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, September 18
“I loved writing. It was taken away from me.” Perumal Murugan on NDTV
We were delighted this week to learn that The Story of a Goat, the most recent book we’ve published by the acclaimed and controversial Indian author Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman, has been longlisted for the National Book Award in Translated Literature. It’s wonderful news, and we eagerly await the announcement of the shortlist on October 6. Meantime, here’s some excellent video of Murugan granting a rare interview to Barkha Dutt, host of New Delhi Television’s The Buck Stops Here, to discuss, through translator A.R. Venkatachalapathy, the events that led him to publish a declaration on his own Facebook page that “Perumal Murugan the writer is dead.”
“A censor is seated inside me now”
For a full accounting of the public controversy that caused Murugan to announce (to our good fortune, prematurely) the death of his writing self, here’s Ellen Barry’s 2016 New York Times profile — which follows the author as he travels to New Delhi for the above interview, and details some of his views on caste, his background as an author and scholar, his preferences in footwear and sleeping accommodations, and much more.
“When describing the farming communities of South India, Mr. Murugan is neither sentimental nor harsh; he describes it the way an entomologist might describe an insect.” Continue reading…
On a somber note, we are deeply saddened at the passing this week of our friend and author, the legendary Winston Groom. Winston was a writer of rare versatility, at once a fiercely respected historian — who drew on family history and his own experiences as a Vietnam veteran, among other sources — and the author of eight widely acclaimed novels, none more beloved than his 1986 smash bestseller Forrest Gump, ensconced even more firmly in the American national consciousness with Robert Zemeckis’s Oscar-sweeping 1994 screen adaptation, which won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Zemeckis, Best Actor for star Tom Hanks, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing. Here, from a few years before his death, is a lecture Winston gave at the invitation of National Geographic on the Battle of Shiloh, which took place in southwestern Tennessee in April 1862, a year into the US Civil War. “In the Civil War era,” he explains, “when people spoke of the Battle of Shiloh it was with a kind of awe and reverence — not because it was the worst battle in terms of casualties, but because it was a place of such dark horrors.”
And, of course, we couldn’t say goodbye to our friend without at least briefly visiting the beloved character for whom he has become best-known.
Thursday, September 17
Sophy Roberts at the Commonwealth Club
A silver lining to the time of Covid lockdowns is the fact that when author events are pushed to online spaces they become accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, with an internet connection. When the author in question is journalist Sophy Roberts, the accessibility of these events in turn blooms into a window on the vastness of the world — Sophy’s work has taken her to locations as various as Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Libya, Nepal, and innumerable points between. Last month, we had the pleasure of publishing The Lost Pianos of Siberia, Sophy’s riveting account of her travels across that vast and little-understood Russian territory — which comprises an eleventh of all the land on earth — in search of pianos, the instrument introduced to the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great, and all the rich musical culture they embody. A few weeks later, Sophy appeared in an online discussion of the book hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California. Bursting with incredible photos, remarkable stories, and deep historical reflection, it is not to be missed.
Today would be the ninety-seventh birthday of country music legend Hank Williams, who had already changed American music indelibly when he died in 1953, never having reached the age of thirty. That’s as good a day any to remember a book we published almost thirty years ago, Country on Compact Disc: The Essential Guide to the Music. Billy Ray Cyrus had recently reinvigorated the genre and brought it to new national prominence with his hit Achy Breaky Heart. With CDs all the rage, demand for such a book was high in the early nineties. Today, the age of streaming video has largely left CDs behind (though country music remains vital, of course, and Billy Ray Cyrus has recently appeared on an even bigger hit, Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road). Jack Hurst’s review of Country on Compact Disc in the Chicago Tribune is a pleasure to read — at once a meditation on a vital American tradition and a window into a media landscape of the not-too-distant past. (For an exhilarating, contemporary book that takes some of its inspiration from country music traditions, check out Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Book of the Little Axe.)
“Several of the book’s opinions are debatable, of course. Significant numbers of women may heatedly argue with reviewer Rob Tannenbaum’s depiction of current heartthrob John Michael Montgomery as merely a two-star imitator of Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, George Strait and George Jones. More objective observers may point out that the approach Montgomery’s seems most imitative of is Garth Brooks’.” Continue reading…
The world today is remembering the remarkable Stanley Crouch, a critic, novelist, poet, and biographer who wrote authoritatively on jazz and American culture, presenting his often heterodox opinions with a vigorous intelligence and accomplished style that drew tremendous admiration. We published Crouch’s essay “Farrakhan from 1985 to 1996: The Consistency of Calypso Louis” in our 1990 collection The Farrakhan Factor, edited by Amy Alexander — which was relevant again this summer when a number of film and TV stars brought the Nation of Islam minister back into the news. Here’s Crouch a few years ago, appearing on the PBS NewsHour to discuss a less controversial topic: the singular brilliance of legendary bebop saxophonist — and Stanley Crouch biography subject — Charlie Parker.
Wednesday, September 16
“What it is like to be an artist living in a number of worlds”: Hettie Jones and Kellie Jones
In Greenwich Village in the 1950’s, two young poets, Hettie Cohen and LeRoi Jones, fell in love and decided to marry. Both would go on to storied careers — Hettie Jones as a prolific poet, critic, and memoirist, and LeRoi Jones, who in 1965 changed his name to Amiri Baraka, as a poet and playwright, as well as an activist and co-founder of the Black Arts Movement. In this 2013 video, Jones appears with her and Baraka’s daughter, art historian Kellie Jones, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, to discuss writing her acclaimed memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, Kellie Jones’s exhibition “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980,” and much more.
Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan on Kathy Acker’s mistranslations
Kathy Acker’s 1984 novel Blood and Guts in High School is one of the benchmarks of transgressive literature, and arguably one of the keystone works of twentieth century American writing. In a fascinating new essay published this week at Ploughshares, scholar and Duke University PhD candidate Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan offers a close reading of one of the most oft-neglected aspects of the novel: the twenty-plus pages of poems by the book’s protagonist Janey Smith, which look to be written in Persian (the language Janey is studying while being held in captivity by a “Persian slave trader”) and translated into English — unless, as Fuleihan points out, the reader knows Persian, which makes clear that these “translations” are anything but straightforward. It’s a wonderful scholarly intervention, and a demonstration that the irreducible complexities at the heart of Acker’s work are alive and well.
“Considering the hidden messaging of the mistranslations—that power structures are unavoidable and that we continually reproduce them even in attempts to deconstruct oppression or innovate freedom—it seems even more ironic that the Farsi text has gone unnoticed by so many. While the barrier for readers of Latin script in interpreting the Farsi is real, I find it, quite honestly, lazy, at best. At its worst, then, is its implication of white supremacy and racism: the Farsi is likely deemed not worth the effort of close-reading, or even of marginal attention to the shape it takes on the page.” Continue reading…
Amiri Baraka reads “Something in the Way of Things (In Town)”
It’s never, ever a bad time to listen to Amiri Baraka. Here he is performing his poem “Something in the Way of Things (In Town)” in Troy, New York in 2009, accompanied by saxophone player Rob Brown. The piece is well-known to a whole generation of music fans, thanks in part to the rendition of it that closes the Roots’ 2002 album Phrenology. At the Poetry Foundation’s website, there’s also a recording of the lively discussion of the poem that took place at Philadelphia’s Kelly Writers House in summer 2018 as part of Al Filreis’s “Poem Talk” series, featuring William J. Harris, Tyrone Williams, and Aldon Lynn Nielsen.
Tuesday, September 15
It’s official: Shuggie Bain has made the Booker Shortlist!
Fantastic news today from the UK — Shuggie Bain, the wonderful debut novel by Douglas Stuart, has been shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize! Longlisted as well for the Kirkus Prize and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, it’s the remarkable story of a gentle, lonely boy growing up in public housing in the eighties in a Glasgow shaped by the policies of the Margaret Tatcher administration. Shuggie’s mother Agnes is his guiding light, but her spiraling alcoholism becomes an increasingly dire burden on the boy, whom everyone else sees as “no right,” even as he struggles to fit in. Here’s the Booker team’s announcement of the shortlist, with a bit of truly excellent video to watch.
— The Booker Prizes (@TheBookerPrizes) September 15, 2020
Walter Mosley on writing: “Sitting behind us is some person we don’t know and aren’t thinking about. That unknown person is my audience.”
Today, we’re delighted to be publishing The Awkward Black Man, the new short story collection from acclaimed past master of American writing — and, as of last week, honoree of the National Book Awards’ Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters — Walter Mosley! Today, Walter’s in Literary Hub, answering that publication’s increasingly legendary author questionnaire. It’s a revelation and a hoot — check it out.
Today would also have been the ninety-first birthday of revered British historian John Julius Norwich, who passed away in 2018 after a remarkably distinguished career over which he authored more than forty books. In this brief video, he discusses his first book, Mount Athos, and talks over some of the differences between that fabled peak dotted with monasteries as it was in the mid-sixties, when he wrote the book, and decades later, when it was full of “very pilgrim-y” pilgrims from the former Eastern Bloc.
Monday, September 14
“A division that isn’t mathematical”: Taking stock of David Wojnarowicz
Today would have been the sixty-sixth birthday of David Wojnarowicz — a peerless artist and writer whose work today continues to fascinate and transfix nearly three decades after his death of AIDS in 1992, at the age of just 37. (We checked in on David’s legacy this summer on the anniversary of his passing, too.) In this 2013 video produced by the Whitney Museum, critic and biographer Cynthia Carr discusses Wojnarowicz’s life and work — including the fact that he considered himself a writer long before he started painting at the urging of photographer Peter Hujar.
“Alienation was the driving theme”: The New York Times on Wojnarowicz’s continuing legacy
Two years ago, when the Whitney Museum of American Art presented History Keeps Me Awake at Night, a retrospective of Wojnarowicz’s furious, abridged career, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Holland Cotter took to the pages of the New York Times to reflect not just on the show but on Wojnarowicz’s life and work more broadly, including his deep engagement with authors like Jack Kerouac and Jean Genet, the lasting impact of his friend and mentor Peter Hujar, the right-wing outrage his work was known to generate, and much more.
“In 1990, two years after Wojnarowicz tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS, he made what he knew would be a final trip out of New York. He traveled to the American Southwest with the photographer Marion Scemama. On a drive through Death Valley, he asked her to make his portrait. For the shoot, he dug a hole in the ground and buried himself in dirt so that only part of his face was visible. The picture, which is famous, comes at the end of the exhibition. Does it show the artist sinking into the earth? Or rising, Lazarus-like, from it?” Continue reading…
“I feel the history of that body”
In October, 1993 — just over a year after Wojnarowicz’s death — Arista Records released No Alternative, a compilation album intended to raise money for AIDS research and drive awareness of the disease and the struggle to end it. The album featured contributions from Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Sarah McLachlan, and many others. It was also released in a special VHS cassette edition with additional performances; that VHS concluded with this brief, animation-enhanced live reading by Wojnarowicz.