On June 4, the New York State Writers Hall of Fame will induct eight outstanding authors – Walter Mosley, Countee Cullen, Maurice Sendak, Alice McDermott, Miguel Pinero, James Fenimore Cooper, Calvin Trillin and Marilyn Hacker. Mosley is best known for his Easy Rawlins novels Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, while Cullen came to prominence as a poet during the Harlem Renaissance, publishing classics such as Color and Copper Sun.
Each honoree is inducted personally with a few words by a friend or representative, and the 2013 ceremony will be held at New York’s Princeton Club.
Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, aka Alexandre Dumas, aka “Black Devil” by some of the armies he fought against (let’s just say he was good at his job), aka The Black Count, is at the center of the recently published book from acclaimed author Tom Reiss. Its full title is The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas’ son, likely the most popular Dumas, also named Alexandre Dumas, was author of literary classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. In fact, Dumas, the father of the author, was the inspiration for The Count Of Monte Cristo.
Students at West Point attending a reading by Toni Morrison on Friday. She read from her novel “Home,” which focuses on a Korean War veteran. (Kirsten Luce for The New York Times)
WEST POINT, N.Y. — As thousands of hungry West Point cadets streamed into the mess hall for their 20-minute lunch break here on Friday, they paused from the rush to the tables to give a rousing group cheer to a guest who has received hundreds of accolades, but perhaps none this thunderous.
“I can’t believe this — it’s like a movie,” said Toni Morrison, who sat at one of the 420 wooden tables in the flag-bedecked Washington Hall, a majestic Romanesque structure at the United States Military Academy.
Seated with members of the African-American Arts Forum at West Point, Ms. Morrison ate her Army-issue ravioli and prepared to read from her most recent novel, “Home,” to the freshman cadets, who studied the book in English class this semester.
The novel is the story of Frank Money, a black Georgia native and Korean War veteran struggling to reintegrate into civilian life in a segregated America, while struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
T. Geronimo Johnson, a lecturer in creative writing at the University of California at Berkeley, has been selected as one of five finalists for the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. He also serves as director of the university’s Summer Creative Writing Program.
Johnson is being honored for his debut novel, Hold It, ‘Til It Hurts(Coffee House Press, 2012), a story of two brothers who have returned to the United States after serving in the war in Afghanistan.
Johnson is a native of New Orleans. He holds a master’s degree in language, literacy, and culture from the University of California at Berkeley and a master of fine arts degree from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.
The winner will be announced on March 19 and the award will be presented at the 33rd annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington on May 4.
Over the last 20 years, the channels for discovering new books, especially books by first-time and emerging authors, have shrunk or disappeared. Newspapers and magazines dedicate mere slivers of arts sections to book reviews — if at all. Those papers like the New York Times that do devote more space to book coverage rarely review debut authors. Likewise, bookstores prefer to invite already established, bestselling, or celebrity writers to do readings and signings. That leaves Oprah — and the Queen of Talk has endorsed only 72 books since she started her eponymous book club in 1996, including the two she has recommended since her 2.0 reboot.
It’s even more difficult for black authors — new and established — to get their books on readers’ radars. As it is, African-American interest books receive a mere fraction of the coverage noted above, and with the closing of more than 100 black-owned independent bookstores in the last 15 years, as well as the shuttering of Black Issues Book Review there are even fewer places for black authors’ work to gain visibility. Mosaic, African Voices, and the new Spook can only review so much. “The last [issue of] Essence covered the same book Oprah covered,” observed Troy Johnson, founder of the African-American Literature Book Club better known as AALBC.com.
In this landscape, black book clubs offer authors a valuable — albeit extremely competitive —promotion and sales channel. “[Book clubs] have advanced far beyond the small get-togethers in someone’s living room,” says Carol Mackey, editor-in-chief of direct-to-consumer book club Black Expressions.
Author Zadie Smith and the cover of her new novel, NW. (Photo of Zadie Smith by Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images)
NW, the latest literary contribution from Zadie Smith – the critically acclaimed author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, and On Beauty – does not quake with theatrical plot twists or crackle with the suspense of a mystery or adventure, but it achieves a slow burn that captures the small disappointments, encumbrances, betrayals, and self-deceptions that make up the utter “dailyness” of tragedy.
Tracing the lives of Leah, Natalie (formerly known as Keisha), Felix, and Nathan from their working class roots in the council estate (or public housing) of Caldwell in London, to their divergent individual struggles to become “adults”, or whatever it is we mean by that, Smith renders the idea of personal identity in the cacophonous, commercial and consumerist world in which we live, a frail and exposed thing. Continue reading “Review: Zadie Smith’s Novel “NW” Explores Black Upward Mobility”→
A Columbia graduate student and his adviser have authenticated the student’s discovery of an unknown manuscript of a 1941 novel by Claude McKay, a leading Harlem Renaissance writer and author of the first novel by a black American to become a best seller. The manuscript, “Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem,” was discovered in a previously untouched university archive and offers an unusual window on the ideas and events (like Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia) that animated Harlem on the cusp of World War II. The two scholars have received permission from the McKay estate to publish the novel, a satire set in 1936, with an introduction about how it was found and its provenance verified. Continue reading “Harlem Renaissance Novel By Claude McKay Is Found”→