Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

In 1987, reporter Jason DeParle went to sleep on the floor of a shanty in Manila for the first time. He had come to the Philippines to find out more about poverty in the developing world, and when he got there, he asked a nun with connections in a slum to help him find a family to take him in. "She walked me through the squatter camp and auctioned me off on the spot," he says. "I'm not sure who was more frightened, Tita, the woman I moved in with, or me."

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. Americans are talking a lot about race these days and whether immigrants from certain regions should be welcomed into the country. Our guest, Charles King, writes about a time a little more than 100 years ago when he says educated people in the U.S. believed it was established science that there is a natural hierarchy of cultures, with Western civilization at the top, and that people's abilities and potential were defined by their race and gender.

You recall back in 2004 when George W. Bush referred to "rumors on the Internets." That instantly became a classic Bushism, but to my mind he got it right — not just because what we call the Internet originated as a collection of networks 40 years ago, but because what people call "Internet culture" is an ocean of yammer strewn with innumerable islands and continents, each with its own rules, customs and conversations.

A few months ago, I watched a chilling film, My Friend Dahmer, based on a graphic memoir written by a high school friend(ish) of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

While IMDB's logline for the film reads, "A young Jeffrey Dahmer struggles to belong in high school," I saw it more as an attempt to contextualize Dahmer. It showed his chaotic family life, the masculinity he was expected to perform yet couldn't, his social ineptness, and the disturbing ways his instincts were and weren't validated.

Talk about chutzpah. Two female mystery writers have just helped themselves to the titles of two novels written by canonical male authors, without even a please or a thank you.

Diver and photographer Jill Heinerth has explored unmapped, underwater caves deep in the earth, as well as the submerged crevices of an iceberg. She has seen hidden creatures and life forms that have never been exposed to the light of day.

"Since I was the smallest child, I always wanted to be an explorer — to have an opportunity to go someplace where nobody has ever been before," she says. "As an artist with my camera, it's an incredible opportunity to document these places and bring back images to share with others."

President Donald Trump has called himself “the least racist person” in the world, while a 2018 poll found a majority of Americans consider him to be a racist.

These three romance novels are perfect for the homestretch of summer, when it's too hot to go outside and all you want to do is lie under the air conditioner with a book. Whether in the Wild West or big city, online or IRL, these three stories show that romance and happy ever afters are everywhere — if you dare to reach for them.

What is lurking beneath Herbert Powyss' house?

That's the question at the center of British author Alix Nathan's novel, The Warlow Experiment. Powyss is a country gentleman. He prefers gardens and books to people; spends his days designing hothouses for his estate, growing exotic seeds, grafting pear trees and submitting minor horticultural findings to the world's preeminent scientific body, the Royal Society.

"Sometimes, I feel I got to get away," sang the Who in their 1965 single "The Kids Are Alright," and no wonder the song became an instant classic for the youth of Townshend and Daltrey's g-g-g-generation — teenagers of every age tend toward the restive, longing to experience life beyond whichever town or city they were raised in.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Saida Dahir from Salt Lake City is a student activist who uses spoken word to explore her place in America and the world. On the eve of her high school graduation, she recorded this poem.

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "THE WALKING STEREOTYPE")

At one point in his hilariously searing novel Black Card, Chris L. Terry pauses the narrative to issue a list of what makes certain people racist.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sheila, the narrator of Kimberly King Parson's story "Guts," can't run away from bodies: not her own, not others'. Ever since she started dating Tim, a medical student, "all the sick, broken people in the world begin to glow." She imagines tumors and incipient heart attacks in strangers, all the while remaining conscious of her own body, which fails to bring her joy: "I should love my body more," she reflects, but she doesn't.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ever since George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series stole our hearts, minds, and television screens, fantasy literature has gained a reputation for being so grim and dark that there's a whole subgenre of it called, unimaginatively, grimdark. But it was not always thus. Granted, in the '70s and '80s, fantasy contained plenty of proto-grimdark works, most notably Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Roger Zelazny's Amber books.

I was excited to get my hands on a copy of The Silence Between Us, as I had yet to review a book for this column featuring a deaf protagonist. I was doubly delighted to know that the story had been written by someone who is herself part of the deaf community — Alison Gervais suffered permanent hearing loss at a very young age, and is hard of hearing. Even the book's cover image is #OwnVoices, designed by deaf artist Nancy Rourke. I was absolutely ready to lose myself in a good book that both respected and celebrated deaf culture, and I was not disappointed.

Essay: White privilege

Aug 16, 2019

When I was growing up in Grand Rapids in the 1950s, my mother had a “cleaning lady” named Gladys, a soft-spoken colored woman who helped with housework.  I liked Gladys, especially when she made my lunch and cut the sandwiches diagonally.

I hadn’t learned about slavery in America yet and might not have connected that knowledge to Gladys.  But I noticed that when my mother drove her home at the end of the day, Gladys sat in the back seat.  And somehow I knew that was wrong, without knowing how I knew.

Two things stand out about Olga Tokarczuk's novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. The first is that the book, first published in Polish in 2009 and newly translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, doesn't seem dated in the slightest; in fact, it fits rather well into much more contemporary literary concerns about nature and the impact humans have on it, and the cruelty of hunting and killing animals (Lauren Groff's wonderful Florida comes to mind).

In addition to personally taking care of newborn kittens, Hannah Shaw, known as the Kitten Lady on social media, consults with shelters and cities on homeless cat management.

The novelist Téa Obreht loves a challenge. Her bestselling debut, The Tiger's Wife, wove modern Balkan history into fairy tale, then transformed fairy tale into reality, tigers and all. In her follow-up, Inland, she makes her job even harder. Inland is a Western, set in the drought-stricken Arizona Territory in 1893 and alternating between two familiar Western protagonists, a lovable outlaw named Lurie and a prickly frontierswoman named Nora.

Don't enter Claiming T-Mo with any immediate need to be comfortable or oriented. This debut novel by African Australian author Eugen Bacon is an instantly confounding and mysterious tour de force of imagination.

On one hand, the release of Ibram X. Kendi's new book, How To Be An Antiracist, couldn't come at a better time.

The book hits bookstores this week amid an ongoing national debate about what qualifies as racist — and who gets to decide. Its August arrival also coincides with the 400th anniversary of the first Africans documented to reach the colony of Virginia, entering involuntary bondage in what would become the United States.

Like any good story about a scientific discovery, Walter A. Brown's account of the history of lithium features plenty of improvisation, conjecture and straight-up kismet.

Unlike many such stories, though, it also features a fair share of personal bias, senseless puttering and random speculation — on part of these scientific researchers.

There is occasional confusion about the nature of the United States poet laureateship: The selection of laureate has nothing to do with the president.

The poet is selected by the Librarian of Congress, meaning the laureate works for a completely different branch of the government. This is a smart and useful separation of powers: An advocate of free speech and education should not be beholden to a president, especially this one.

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