Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

In any given episode of Rick Steves' Europe, the world's most unassuming man smiles his way through stunning cities. It's a deeply comforting formula. We admire skylines and busy streets; Steves putters around historical monuments; he nods along as locals explain sausage or glassblowing; he signs off with a folksy "Keep on travelin'!"

Zadie Smith is justly celebrated for her chameleon-like gifts as a writer. In novels like White Teeth and On Beauty she's ventured deeply into the lives of a multi-racial assortment of immigrants to Great Britain and the United States. Her characters run the gamut from aspirational working-class kids, self-important academics, pensioners, young dancers and, to date, one Chinese-Jewish Londoner with a fixation on Golden Age Hollywood.

Catastrophic wildfires. Devastating hurricanes. Extreme temperatures. Sea levels that are too high. Ice levels that are too low.

Needless to say, planet Earth (and by extension, humanity) is going through a lot right now.

Could our future be in the stars?

Growing up in rural Idaho, Tara Westover had no birth certificate, never saw a doctor and didn't go to school. Her parents were religious fundamentalists who stockpiled food, mistrusted the government and believed in strict gender roles for their seven children.

As a girl, Westover says, "There wasn't ever any question about what my future would look like: I would get married when I was 17 or 18, and I would be given some corner of the farm and my husband would put a house on it and we would have kids."

'Decarcerating America' Is A Powerful Call For Reform

Feb 20, 2018

Criminalization is frequently America's answer to social issues.

Like a lot of science fiction fans, I read William Gibson's visionary novel Neuromancer not long after it came out in 1984. It painted a dystopian world where people spent most of their time on computers communicating across networks in "cyberspace."

When I read it, I thought it was an engaging fantasy. Now, over 30 years later, the prescience of Gibson's novel is unquestionable. In the intervening years, I've wondered how he and other artists were able to imagine the future when the technologies they wrote about had barely been invented.

In the fall of 2008, Omega Young got a letter prompting her to recertify for Medicaid.

But she was unable to make the appointment because she was suffering from ovarian cancer. She called her local Indiana office to say she was in the hospital.

Her benefits were cut off anyway. The reason: "failure to cooperate."

In the wake of tragedy, confusing and conflicting feelings like fear and anger can be overwhelming. In her breakout novel, Rihannon Navin takes readers on the emotional journey that explores some of these feelings.

Only Child centers around a family reconciling with the aftermath of a mass shooting at an elementary school. It's told from the perspective of 6-year-old Zach, who survived the shooting in which his brother Andy died.

The first Bible I ever purchased was a New International Version Student Life Bible; it was black with neon pink and green lettering. I picked it up from the bookstore of a church I was invited to in my late teens. This "expanded" version featured maps, reading plans, and questionnaires geared toward teenagers who wanted to learn how to effectively apply biblical principles to their daily lives. In other words, how to learn to be the "salt of the earth."

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"Summer afternoon — summer afternoon." According to Henry James, these are "the two most beautiful words in the English language." But "summer camp — summer camp," that's a whole different story. Kim Fu's The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore presents a sleepaway sojourn that turns shattering for five adolescent girls. The weaponized world of contemporary fiction can make even an innocent object like a kayak resemble Chekhov's pistol, which must inevitably explode in the third act.

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Renée Watson's young adult novel Piecing Me Together tells the story of Jade, a Portland, Ore., high school student with "coal skin and hula-hoop hips." Jade has won a scholarship to St. Francis, a private school that's mostly white. She makes friends and does well, but she also feels the school sees her as some kind of project — and she doesn't like it.

A mentor named Maxine comes into her life with a program called Woman to Woman. Maxine is black too, and once lived in her neighborhood, but Jade wonders if Maxine just sees her as someone who needs to be saved.

Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel, Freshwater, is the lyrical, nonlinear story of a woman named Ada, born in Nigeria with, as she puts it, "one foot on the other side." Several "selves" exist inside of Ada, and they identify themselves as "we." When Ada comes to America for college, a traumatic event causes the "we" to take over, and Ada struggles to control her own body.

The author, who won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, says she pulled from her own experiences.

Sometimes you want a book that deals with the big things — love and death and meaning and worth. Sometimes you want stakes that are as high as saving the universe. Sometimes you want thoughtful digressions by learned thinkers on the state of man or the look of aspens in the snow.

During a fellowship to Harvard, writer Tayari Jones spent months and months studying the intersection of race and criminal justice. She learned a lot about the American criminal justice system. She knew all the grim statistics. But she was still searching for the inspiration for a novel she'd hope to write: one that involved an individual's encounter with the system, and the subsequent ripples that touch that person's community.

Then, while she was in Atlanta visiting her mother, she found what she needed during a routine trip to the shopping mall.

Essay: Peak Experience

Feb 16, 2018

We climbed steadily for four days and set up camp at 10,000 feet to rest before our descent. Deep valleys fell away into shadow while the white peaks of the Himalayas stood out along the horizon.

At a distance from our tents stood a tiny stone hut—a Buddhist place of worship—with a single prayer flag fluttering from a tall pole. I stepped through the low door and laid marigolds on the rough altar.

While most of our group of seven women wanted to relax, a few of us decided to hike to 13,000 feet the next day. Surely, we could see more if we stood higher!

Librarian Annie Spence knows what it’s like to love a book so much she has to write it a love letter. She also knows what it’s like for a break-up letter to be in order.

Her letters to books fill the pages of her own new book Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks.

On a starless night, Maria Popova remembers walking down a back road with her friend, Amanda, who had her newborn son strapped to her chest. Mourning the loss of a longtime relationship, Popova describes the darkness being so thick that "each stride seemed to slice the air apart." And then they came to a clearing that stunned her — in the middle of the woods, a glow-worm constellation.

At first, Asymmetry seems like a story we've heard before: Young, pretty would-be writer Alice launches an affair with Ezra, a literary celebrity several decades her senior. He gets a stent, she gets an abortion, he teaches her to pronounce Camus ("It's CA-MOO, sweetheart"), she picks up his meds, he calls her a "good girl," she calls him "cradle robber."

For the first few chapters, it seemed too tired and too insular a story to hear again all for the meagre reward of watching a lightly disguised Philip Roth ejaculate "like a weak water bubbler."

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one is more of an expert in love than romance authors. Whether it's a dream date, the most seductive way to show affection or the most dramatic way to declare your feelings, romance novelists know how to set the scene for a truly authentic and emotional moment to make us all swoon. So in honor of Valentine's Day, I asked some of my fellow authors to share the scenes that defined romance for them. The best part: There's nothing here you can't try at home.

Maya Rodale is a best-selling romance author.

Though six months have passed since Steve Bannon left his position as White House chief strategist, he continues to follow the drama inside the Trump administration.

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