Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs
Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs

Just read an interesting piece in The New York Review of Books by Ruth Franklin, author of the recent biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. (I was drawn to the sensationalist headline: ‘A Deep American Horror Exposed‘.) The piece is a review of Joyce Carol Oates‘ new work,  A Book of American Martyrs, a novel that explores the troubled inner life of an anti-abortion activist is driven to murder in the name of his cause.

This is not the first time that Oates’ writing has ventured into pressing contemporary issues. As Franklin remarks, “Oates’s fiction has confronted some of the most morally troubling episodes in the recent American past,” and cites Black Water (1992) and the recent Carthage (2014) as prominent examples. What is significant about A Book of American Martyrs, for Franklin, is its ability to frame social issues with an attention not just to their complexity, but to politically and economically disenfranchised groups: “Like much of Oates’s other recent work, it is clearly an attempt to speak for ‘those unable to speak for themselves’—the uneducated white working class.” (more…)

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Celebrating the women’s civil rights movement

Today marks International Women’s Day, which has commemorated the struggle for women’s civil rights throughout the twentieth century. The day was originally known as International Working Women’s Day, and for most of its history has been connected with socialist movements and communist states such as China and Soviet Russia. In the mid-1970s, during the height of Second Wave Feminism, the UN recognised International Women’s Day and invited its member states to do the same.

Since the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year, there has been an increased level of vigilance on issues surrounding women’s civil rights in the United States. Many basic political, economic, and cultural entitlements have fallen under threat, and thousands of grassroots campaigns have mobilised all over the country to respond. To mark this year’s IWD, the Women’s March on Washington has called for A Day Without A Woman, a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity for ‘equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people’.

Reads for IWD 2017

Masthead Photograph: Artist Louise Bourgeois in her home studio

Michael Richardson discusses how literature can help shed new light on our understanding of torture, trauma, and affect
Michael Richardson, Gestures of Testimony (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Michael Richardson, Gestures of Testimony (Bloomsbury, 2016)

How did you come to write Gestures of Testimony?

One of Barack Obama’s first acts as President was to declassify the Torture Memos of the Bush Administration. Suddenly, the architecture of American torture was visible to an extent that it had never been before. At the time, I was working as a speechwriter in Canada for Jack Layton, who was then the leader of the New Democratic Party, and watching very closely what was happening across the border. I became obsessed with how torture was articulated and authorised, and even more so with the effect it had on both survivors and perpetrators. I’ve always understood the world through writing and literature, so I wanted to understand torture in that context too. That led me to a PhD on torture, literature and politics, and from there to writing Gestures of Testimony. (more…)

Q&A with the new President of the Samuel Beckett Society
Daniela Caselli
Daniela Caselli

I recently caught up with Daniela Caselli to chat about her new role as President of the Samuel Beckett Society, an international organization of scholars, students, directors, actors and others who share an interest in the writer’s work. I asked how she first encountered Beckett’s writing, and what she sees as the next step for the Society moving forward:

“My entire career has been shaped by Beckett’s work. As a first year student I took an amazing course on modernism, with a focus on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, taught by Carla Locatelli. It was a revelation, and I never looked back.”

When asked about her plans for the Society going forward, she replied: ‘I aim to develop a Society that is as inclusive as possible, and to develop themes and priorities that reflect the great diversity of the Beckett community.’

You can read our exchange in full at samuelbeckettsociety.org.

Carson McCullers at her writing desk.
Carson McCullers at her writing desk.

Spent a few days in London with Jennifer. It’s now become customary for us to walk everywhere we go, tiring us out just in time for pizza on the South Bank.

Read John Williams‘ short but sweet tribute to the American writer Carson McCullers in The New York Times: ‘Feb. 19 was the centenary of the birth of Carson McCullers, one of the most distinctive and ill-fated writers in American history. McCullers died when she was 50, in 1967. She suffered a series of strokes before she was 30, and spent much of her life in pain.’

Looking forward to reading three essay collections by the American writer Marilynne RobinsonThe Givenness of ThingsWhen I Was a Child I Read Books, and Absence of Mind. I taught Robinson’s Housekeeping a year or two ago, and have become increasingly fascinated by her work ever since.