The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded 26 Genius Grants this year to a select few individuals who exhibit “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Seven of these amazing people are fiction writers, non-fiction scholars, and poets who you should absolutely check out if you haven’t already!
1 – Ocean Vuong
Images via WBUR.org and Amazon
Vuong’s been having a great year. His debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeouswas greeted with widespread critical acclaim. The novel is written as a letter to a mother who does not speak or read English. In an interview with the MacArthur foundation, Vuong spoke on the autobiographical roots of the story: “I grew up surrounded by Vietnamese refugee women who used stories to create portals,” said Vuong. “I use language and literature as a way to orchestrate a framework to think and inquire about American life, including the legacy of American violence.”
Image via Amazon
Vuong has also been widely praised for his poetry. The feature the MacArthur Foundation wrote on Vuong describes him as “a vital new literary voice demonstrating mastery of multiple poetic registers while addressing the effects of intergenerational trauma, the refugee experience, and the complexities of identity and desire.” His debut book of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, won the T.S. Eliot prize.
2 – Lynda Barry
Image via Wikimedia
Lynda Barry’s zany graphic novels and memoirs have earned her a reputation as one of the most innovative writers working in the genre. She’s dedicated a large portion of her career to helping others discover their voice in writing. Her 2006 book, What It Is, focuses on the role of image-making in writing and human communication.
Image via Amazon
3 – Emily Wilson
Image via Upenn
You might recognize Emily Wilson as the classicist who, in 2017, became the first woman to publish a translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. Her translation attracted a lot of attention for its innovative use of modern idiom, and critic praised Wilson for her ability to capture the metrical and musical qualities of the original text in her translation.
Image Via Amazon
4 – Valeria Luiselli
Image via the Macarthur foundation
Luiselli’s 2019 novel, Lost Children Archive, was recently long listed for The Booker Prize. The novel tells a fictionalized account of her family’s journey from New York to the Texas-Mexico borderlands. Luiselli’s techniques of blending fiction and essay challenge the boundaries of both forms.
Image via Amazon
5 – Jeffrey Alan Miller
Image via the Macarthur FOundation
In his literary scholarship, Miller researches how trends in early Modern or Renaissance thought emerged and were shaped by literature. He focuses on John Milton’s poetry and the development and writing of the King James Bible. His understanding of Renaissance theology and literature is changing how we understand foundational works of Christianity, philosophy, and literature.
6 – Kelly Lyttle Hernandez
Image via the Macarthur foundation
Kelly Hernandez is an American historian who challenges “long-held beliefs about the origins, ideology, and evolution of incarceration and immigrant detention practices in the United States.” Particularly poignant at a time like this, Hernandez’s writing chronicles how the history of racial violence in the American West intersects with the history of mass incarceration. Her 2017 book, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965,centers the history of incarceration in the U.S. around Los Angeles, chronicling how targeted people and communities have always fought back.
Image via Amazon
7 – Saidiya Hartman
Saidiya Hartman is a cultural historian who focuses on the legacy of slavery in America, giving a voice to the seldom-documented lives that are often erased from history. Her first book, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, put forward her idea of “critical fabulation,” which challenged the authority of historical archives as the only source of genuine knowledge. Her latest book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, similarly “immerses readers in the interior lives of young black women who fled the South and moved to Northern cities in the early twentieth century.”
Image via Amazon
Featured image of Ocean Vuong via The MacArthur Foundation
It’s October, it’s coming towards the end of the year, but it’s not too late to start living your truth and making sure that you’re growing and improving every day. The real change comes from within, after all, and we’ve got five wonderful novels about personal growth to help you on your journey towards the new and improved you.
1. Everything You Are by Kerry Anne King
Kerry Anne King’s new tear-jerker Everything You Are is guaranteed to give you a new lease on life!
Everything You Are has been described by Barbara O’Neal, author of The Art of Inheriting, as “a fresh, imaginative story about the power of dreams and our hunger to be who we really are.” Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) calls Everything You Are “real and raw… a gorgeous tale of life told between those lines too often blurred.”
Whisper Me This author King explores promises, redemption, forgiveness, art, love and personal growth in her stunning new novel.Julianne MacLean, USA TODAY bestselling author, notes that “Writing sensitively about characters struggling to overcome tragedy and loss, Kerry Anne King has delivered a beautiful, soulful novel that hits all the right notes—especially for music lovers. It will leave you with tears in your eyes and sighs of contentment when you reach the satisfying, emotional conclusion.”
I’m already welling up!
One tragic twist of fate destroyed Braden Healey’s hands, his musical career, and his family. Now, unable to play, adrift in an alcoholic daze, and with only fragmented memories of his past, Braden wants desperately to escape the darkness of the last eleven years.
When his ex-wife and son are killed in a car accident, Braden returns home, hoping to forge a relationship with his troubled seventeen-year-old daughter, Allie. But how can he hope to rescue her from the curse that seems to shadow his family?
Ophelia “Phee” MacPhee, granddaughter of the eccentric old man who sold Braden his cello, believes the curse is real. She swore an oath to her dying grandfather that she would ensure Braden plays the cello as long as he lives. But he can’t play, and as the shadows deepen and Phee finds herself falling for Braden, she’ll do anything to save him. It will take a miracle of forgiveness and love to bring all three of them back to the healing power of music.
Don’t forget to enter our giveaway to win your very own copy of Everything You Are, amazing headphones and other cute prizes!
2. Normal People by Sally Rooney
In her Man Booker-longlisted sophomore novel, internationally acclaimed Irish author Sally Rooney returns with a searing and intimate examination of two young people and their relationship as they grow from teenagers into college students, in mid-2000s Ireland. With a TV mini-series adaptation from Oscar-winning Room director Lenny Abrahamson in production, and countless awards and accolades under it’s belt, this novel is one of the finest novels about personal growth published in the last decade.
The Number One Sunday Times Bestseller. Winner of the Costa Novel Award 2018. Winner of the an Post Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year. Winner of the Specsavers National Book Awards International Author of the Year. Longlisted for the Booker Prize
Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years. This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.
3. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
In his debut novel, award-winning poet Ocean Vuong explores immigrant identity, generational trauma, love, life and growing up. Bearing what is potentially the most beautiful book title of all time, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is written from the point of view of a young Vietnamese-American man addressing his mother as he examines the experiences and situations that defined their life together, from her life as the child of a traumatized war victim, to the family’s move from post-war Vietnam to suburban Connecticut and their lives there as immigrants.
He tenderly recounts emotional, sometimes disturbing, often beautiful scenes from throughout their shared lives, and, as he grows older, his own secret life, through a stunning series of metaphors, vignettes, and stories.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
4. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Elizabeth Gilbert calls this New York Times Bestseller “Just the sort of thing that Philip Roth or John Updike might have produced in their prime (except, of course, that the author understands women).” In Fleishman Is In Trouble, Brodesser-Akner explores relationships, marriage, and what happens when it all falls apart.
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest says Brodesser-Akner’s novel is “Blisteringly funny, feverishly smart, heartbreaking, and true…an essential read for anyone who’s wondered how to navigate loving (and hating) the people we choose.”
Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.
As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.
A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.
5. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis-Graves
The Girl He Used to Know is a neurodiverse story about love, growth and life on the spectrum.
Kirkus has this to say of Garvis Grave’s beautiful novel: “Careful to balance the emotional and intellectual power between Annika and Jonathan, Graves creates a believable love affair in which Annika is not infantilized but rather fully realized as simply different. And her differences become her strengths when catastrophe strikes, compelling Annika to take the lead for the first time in her life. A heartwarming, neurodiverse love story.”
Kaira Rouda, bestselling author, Best Day Ever and What Comes Around notes that “This wonderful novel deals with life and love on the spectrum with captivating and heart-warming characters who will stay with you long after you’ve finished. Memorable, and remarkable, Tracey Garvis Graves has written another winner.”
Annika Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.
Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.
Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.
WE LOVE POETRY. World Poetry Day is Bookstr’s favorite holiday. If there wasn’t a full on blizzard in New York today, we would be in the office reciting verses to one another all day long, you best believe. However, the fact of the matter is that there IS a full on blizzard taking place in this here city, and therefore we must content ourselves with virtually sharing our favorite poems with each other and with you!
So one of my favorite poems is On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. The poem executes how beauty can be found even in circumstances of fear, worry, and grotesqueness. Vuong’s inexplicable looming presence gives this poem a tone of “the unknown” that compels the reader to reread, and reinterpret. Here’s an excerpt:
I wanted to disappear — so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.
In honor of World Poetry Day I want people to be able to fall in love, like I did, with Gayle Danley’s The Talk. I first came across this former national and international poetry slam champion’s work about four or five years ago. Here’s a short excerpt from The Talk:
You came from this: Maryland rain, nights of shag carpet lovin’ and days
Just $2 short of the rent;
And one afternoon you came
I wanted your father so badly it hurt
Even took his last name and flung it behind yours like a spare tire
Whatever he gave me was never enough
It was like his love was a sieve
And my desire for him
The poem is almost cinematic in its setting and tone. But what really captured me was its raw honesty, vulnerability, and truth of what it means to be human. I’m a sucker for details and this work has so many that it feels heartbreakingly familiar. Danley brings you back to a place you never were and somehow even you become stricken with nostalgia. It’s endearing, real, and heartfelt, definitely worth a read.
It’s so hard to select one single, solitary poem as a favorite, but one that’s been on my mind recently is Birches by Robert Frost. I was upstate at the weekend, staying on a property surrounded by birch trees in the snow, and it brought me back to studying Birches in school when I was fifteen. I remember Frost didn’t speak to me the way some of the other poets we studied at the time, like Emily Dickinson, did, but that I loved Birches, and it has echoed in my brain ever since. It’s a stunning tribute to nature and to youth. The phrase ‘you’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen’ never left my mind, and the imagery of the girls bending over to let their hair dry in the sun is just phenomenal. I read the whole thing sitting looking out at the snowy birches and it was just heavenly. Here’s the first verse.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
It’s not the most interesting or unique choices for a favorite poem, but I will always love T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I’ll never forget the first time I read it; it was my junior year of high school, and I was sixteen-years-old. My best friend and I had just recently seen the movie Annie Hall, and we likened the poem’s Speaker to any given Woody Allen character. Whether or not that’s an accurate comparison doesn’t necessarily matter, because that was the moment I decided I did in fact enjoy reading poetry; it’s deeply personal. Prufrock isn’t the most accessible poem out there (the beginning opens with a handful of Latin lines, and doesn’t slow down once), and while I may not fully comprehend every reference the Speaker makes I still enjoy the vast amount of imagery Eliot paints for the reader. I also highly recommend checking out T.S. Eliot’s reading of this poem, because in my mind, his voice gives the character life. Listen to the author read the poem aloud!
My favorite poet is e.e. cummings, and since feeling is first is the poem that introduced me to his work. We read it in my English class, and I suppose it stuck out because of the style and because it was the only romantic poem we read as a class (I’ve always been an incurable romantic). Not long after that I bought an entire book of his poetry, and I was hooked!
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
– the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
My favorite poem is Pablo Neruda’s The Infinite One. Neruda’s love poems explore a variety of perspectives on love, heartbreak, desire, etc, but this one resonates with me because as much as we have to explore in the physical world around us, each one of us also has a world of our own that’s equally worth exploring. To me, love is all about how people see and explore the world together.
the twin doves
that rest or fly in your breast,
they travel the distances of your legs,
they coil in the light of your waist.
For me you are a treasure more laden
with immensity than the sea and its branches
and you are white and blue and spacious like
the earth at vintage time.