My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

June 29-30, 2019: June 2019 Recap

[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
June 3: Jewish American Journeys: Louis Brandeis: For the anniversary of his Supreme Court confirmation, a Jewish American series starts with three social and legal legacies of the People’s Lawyer.
June 4: Jewish American Journeys: Abraham Cahan: The series continues with the pioneering author who crossed numerous genre and social boundaries.
June 5: Jewish American Journeys: Mary Antin and Anzia Yezierska: The many distinctions and one telling similarity between two early 20th century books, as the series rolls on.
June 6: Jewish American Journeys: Hank Greenberg: Why we should better remember one of the first and greatest Jewish American athletes.
June 7: Jewish American Journeys: Philip Roth and Sarah Silverman: The series concludes with humor, gender, and Jewish American artists.
June 8-9: Jewish American Journeys: Michael Hoberman’s Books: A special weekend tribute to my colleague and one of our most prolific Jewish American Studiers.
June 10: Boxing and America: A Clear but Troubling Association: A boxing series starts with why AmericanStudiers can’t forget the sweet science, and why I wish we could.
June 11: Boxing and America: Jack London and Jack Johnson: The series continues with an ugly moment when white supremacy took precedence over athletic competition.
June 12: Boxing and America: Ali and the Draft: What led up to a pivotal 1967 moment and why it still matters today, as the series fights on.
June 13: Boxing and America: Cinderella Man and the Depression: On the anniversary of James Braddock’s stunning upset victory, narratives of hope in one of America’s darkest times.
June 14: Boxing and America: Tyson and Celebrity: The series concludes with three stages in the bizarre public arc of an 80s champion.
June 15-16: Boxing and America: Boxing Movies: A special weekend post, on how three boxing films present vital American stories and themes.
June 17: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Ian Williams’s Reproduction: My annual Beach Reads series kicks off with the acclaimed debut novel from my friend and former colleague.
June 18: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Emily Page’s Fractured Memories: The series continues with a multi-genre, multi-media book by a middle school friend.
June 19: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God: The funny, thoughtful spiritual memoir of a fellow Charlottesville High School alum, as the series reads on.
June 20: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Tammar Stein’s YA Novels: The popular and ground-breaking YA novels of another middle school friend.
June 21: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Recent Books by FSU Colleagues: The series concludes with three recent works by some of my many talented FSU colleagues.
June 22-23: Crowd-sourced Beach Reads: As always, one of my favorite crowd-sourced posts of the year—add your Beach Read nominees there or here, please!
June 24: 21st Century Lit: Americanah: A series on great contemporary lit kicks off with two of the many reasons why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel is a must-read.
June 25: 21st Century Lit: The Underground Railroad: The series continues with historical fiction, speculative anachronisms, and Colson Whitehead’s wonderful book.
June 26: 21st Century Lit: Homegoing: How Yaa Gyasi’s innovative, multi-generational novel reveals the limits and the possibilities of historical fiction, as the series writes on.
June 27: 21st Century Lit: Jericho Brown: Three ways to connect with the work and voice of one of our most talented contemporary poets.
June 28: 21st Century Lit: Five Great (American) Novels: The series concludes with five recent novels that stake their claim to the elusive title of the Great American Novel.
4th of July series starts Monday,
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Friday, June 28, 2019

June 28, 2019: 21st Century Lit: Five Great (American) Novels

[In honor of my about-to-conclude grad class on Analyzing 21st Century America, a series on great recent literary works, with the same Af Am lit through-line that I brought to the class!]
Five recent novels that stake their claim to the title of Great American Novel.
1)      Behold the Dreamers (2016): Imbolo Mbue’s stunning debut novel is a historical novel about the 2008 financial crisis and recession, a multi-generational immigrant saga of a young family from Cameroon, a novel of manners about class and inequality in contemporary New York, a bittersweet romance, and a moving depiction of the promise and limits of the American Dream. Among other things!
2)      Lovecraft Country (2016): It might be enough just to note that Jordan Peele’s first project after his Oscar-winning Get Out will be to produce an adaptation of Matt Ruff’s supernatural historical novel for HBO. But if I need to say more, I’ll note that Ruff’s gripping page-turner combines John Bellairs and Ralph Ellison, among many other influences (including of course the weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft and his peers), to produce something entirely new. Some critics might argue that genre fiction can’t also compete for the Great American Novel crown; those critics would be wrong, as Ruff illustrates perfectly.
3)      Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017): I’m not gonna lie, I haven’t yet had a chance to read Jesmyn Ward’s acclaimed new novel. So I won’t pretend otherwise or say too much here, other than that anything Ward writes is to my mind an automatic contender for any and all accolades, and that from everything I’ve read Sing takes her talents to one more level still. You’ll be the first to hear when I do get to check it out, dear readers!
4)      The Sympathizer (2015): As Philip Caputo (one of our foremost authorities on the Vietnam War) argues in that hyperlinked NYT review, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel offers a strikingly new lens through which to read Vietnam (in relationship to the United States and the world, and on its own complex terms). That’d be enough all by itself to make this a crucial and great American novel. But Nguyen’s book is also funny and moving, engaging and challenging, and utterly unique from start to finish.
5)      What is the What (2006): I know I’m stretching the meaning of “recent” a bit with this one, but I don’t believe Dave Eggers’s novel has gotten the attention it deserves. Perhaps that’s because of its unsettling genre ambiguity: Eggers’s book is defined as a novel, but is written in the first-person voice of a real person, former Lost Boy of Sudan Valentino Achak Deng (just to add to the ambiguities, the book’s subtitle is The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng). I get the potential landmines of those choices, but to this reader the blurrings of genre and voice are part and parcel of this book’s unique identity and greatness, and its engagement with some of the most pressing 21st century issues (refugees and international crises, cross-cultural identities, war and violence, history and hope). Like all these contenders, at the very least What deserves to be read and responded to by as many American readers as possible!
June Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other recent literary works you’d highlight?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

June 27, 2019: 21st Century Lit: Jericho Brown

[In honor of my about-to-conclude grad class on Analyzing 21st Century America, a series on great recent literary works, with the same Af Am lit through-line that I brought to the class!]
On three ways to connect with the wonderfully talented poet whose first book-length collection, The Tradition, was published this year:
1)      Read his poems: Duh, I know. But still, there are so many ways to gain access to contemporary writers (see items 2 and 3 in this post, natch) that it can be easy to miss out on the literary talent and voice that make them such vital contributors to our contemporary culture. In the case of Jericho Brown, I first learned of him through the poem “The Tradition,” which serves as an epigraph of sorts for Jesmyn Ward’s wonderful collection The Fire This Time. That remains one of my favorite 21st century poems, and it seems to be a favorite of Brown’s as well, since he named his whole collection after it. But with each subsequent Brown poem I’ve read, I’ve found something new, distinct styles and forms as well as expansions and extensions of his central thematic threads. If you’re able to click on some or all of those hyperlinks and check out those poems, this post will have done everything I could hope for.
2)      His TED talk: Brown delivered a May 2015 talk at the TEDxEmory event, and it’s one of the best TED talks I’ve seen, a multi-genre combination of poetry reading, autobiographical one-man show, literary critical analysis of the genre of poetry, sermon, and more besides. Since I’m asking you to watch a 16-minute video, I’m gonna stop writing this paragraph now so you can get to doing that!
3)      Twitter: Welcome back! Like many of his fellow contemporary writers, Brown is also a devoted and compelling Tweeter, using the social media network not only for its standard purposes (sharing his own work, highlighting the work of fellow authors, reaching out and responding to readers and communities) but also (it seems to this Twitter follower anyway) as another space in which to compose. I’m not suggesting he’s gone as far as the novelist Teju Cole, who wrote an entire short story on Twitter (and honestly, who else has gone that far???). But nevertheless, to connect with Brown on Twitter is to gain access to his perspective and voice, his creative process and ideas, his evolving career in ways that would have seemed impossible just a decade or so ago. There’s a lot that’s frustrating about the 21st century, but these multi-layered connections to our greatest writers ain’t one of them!
Last 21C texts tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other recent literary works you’d highlight?