Critical Essays Archive

The Art of Inhabiting: Hala Alyan and Characterization

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The places and spaces of Salt Houses play a complex role in the craft of characterization.

Ages of Love

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Pablo Neruda’s rivers and seas are far from skyscrapers and train lines. His verdant island isn’t much like Eileen Myles’s neon city, where rivers tend to be placid and not ones in which to dip the toes of your feet.

What Plot Can Do

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Image, character, language are static, dead things until plot gets a hold of them and makes them move. The more I write, the more I pay attention when I read, the more I understand that I love characters and words and pictures because of the way plot animates them.

Reinventing Writing Workshops

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Like it or not, MFAs, as programs that aim at the professionalization of writing, have always been the vehicle of cultural imperialism; the propensity to remove “ideology” from writing in order to improve the latter is thus basic hypocrisy.

Doughnuts Oozing Their Secrets: Emotion by Jo Ann Beard

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The scenes in my fiction that worry me the most, that I go over and over and that cause me no end of doubt, are the big, emotional moments. Falling in love. Getting dumped. The death of a loved one.

The Blazing World Asks Why There Are No Great Female Artists

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In The Blazing World, Harriet Burden is a widowed sixty-something artist whose work languished in relative obscurity until she recruits three men to claim her work as their own, which fundamentally changes the reception of the art, and possibly even the art itself.

Smartphones Have Potential to Bring About Brave New World or 1984 or Both

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The smartphone wasn’t specifically prophesized by either Aldous Huxley in Brave New World or George Orwell in 1984, but the device is a manifestation of the dark vision both men had for how human beings relate to one another.

Summer Travel: Ghost Hunting Across Europe With Jessa Crispin

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Crispin traveled to Europe chasing literary ghosts and looking for answers. The resulting memoir and travelogue takes on the twin themes of trying to understand the lives of others while hoping to make sense of her own confusing history.

Wislawa Szymborska’s Disquieting Jokes

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I think about jokes a lot when I read Wislawa Szymborska. Her poems build the way jokes do, with irony, misdirection, and distraction: setups that leave you completely unprepared for her disorienting final verses. Instead of leading to certainty, they take you somewhere else entirely.

Science and Literature: Coming Together for the All-American Solar Eclipse

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During the “All-American Eclipse,” everyone in the US will see at least a partial eclipse, but the difference between a partial and a total eclipse, according to astronomer Jay Pasachoff, is like standing outside the opera house versus attending it.