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An afternoon with Joyce Carol Oates

“I’m much more politicised than I had been. Immediately all I can do is send out tweets,” she says. “I think novels have to be timeless.”

Colson Whitehead: a reckoning years in the making.

Whitehead mockingly suggested the Southern Novel of Black Misery as a promising genre for writers short of inspiration. At talks and signings, he derided slave narratives as a played out trope, knowing there was a scrap of paper in his drawer that would expose him as a hypocrite.

Skating on thin ice with George Saunders

“I don’t want to be that guy who goes to his grave saying ‘I was going to write harder stuff but there weren’t enough jokes.’”

There she snows! A lock-in with Moby Dick

“Unlike that other ending, we will defeat this white whale of a storm,” the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s President, James Russell, declared. “Let us begin the greatest sea story ever told. Watch Officer, give me eight bells.”

Why Michael Lewis doesn’t trust his gut.

“You know what I really don’t look the part of? An author,” he says. “I look the part of a carefree Southern lawyer. You’re supposed to be troubled and unhappy and difficult and all the rest when you’re a writer. And I really don’t fit that stereotype… I’m actually a superficial, happy person, and I happen to do this.”

Small bombs, short fuse: Karan Mahajan’s India

The Association Of Small Bombs is a panorama of the bigotry and bureaucracy of contemporary India, written in voluntary exile. It takes the victims and their families, the terrorists and the falsely accused, and hurls them against each other in “Delhi – baked in exquisite concrete shapes… Delhi – flat, burning, mixed-up, smashed together from pieces of tin and tarpaulin.”

Literary Black Lives Matter: Angela Flournoy

Published in the Age on July 22, 2016. “A book about race is any book with people in it in this country.” This is the last line on the tape, although not quite the last thing Angela Flournoy said. Something about the succinctness of it, the finality, told me to turn off the recorder. It […]

The life in Bill Finnegan’s wake

Last October, Finnegan was surfing the back end of Hurricane Joaquin at Lido Beach when he found himself in a losing race for a good-looking set. Before taking the wave, the other guy glanced over his shoulder, did a double take and shouted: “If you’re who I think you are, good book!”

Don DeLillo: Who wants to live forever?

I had been expecting the man who borrowed “silence, exile and cunning” as a defence mechanism from James Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus. Perhaps he is less afraid of being misunderstood now that his place in the canon is assured. I found him happy to engage and not the least bit prickly or evasive.

“It’s not my job to guess what the reader finds upsetting.”

All novelists hope for a passionate response to their work. Yanagihara set out to provoke one. “It is a book of extremes, in as many ways as I could make it,” she says. “Extreme suffering and extreme elation, extreme despair and extreme love, extreme poverty, in all senses of the world, and extreme wealth… The worst thing you can have as a writer is a shrug of the shoulders.”

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