taketh away. What it gives readers is legion. What the internet contributes to taking away, however, is the ability to concentrate.

On Being Under the Gun

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There is something about pressure that fascinates me. I never could stand to stick a pin into a balloon, but I would rub one against my head to make my hair stand on end and, in the slow, painstaking process, break the sack of air against my skull.

Andrei Codrescu’s New Orleans

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For old-school southern writers, it seems, having roots in the South—being born there—is a key reason they’re classified as “southern writers.” Thinking of contemporary writers like Codrescu as “southern” is more complex. Though often intensely regional, movement is a central concern of his essays and poems.

On Music History, Street Walking, and Energy Building

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The surrounding parts of Greenwich Village, with its cafes and bookstores and instrument stores and doughnut shops and all things to and from those sorts, brings to one a brevity of air when they can connect who else has been there before.

Poetry, Science, Politics, and Birds

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In watching birds, I understand Adrienne Rich’s idea of triangulation through poetry, science, and politics. Someone thousands of miles across the globe must also value, give voice to, and protect the homes of my most familiar backyard birds.

Brief Primer on Michael Eric Dyson

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As an ordained Baptist minister, Dyson poses the book as a sermon and executes what few writers who address racism can: examine such a disparaging and complex issue in a broader and historical context without making it palatable to those who benefit from its existence.

The Linked Stories and Linked Lives of Elizabeth Strout

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Why are rural communities so often the target of linked story collections?

Structure and Storytelling in the Space-Age Ballet

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Last weekend, I attended The Washington Ballet’s final event of the season, “Tudor, Ashton, World Premiere” at the Kennedy Center. The World Premiere—Kent’s first commission for The Washington Ballet—was timed with the Kennedy Center’s celebration of John F. Kennedy’s centennial.

Jean Genet’s Bodies & Borders

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In 1941, in Paris’s Prison de la Santé, Jean Genet was given three days’ solitary confinement for writing. On sheets of paper he’d been given to make into bags, Genet had begun his first novel: Our Lady of the Flowers.

Don’t (Never) Change: On Holding On and Letting Go

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Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been aware of my inability to maintain a daily journal. Upon the birth of my child, when my life was instantly transformed and everyone around urged me to savor it, this shortcoming became ever more pernicious.