Alison Flood (The Guardian) reports on a petition that rejects traditional English curriculum at Yale
Undergraduates at Yale University have launched a petition calling on the English department to abolish a core course requirement to study canonical writers including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, saying that “it is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors”.

The prestigious Connecticut university requires its English majors to spend two semesters studying a selection of authors it labels the “major English poets”: “Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot or another modern poet in the spring”. (more…)

“Betty Friedan, the godmother of the postwar US women’s movement, was an accidental feminist. “Until I started writing [The Feminine Mystique]” she confessed in 1973, “I wasn’t even conscious of the woman problem.” Friedan had begun her research into “the problem that has no name” – a catchy homage to “the love that dare not speak its name” of Oscar Wilde’s fin-de-siècle disgrace – as part of her work for a questionnaire of her former college classmates on their 15th reunion in 1957, thinking that she would “disprove the current notion that education had fitted us ill for our role as women”.”

More at The Guardian.

The novelist on unusual cinema experiences, LGBTQ history and the genius of Happy Valley (Source: The Guardian).

Writer Lucy Caldwell talks to Faber & Faber about the importance of the short story form, and picks some of her favourite examples
Lucy Caldwell

A short story is a shot of vodka (Chekhov), a love affair to the novel’s marriage (Lorrie Moore), a high wire act (Kevin Barry). It’s a hand grenade, a sprint, a shock, a shiver. There’s something taut, essential, elusive about it. There’s a magic to it, an alchemy. A good short story has to infer the entire and immersive world of a novel, create the same depth of consciousness in its characters, and yet with a mere fraction of the words. It requires the concision of poetry, and maybe the comparison with poetry goes even further: it needs to work on a symbolic plane as well as on the level of the literal narrative.

A good short story needs to be far greater than the sum of its parts, something that unfurls in you after you’ve read it, echoes within you long after you’ve finished it. My favourite definition, perhaps, is William Carlos Williams’: “Short stories are the flare of a match struck in the dark, the only real form for describing the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of people’s lives.” [Read More]

Robert McCrum (The Guardian) counts down his list of the 100 best non-fiction books, and cites Sontag’s landmark essay collection at number 16

susan-sontag-against-interpretation-and-other-essays-penguinSusan Sontag saw herself as a novelist. The years between 1962, when she completed her first novel, The Benefactor, and 1965, when she began her second, Death Kit, were for Sontag “a sharply defined period” in which she wrote many of the literary critical and cultural pieces that came to define her even more strongly than her fiction.

In her Paris Review interview of 1994, Sontag confessed: “Writing essays has always been laborious. They go through many drafts, and the end result may bear little relation to the first draft; often I completely change my mind in the course of writing an essay. Fiction comes much easier, in the sense that the first draft contains the essentials – tone, lexicon, velocity, passions – of what I eventually end up with.” (more…)

“[…] it’s amazing to me how rare it still is to find complex female friendships in literature for adults (YA has it a little more locked), and even the whiff of a good one can send me straight to the bookstore. In case you’ve been having the same feeling, here are 25 books that investigate female friendship in one form or another.”

More at Flavorwire.

“Although she died in 1982, at the age of ninety, Djuna Barnes seems to have recorded her voice on only a few occasions. The tape below was made in her Patchin Place home in 1971. Barnes is best known for Nightwood, her modernist classic, but she had a long and thriving career as a journalist…”

More at The Paris Review.

Celebrating the 109th anniversary of du Maurier’s birth. Source: Virago.

Nine stories celebrating the writer and her work
Jenny Diski

“Jenny Diski died on April 28, 2016, at the age of 68. Diski was an author of novels and nonfiction, a contributor to the London Review of Books, and blogger on WordPress.com at This and That Continued. At Longreads, Haley Mlotek compiles a reading list of nine stories celebrating the writer and her work.”

More at Discover.

From Kate Chopin to Jeanette Winterson, some novels not only depict the pressures on women, they also change their lives. (The Guardian).

Tessa Hadley (The Guardian) picks her top five
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Anita Brookner
I had such a mistaken idea about Anita Brookner’s novels, until I picked up The Latecomers in a secondhand shop about 10 years ago, and read the first wonderfully concrete sentence. “Hartmann, a voluptuary, lowered a spoonful of brown sugar crystals into his coffee cup, then placed a square of bitter chocolate on his tongue, and, while it was dissolving, lit his first cigarette.” Somehow – I think because of the title of her Booker winner Hotel du Lac – I’d expected something ladylike, lavender-scented, prissy and precious; I knew as soon as I opened my eyes to her words that this writing was everything opposite to that.

(more…)

A rare audio recording from 1959, courtesy of Open Culture.

Dominique Fabre lists five books he can’t stop revisiting

It’s not easy to choose only five books, so I made up my mind and decided to mention the five I can’t help reading again, once in a while, because they are still here for me today. Every time I read them I find something I hadn’t discovered before—or maybe I had forgotten—so that the book is always the same, and yet always different, as well. Only literature can do that for me. (more…)

Rafia Zakaria (The Guardian) asks why the progressive French writer seems to have been left in the margins
Violette-Leduc
Violette Leduc

The explicitly sexual tell-all memoir, with its eager flirtations with the pornographic and dislocations of heterosexuality, has blossomed in the US and France in recent years. But Violette Leduc, who did it all and said it all more than 50 years ago, is a ghostly presence in its genealogy.

It is a mysterious marginalisation: Simone de Beauvoir, who took on Leduc as a protege, remains a feminist icon. Leduc’s contemporary Jean Genet, also wrote sexually explicit, homosexual texts and is widely read and venerated as a pioneer in French avant-garde writing. Not so Leduc. Her first book, the autobiographical novel L’Asphyxie, has still not been translated into English. Her novel Thérèse and Isabelle, written in 1955, was not published uncensored in France until 2000 and was only translated and published in English by the Feminist Press last year. [Read More]

Writing for The Guardian, Grant names Jean Rhys as her writing hero
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Jean Rhys

Rhys is mainly known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of the mad wife in the attic, and I scandalised an audience at the British Library a few years ago by claiming it was a greater novel than Charlotte Brontë’s. Rhys in recent years has most often been seen her in the context of post-colonial writing, but it was the novels written and set in Paris in the 1930s that chilled me to the bone. [Read More]