In Person

July 17, 2013

Does Speaking English Rot Your Teeth?: On Wanting to Be Mavis Gallant 1

by

It didn’t seem like a fantastical proposition, not at the start, especially since an heiress I was helping with a book project was eager to dispatch me to Paris. There, I’d heard, lived a genius phonetician. This man claimed that achieving native-like speech was a matter of mere mechanics.

July 12, 2013

My Little Library in Anatolia 2

by

Although the books were old and deep in hibernation, the people who came to read them were very much alive. So in my small library in a distant Anatolian town I learned an awful lot about what young Turkish men enjoyed reading under the gun. I watched them as they read for relief. I watched them as they read for pleasure. I watched them as they read for keeping sane.

June 4, 2013

The Bee Years: The Tales of Two Spelling Bee Hopefuls 1

by

The 1998 Minnesota State Spelling Bee. Only five competitors remain on stage, including me. I approach the microphone and listen for my assigned word: “nascence.” I fumble it. It’s a clear-cut defeat, but it’s also an escape, a leap into freedom, a birth. I am born, so that I can be reborn.

May 31, 2013

Losing My Book Fair Virginity at the BEA Swag-A-Thon 3

by

The vast autograph area at BEA brought to mind the cattle pens in a Midwestern feed lot. Indeed, many of the people waiting in line looked like beasts of burden, draped with bulging bags of swag and hankering for more.

May 7, 2013

Zora Neale and My Sister 0

by

Before my trip to the birthplace of Zora Neale Hurston, I had a vague notion of what manner of suffering might make a person accept death. Love, I suspect — or at least companionship — sustained my sister after the return of her cancer.

April 26, 2013

Young Novelists, Old Institutions: Granta at the Book Club of California 3

by

The Book Club is not hip, but on Monday evening, I felt the spiritual glamour of a place, which, despite its age and sometime pokiness, is founded on the fundamentally sound principle that if you have three glasses of wine in a plastic cup and listen to something beautiful or see it, it can change the whole complexion of the world.

April 17, 2013

After the Marathon: We Contain Multitudes 1

by

I had to keep making noise. Because they kept coming. We were standing at the top of a hill and you could look down Comm Ave. and see a river of people with no end.

April 5, 2013

Now She Has a Name: When a Serial Killer Visited My Small Town 3

by

My parents reassured me that we were safe. But there were deeper questions: Why hadn’t anyone noticed that a head was missing? Wasn’t the family looking for the head? The thought that no family member cared enough about this person’s head to claim it back was even more terrifying. If your family can’t search for your missing head, then what good are they, in the end?

March 26, 2013

Literature in the Fortress 1

by

From the beginning, there was a hint of the surreal to the recent Lahore Literary Festival. The incredible urgency, the amazing passion, the unequivocal triumph of the festival – that happened because it was in fact a certain kind of protest.

March 22, 2013

The Secret Lives of Poets: Dispatches from AWP 8

by

This year, the conference was held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, a complex that apparently was designed to remind people of what it might be like if a SuperMax prison and a Chico’s had a baby.