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My first encounter with Nigerian fiction: holed up in a bone-chilling Boston winter, I was drawn into Ben Okri's novel The Famished Road, a frenetic, meandering novel of magical realism in which the "scumscapes," where a boy named Azaro lives in abject poverty, are permeated by the dazzling images and machinations of the spirit world. I learned that the title The Famished Road alludes to a poem by Wole Soyinka (which is, in turn, indebted to a proverb): "The right foot for joy, the left, dread / And the mother prayed, Child / May you never walk / When the road waits, famished." I had to find a way to get there.
Mary Helen Specht
"Words either matter or they don't. And these words are lethal, but nobody bothers to read them. This document [the 2004 memo redefining torture as 'enhanced interrogation techniques'] is a toxic abuse of language. It's an instrumentalization of language for pure power. And that power becomes its own argument and is not accountable to language. Power is slipping beyond accountability. I wanted to imply that readers are partly responsible for this happening, and I include myself; not reading the document for what it is is itself an ongoing war crime that makes all Americans complicit in internationally illegal acts. That's the way power operates. The institutions by which power can be held accountable through language, I think, are failing. This is just one example. Everything's in the open, but somehow it doesn't matter."
Duncan's confidence in his own nature came early, and he was ever strident in holding himself to his beliefs. He was an outspoken gay man when there was absolutely no acknowledgement, let alone awareness of, such a concept as gay rights (see his article "The Homosexual in Society" published in Politics in March 1944). His poems refuse to pass over or hide the gender of the beloved. His radical culturally-innovative stance infamously led to Kenyon Review editor John Crowe Ransom first accepting and then rejecting Duncan's poem "An African Elegy" after publication of Duncan's groundbreaking essay. Robert Duncan in San Francisco is a one-of-a-kind glimpse into Duncan's life, written by Michael Rumaker, one of the rare firsthand chroniclers of the pre-Stonewall era of gay culture. Rumaker wrote from within the extreme homosexual taboo of the time, not so much the individual particulars but more so the overarching climate of 1950s San Francisco during which Duncan's powers as a poet flourished into maturity.
Patrick James Dunagan
"I was just asked to blurb two novels about missing girls, and it wasn't until I read both of those books within a month of one another that I started to sweat a little, and think, "Is this a problem?" None of this was on my mind as I wrote. Well, it was, but I guess I thought I was doing something different, playing with the trope by making my missing woman a bit older and rougher around the edges than the Natalee Holloways or the Laci Petersons who dominate the news. But she's still a white woman. Her disappearance still matters to the public in a way it might not have if the victim were, say, black. The cultural obsession is probably with the unfair theft of promise, beauty, youth. All of the things we're taught to value. Sully the victim a little, and the narrative changes."
James Tate Hill
"When they said, 'Hey, do you guys want to do a Galaga comic?' I said 'As I recall, you're a ship that shoots bugs...' I even went to Wikipedia, thinking there was some text on the side of the arcade cabinet that I missed. There's not. These guys show up, and you shoot them. There's not much to hang a story on, but, in a sense, that was very liberating. There are notes you want to hit, but how you get there is the interesting thing. I do I feel like, in something like this, you should be hitting what people want you to hit. Like when they made a movie based on the board game Battleship? Apparently, in the movie, they don't say, 'You sunk my battleship!'"
The most interesting thing about reading is the way the reader must recreate the writer's stories, characters, and ideas in his or her own mind. You are letting someone else's words enter your head. It's a very intimate process, when you think about it. But precisely because it is "close but only close," because I am reading those words through my own eyes and not the writer's, I am also very much alone. In a lot of ways, this process, of wrestling with someone else's words and coming close (but only close) to understanding the writer, helps me defines the contours of myself.
"When I was a teenager going to evangelical praise and worship services, I would feel the joy being expressed, be totally on board with the feeling that this is day the Lord has made and reason enough for elation. I would be moved to praise, but I didn't know how to move or sing, what to do with my hands. There's more than a little of that praise feeling when I'm writing well and feeling connected to the thing being said. There's a lot of religion in me that's never going to get out, but I'm keeping what I like."
"But as I wrote the book and met other parents with terminally ill kids, I realized, for once and for all, that there is no "normative" body or experience. Seriously. That idea is such bullshit, and yet we live under this myth as if its law. It's such a waste of time. And yes, I wanted to burn my first book for a while because I just thought, who gives a shit about missing a leg when I have a full life? But the issues in that book have not left me, either, because they are constantly shaped and reformed by the beauty and absurdity of life, and also because people don't know what to do with people with disabilities in general. So you walk around with that, always."