I just returned from the 10th annual Brooklyn Book Fair. Brooklyn is the home of many well-known authors and editors so the Fair usually has a stable of accomplished writers giving reading or participating in panel discussions. Some of the authors participating this year were Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Lethem, Phil Klay, Joyce Carol Oates, Renata Adler, Joseph Steiglitz, and Russel Banks. The Book Fair is essentially a week-long event with the last two days devoted to children’s books and adult fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Given the compressed time and different but close locales was necessary to choose a few panels and miss others. I opted for:
- The National Book Foundation Presents 5 Under 35 Alums- with Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Panic in a Suitcase); Danielle Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self) and Kirstin Valdez Quade (Night at the Fiesta). I had read and previously reviewed the latter two, both of which I recommended. A general comment I have about most readings is that authors choose excerpts without regard to how that work as oral presentations. Ms. Quade understood this and actually read with emotion and dialect. Ms. Evans was at a disadvantaged because she was reading something she had just written and was doing it from her phone. She read quickly. Ms. Akhtiorskaya needs to improve her oral presentations and despite the difficulty she admits having, she should be able to summarize her book. Ms. Quade will be teaching at Princeton.
- Making a Novel from Life with Mitchell S. Jackson (The Residue Years), Sarah Gerard (Binary Star) and Valeria Lusielli (The Story of My Teeth). Ms. Lusielli was the star of the panel. Her earlier work Faces in the Crowd won awards and is another 5 under 35 author to pay much attention to. I have added her books to my TBR pile.
- I had to choose between a number of venues, so I only partially attended the following:
Whiting Foundation presents: Writing for a Live Audience. This was a panel of playwrites that included Tony Award-winner Lisa Kron (Fun Home), Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns), Lucas Hnath (The Christians) and Virginia Grise (blu). The discussion was to be about making characters come alive on stage via the page. During the time I attended they were not on topic, which unfortunately is a common occurence.
Between Two Worlds which included Naomi Jackson (The Star Side of Bird Hill), Yitzhak Gormezano Goren (Alexandrian Summer) and Juan Villoro (The Guilty: Stories). Unfortunately, Mr. Goren dominated the panel’s time during the time I attended. I found Mr. Villoro interesting and I will investigate his writing. The general topic was staying authentic when writing cross-culturally.
Intimacy with Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies), Rebecca Makkai (Music for Wartime) and Chinelo Okparanta (Under the Udala Trees) was packed. I only managed to hear the last few minutes as there was a waiting line. The subject was capturing the title of the lecture.
There was also a panel at the same time with Phil Klay and Ann Hood that I had to miss.
4. I wanted to see Breaking the Silence: Hidden Stories with Aatish Taseer (The Way Things Were), Eka Kurniawan (Beauty is a Wound) and Taiye Selasi (Ghana Must Go). The subject was telling vivid personal stories while also giving voice to suppressed narratives of national tumult. The countries covered were India, Indonesia and Ghana. Unfortunately, I only could attend the following.
The New Latin American Literature: A View From Within, with Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, Yuri Herrara, Alejandro Zambra, Andres Neuman and moderated by Daniel Alarcon (excuse my omission of accents). The moderated was principally focused on sociopolitical upheavals in countries such as Mexico, Chile and Argentina, although it seemed as if none of the authors (with the exception of Mr. Herrara to a degree) were writers of historical fiction. They principally wrote about relationships so his focus was distracting to me when the subject was how their works intersects, inspires and speaks to each other across borders. Ms. Luiselli made a personal comment that her novels were rejected presumably by some major publishers because they were not Mexican enough. She is now with a smaller press (Coffee House Press). Other panelists also confirmed that US publishers expected magical realism, when Latin American authors do not generally write in this genre today. When asked what each knew about their readers, Ms. Luiselli was frank that she did not know and she likely did not have many. I think her point was generally valid, because literary fiction and translated fiction in the US does not have a large audience. I think she will eventually have one however. Mr. Zambra took the question to mean what do US readers think about his work and to great applause said that he and other Latin American writers don’t write for the US. While I understood that authors don’t target an audience (save for commercial writers), the reaction said more about Latin American feelings about the US, because he answered a question that was not asked. The “colonial” response is from an US literary perspective because I think Ms. Luiselli’s point that Latin American literature is relatively ignored by US readers is more accurate. I don’t know anything about Mr. Neuman’s prolific writing but I will look into his writings as well as the others.
One author whose novel I added to my TBR list after seeing it at Coach House Books’ stall is Andre Alexis’ (ignore my lack of accent) “Fifteen Dogs”. He looks like an author worth reading.