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Grove at Home: July 19—25

Welcome to Grove at Home!

Every weekday, from now until we’re all out of the house again, we’ll be sharing a couple of links — some fresh, some from the vault — to say hi, remind you to keep reading, and let you know what’s on our minds.

Friday, July 24

Xiaolu Guo reads from her forthcoming novel

Love. Language. Migration. Politics. These are just a few of the tremendous forces that writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo unleashes in A Lover’s Discourse, her latest novel, which we’re excited to publish this fall. Set in Brexit-era England, it tells the story of romance between a Chinese woman living in London as she completes her doctoral studies and a landscape architect she meets there. Intimate, funny, and luminously observed, it’s an exhilarating and timely work from a writer who’s been recognized as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. This week, Guo gave an online reading from the novel, hosted by Vintage Books, who are publishing it in the UK. Give it a listen: it won’t sound like anything else you’ve read.

 

A Q&A with Banana Yoshimoto

Happy birthday to Banana Yoshimoto! The author turns fifty-six today. Celebrated around the world for her assured prose, off-kilter sensibility, and fearless approach to describing both the mundane and the unusual with eloquent simplicity, Yoshimoto — whose pen name reflects her love of banana flowers — is today an admired writer with a global readership, and something of an unofficial spokesperson for a generation born in 1960s Japan.  Today, as we celebrate Yoshimoto’s achievements, and the seven of her books we have the pleasure of publishing in English translation, we’re also enjoying the piquant Q&A that appears on her website, covering both some of the basic questions one expect to find in such a document and some… farther-afield inquiries. It’s a great read.

“Q. I am seeing a married man. What is your opinion about extramarital relationships?”

“A. I have never had such a relationship so far and I don’t think I will have interests in having one. I just think that kind of thing could happen. So I won’t deny it. It’s not just a matter of two people, it will involve many people around them. And the situation is different case by case. That’s why I don’t think I can comment on this easily.” Read the full Q&A…

 

Nicholson Baker sings about Chelsea Manning

More than thirty years into a remarkably wide-ranging career, Nicholson Baker remains one of America’s wittiest and most dynamic writers — a creator of wildly imaginative fictions, and a trenchant social critic. In 2012, for the New Yorker, Baker wrote and recorded Whistleblower Song, about the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning. It offers certainly the most mellifluous intoning of the words “horrible things that belong in the public domain” you’re likely to hear this week. A surprise, a powerful piece of protest art, and a little excellent music to send us into the weekend.

 

Thursday, July 23

“36 hours before I was born, I started to die”

Today would have been the ninety-second birthday of the wonderful Hubert Selby, Jr. — arguably his generation’s Brooklyn writer par excellence, and a stylist whose lyricism, gruff and true, breathes through six novels, a number of short stories, and the cameos he made in the film adaptations of his books Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream. In an interview with Ellen Burstyn, who starred in the movie of Requiem for a Dream, filmed not long before his death in 2004, Selby offers this arresting meditation on his own difficult birth: “I probably won’t find out where I started spiritually until I leave my body. But I’m sure it started a little before I was born. Thirty-six hours before I was born I started to die. Dying became a way of life.”

For a great meditation of Selby’s astonishing life and inimitable writing, find some time to watch Michael W. Dean’s documentary, Hubert Selby: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow, which features interviews with the likes of Amiri Baraka and Nick Tosches, reminiscences from Selby himself, and even intimations of how Selby’s influence reached “The Simpsons.”

 

The time Raymond Chandler was interviewed by Ian Fleming… sort of

Today also marks 132 years since the birth of the legendary Raymond Chandler. We don’t publish Chandler, but we’ve published two books about him by Tom Hiney — both a biography and a selection of correspondence and non-fiction Chandler wrote. Here’s a wild tale that appears in the biography, concerning an interview with Chandler by his friend, James Bond creator Ian Fleming, less than a year before Chandler’s death in 1959. A full version of this story, complete with audio links, appeared in CrimeReads a few years back. Here, we see how Chandler’s biographer understood that day’s events:

“One of the few public appearances that Chandler made during the summer of 1958 was in an interview with Ian Fleming for BBC Radio. When Fleming arrived at Swan Court at ten in the morning to pick his subject up, he found him already drunk. Once he was being recorded, Chandler showed no interest in Fleming’s questions, and instead appeared intent on explaining the ease with which, in America, he could arrange for a contract to have a person killed. The process was simple, he told Fleming. You approach someone whom you know to have petty criminal connections, give him money, and ask to be put in touch with someone more serious. Within a few days, if you in turn seem serious enough, you will meet someone in a position to order the killing. This person will ring a contact in New York, who will telephone two assassins. They will have a legitimate cover, such as running a hardware store in Denver: ‘They go to wherever the man lives. They get an apartment near his rooms and they study him for day after day after day so they know exactly when he goes out, when he comes home, what he does.’ They pick their moment, Chandler continued, and one of them simply walks up to the target and shoots him. The other has a car ready and they disappear back to Denver. The police, by the time they arrive at the scene, have no idea where to look. The interview continued on this sidetrack; Chandler uninterested in discussing issues that no longer concerned him, and Fleming too tickled by Chandler’s deafness to his questions to try and persuade him otherwise. A heavily edited version of the interview was broadcast on the BBC’s Home Service.” Learn more about the book…

 

“This is not something that you do just today… You should always be reading diverse things.” Roxane Gay talks with Paul Holdengräber

Early last month, we spent some time reading a powerfully urgent piece on the fight for racial justice, published in the New York Times and written by the legendary Roxane Gay. That article was one of a number of fascinating subjects — along with quarantine baking, the complexities of hope, and, of course, reading recs — covered in Gay’s phone discussion, earlier this week, with world-class raconteur Paul Holdengräber. Listen right here:

Wednesday, July 22

David Wojnarowicz at the Whitney

Today, sadly, marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the death of the ferocious, seminal American artist, filmmaker, and writer David Wojnarowicz. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS at the age of just thirty-seven. In his short, hungry life, Wojnarowicz produced a body of work that would forever impact the ways art, politics, and sociality understand, influence, and reflect each other. We have the honor of publishing two volumes of his journals.

In the summer of 2018, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a major, career-spanning exhibition of the artist’s work, “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps me up at Night.”

 

“David’s body of work is a cross-pollinated garden of viscera”

In a new essay published by Lambda Literary, Mount Holyoke senior Nadia Niva writes about discovering Wojnarowicz’s work as both an encounter with submerged histories and a confrontation with unpretentious, raw urgency. The essay touches on a lot: Wojnarowicz’s brushes with mainstream fame when, near the end of his life, he allowed U2 to use one of his images as the cover for their hit single “One”; his vivid journals, feral-hearted and meticulous; and the way his thinking resonates through the current pandemic crisis. Highly worth a read.

“What survives in our memory after these sparse exposures is hidden under the film of a twisted nostalgia? The question emerges, how are we meant to feel about the latter half of the 20th century? It is beautiful to consider the explosion of form and experimentation within art communities of New York City, the coming together of people over radical distances to celebrate life and love. But digging into that world there is an unavoidable confrontation each of us must face with AIDS and the overwhelming visibility of, in David Wojnarowicz’s words, ‘this killing machine called America’ (Close to the Knives).” Continue reading…

 

Wojnarowicz discussing his own AIDS diagnosis

In 1989, just a few years before his death, Wojnarowicz sat down with French critic Sylvère Lotringer for a whopping five-hour interview in his kitchen. In 2018, artist Marion Scemama edited the footage of that interview into “Self-Portrait in 23 Rounds: A Chapter in David Wojnarowicz’s Life, 1989-1991.” It’s a powerful document of an artist reckoning with the disease that he knows will kill him, the societal sicknesses he sees reflected in that disease, and his own place in the world of intellectual and cultural work. In this brief excerpt, Wojnarowicz discusses his AIDS diagnosis.

 

Tuesday, July 21

Paul Dickson speaks at the Alexandria Library

Last week was a big one for Paul Dickson’s The Rise of the G.I. Army, 1940-1941: the book received stunning reviews in both the New York Times (“reveals some little-known history… profoundly heartening”) and the Wall Street Journal (“Resurrects a critical but overlooked period… The best history is character-driven, and in this Mr. Dickson excels”). Last week, Paul also sat down for a virtual chat with the great library of Alexandria, Virginia, to share some of what his book has to say about the remarkable period in which America attained war-readiness with astonishing speed and efficacy — a development that ultimately had a lot to do with the defeat of fascism in the middle of the twentieth century.

 

Charmaine Craig’s reflections on Burmese history

Today marks the 990th anniversary of the birth of the Burmese King Kyansittha. Few nations in the world have histories as complex as that of Burma, officially known since 1989 as Myanmar. To understand what that change in the country’s official name means — who implemented it and what they hoped to accomplished — as well as other background predating the controversial rise of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to State Counsellor (Burma’s head of government), we’re reading Charmaine Craig’s excellent 2014 piece in Dissent, laying out the history of the country’s ethnic nationalities, and situating the author’s own family within it.

“If Burma’s history is in the making, it is a history that—to some extent—has already been made. And it is a history that is personal to me: my maternal grandfather, Saw Benson, was a political prisoner in Burma for fifteen years; my mother, Louisa Benson Craig, led an ‘insurgent’ brigade following her first husband’s assassination during peace talks, and went on to lead her own inter-ethnic negotiations, both in Burma and from the United States.” Continue reading…

 

Rabih Alameddine gets a Call from Paul

If you love poetry, are interested in mental health, or enjoy witty conversation in general, you can’t do much better than to listen to yesterday’s conversation between Paul Holdengräber and Rabih Alameddine, whose books include An Unnecessary Woman and the forthcoming The Wrong End of the Telescope (out next year, we can’t wait!). Their discussion drifts to include the poetry of Edward Hirsch, the work of Fernando Pessoa, the notion that “cynicism is a cruel mistress,” and so, so much more. Give it a listen!

 

Monday, July 20

Frantz Fanon in the time of Covid

One can be forgiven for thinking of Frantz Fanon, the epochal Martinican psychiatrist, social theorist, and revolutionary, as a figure of a bygone age. After all, next year will mark the sixtieth anniversary of Fanon’s death. But today would be Fanon’s ninety-fifth birthday — indeed, former European Commission President Jacques Delors, born the same day as Fanon, is very much alive, and celebrating the big nine-five in France today. Moreover, Fanon’s ideas — the ideas that prompted Angela Davis to hail him as the twentieth century’s “most compelling theorist of racism and colonialism” — have if anything only grown in vitality in the years since leukemia felled him at the age of just thirty-six.

In this fascinating interview recorded back in May, American philosopher Lewis Gordon — one of the world’s foremost theorists of race, a leading scholar on both Fanon and W.E.B. Du Bois, and the author of What Fanon Said — talks with Firoze Manji, the Kenyan-born editor of Pambazuka News, about reading the current coronavirus crisis through the lens of Fanon’s thought. It’s riveting. “The first thing Fanon would notice,” Gordon begins, “is… [it’s] only under neoliberalism and neoconservatism that you could create the term ‘social’ distancing. This is all about physical distancing. One can be socially close even at a physical distance.”

 

Chad Kautzer on self-defense, the Black Panther Party, Fanon, and more

In 2018, writing in the Boston Review, philosopher Chad Kautzer shared some thoughts on violence and self-defense. Opening with a few quotations from Malcom X, Kautzer goes on to address a kind of self-defense that “is political because the self being defended is political, and as such it requires both normative and strategic considerations.” Kautzer goes on to base much of his theorizing on Fanon’s landmark work The Wretched of the Earth, whose influence “on the early Black Panthers, Steve Biko, and others derives precisely from Fanon’s understanding of the transformative effects of resistance in the decolonizing of consciousness.” It’s an exhilarating read.

Black Panther poster by Emory Douglas, Lower East Side, NYC, 1970

“Distinguishing between defensive and insurrectionary violence can be complicated. In the Amistad case, for example, white officials initially described it as a rebellion and thus a violation of the law, but later reclassified it as self-defense when the original enslavement was found to be unlawful. In a rare reversal, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the captives on the Amistad as having selves worthy of defense. That was never in question among those rebelling, of course, but it does indicate the political nature of the self and our assessments of resistance. ‘Since the Other was reluctant to recognize me,’ writes Fanon, ‘there was only one answer: to make myself known.’ On the Amistad, rebellion was the only way for the enslaved to make their selves known, meaning that their actions were simultaneously a defense of their lives and a political claim to recognition.” Continue reading…

 

Meet the team behind Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks

Last Spring, those of here in New York City had the pleasure of seeing Isaac Julien’s 1997 movie Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks screened at the Metrograph theater, with the director and producer Mark Nash present for a Q&A led by activist and thinker Kazembe Balagun. (We were there! It was fantastic.) In this video, Julien, Nash, and actor Colin Salmon, who plays Fanon in the film, take questions about the work, Fanon, and more. (The film is available for viewing on Kanopy!)