Sunday, January 19, 2020

Howard Bryant

Howard Bryant's new book is Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: You talk about African American athletes, and I'm not going to compare anyone else to O.J. Simpson, but there's...

BRYANT: (Laughter) Good.

SIMON: You know, but he famously said, I'm not black; I'm O.J. And at one time or another, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and a lot of Americans thought their success and their popular adulation indicated America was over this race problem.

BRYANT: That's right. And that's the deal. If you do these things, you'll be accepted. Or if you have enough money, you'll be accepted. And I try to examine in that essay the price of that. What are we really asking for? Well, we're asking for your blackness. What we see in the corporate world all the time, whether you're an athlete or not, do you want diversity of color and diversity of thought, or simply diversity of color? And it's an interesting thing when you look at today's athletes, what they are navigating.

I remember being in the clubhouse and locker rooms throughout the 30 years of doing this. You ask a black player a question that had anything to do with race, and they would look at you as if you were trying to set them up and get them released and get them traded. They knew the risk that came. It made me wonder once again, if you don't have advocacy in this industry where you have the control and you have the power and you have the the public influence, what's it like if you're an African American working at Lawrence Livermore, and you're the only black person...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain's new novel is Big Lies in a Small Town.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Big Lies in a Small Town, and for your characters Morgan and Anna?

A: I stumbled across an article about the WPA-era murals somewhere and it reminded me of the murals in my New Jersey hometown post office.

I began digging into the creation of those murals and I loved learning that they were part of the government program to put people—even artists—back to work after the Great Depression.

Many of the murals are lost to time, but others are being restored, so I thought it would be fun to write about the mural during its creation and again during its restoration . . . when its secrets would be revealed.

I had Anna firmly in my mind from the beginning as the 1940 artist. Then I had to create Morgan—and her unique personality and set of problems—to bring...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 17, 2020

Jeanine Cummins

Jeanine Cummins's new novel is American Dirt.

From her Q&A with Bookselling This Week:

Bookselling This Week: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Jeanine Cummins: The first moment I felt like I should write about this happened many, many years ago, when my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and I were vacationing in California. We had taken the week to drive the Pacific Coast Highway and our last stop was San Diego, and one day I drove down to the border by myself. My husband was an undocumented immigrant and I didn’t want him anywhere near the border, but I wanted to go and just see it. And I accidentally drove into Mexico, which you could still do then. It was pre-9/11 and the border was not militarized the way it is now.

I’d been to Mexico before, but I’d never been to the border. I was so shocked by what I saw there. There were so many young men with only one leg. There were young kids trying to sell gum or hats or piñatas or whatever touristy stuff they had to sell. I had no money because as soon as I got there, I got pulled over by the policía and they took it all. The fine print on my rental agreement said I couldn’t have the car I was driving in Mexico, and the officer said he would impound the car and I would have to wait in jail for a few days to talk to the judge. I was 21 or 22, and I was terrified. I said I couldn’t go to prison, and he said, well, maybe there’s another way. You can pay a fine. And I said, how much is the fine? And he said, how much you got?

I gave him all my money, and then I waited five hours in line to get through U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get back into the United States. After crossing accidentally in seven seconds. So, I was sitting at the border for many, many hours, just observing all these young kids, and I must have seen five for six young men with only one leg. And I didn’t understand what I was looking at. When I got home to New York, I started researching. I came across “La Bestia,” and I came to understand that these were men from Central America and southern Mexico who had, in all likelihood, ridden the train to the border and had fallen off at some point and been maimed. I came to understand how common this was, that it’s happening every single day. In the effort to just reach the U.S. border, never mind cross it, people are being killed and maimed daily. It’s commonplace. And I was like, why don’t I know about this? Why don’t people in the U.S. know this story?

I never stopped thinking about that, and for many years, I felt an enormous reluctance to write about it. I felt, very clearly, that it just wasn’t my story to tell. And even when I started thinking about writing about the border, I resisted...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jeanine Cummins's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crooked Branch.

My Book, The Movie: The Crooked Branch.

Writers Read: Jeanine Cummins (March 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Megan Angelo

Megan Angelo's new novel is Followers.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "I wanted to write something that would look at the future through a different lens than sci-fi or dystopia uses." How would you describe the lens you chose?

A: I know there are some dystopian ideas and some sci-fi features in this novel, but I was really trying to think and write in the style of a historical novel, where everything is character-driven and, despite whatever robots and drones and crazy geopolitical things come up, all the stakes really hang on the connections between the people in the book.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: I originally called the book Cursive, when I started working on it.

I took a...[read on]
Visit Megan Angelo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Anna Wiener

Anna Wiener writes about tech culture for The New Yorker; she also wrote a book, Uncanny Valley, about her time working for Silicon Valley startups.

From the transcript of Wiener's NPR interview with Scott Simon:

SIMON: So how does someone with your literary bent wind up in Silicon Valley anyway?

WIENER: I was working in book publishing and, at 25, was sort of just trying to find my place in the world and trying to find a career path that felt like it had momentum. I wanted to be in an industry that felt exciting and felt like there was a future. And tech ticked all of those boxes.

SIMON: You said that big data just became mesmerizing.

WIENER: Oh, yeah. I found that looking at these datasets for different products really showed me what people were doing on the Internet in these digital spaces. And it told a story about how people were engaging with otherwise intangible products. So I think data is also often used to confirm one's assumptions or confound one's assumptions. And so for me, I just found that actually quite compelling on a storytelling level.

SIMON: Is it also a little - forgive me - voyeuristic? I mean, a lot of people aren't aware of the fact that we're being monitored.

WIENER: Oh, absolutely. And I think that that is one of the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Katheryn Russell-Brown

Katheryn Russell-Brown's new children's picture book biography is A Voice Named Aretha, about Aretha Franklin.

From Russell-Brown's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you research [Aretha Franklin's] life, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: My day job is as a law professor. I also have a Ph.D. in criminal justice/criminology. I love doing research and digging for information.

I was not aware of how well-known and active her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, was in the civil rights movement. Aretha did quite a bit to promote civil rights. In addition to doing benefits to help civil rights groups raise funds, she refused to sing before segregated audiences.

I was surprised to learn that Aretha’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lee Drutman

Lee Drutman is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.

From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker:

You write, “The problem is not just Republicans (or Democrats). The problem is the toxic politics of the two-party system.” Is that correct? I realize saying one party is to blame by definition seems partisan and leads to increased partisanship, but what if it’s basically true?

I definitely struggled with this point and I’m sympathetic to arguments that suggest that the Republican Party is more of a problem than the Democratic Party, because the Republican Party has certainly pushed the limits of constitutional hardball much more aggressively, made it harder for a lot of people to vote. and has pushed gerrymandering much more aggressively. Perhaps Republicans would see it differently. But, for me, the bigger issue here is where that thinking pushes us. So say you’re a partisan Democrat and you say, “Well, if the Democrats could just win enough elections and get total control, everything would be O.K.” Well, one, is that really going to happen anytime in the near future? I think we overstate demography as destiny and underrate the ways in which our political institutions overrepresent the rural party. So I don’t think that’s a feasible plan going forward, even if it’s a reasonable premise.

The second thing, which worries me even more, is that if the plan is for the Democrats to just try to wipe out the Republicans, that means that whatever moderates are still in the Republican Party would have left it. And then the Republican Party just becomes even more the concentration of rural, left-behind, gun-owning, “America is for whites and Christians”—and these are the folks who are girding up for a civil war if they feel that they’re not going to have a voice. These are the folks who thought that if Hillary Clinton became President, she was going to prevent their ability to be practicing Christians in this country. I think we know from history that when a losing side feels like it’s going to be a permanent minority, and it has no legitimate path back to power, it turns aggressive and violent. And I don’t like that future either, so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Rita Lorraine Hubbard's new children's picture book is The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you learn about Mary Walker's story, and at what point did you decide to write a picture book biography about her?

A: I learned about Mary’s story way back in elementary school, when my class visited a small foundation that had been devoted to her life. I got to see a replica of the cabin she lived in, the cot she slept on, and the bible she carried with her.

But I didn’t think of writing her story way back then because I was too young to realize the significance of a centenarian learning to read.

It was only when I began research for my first book, African Americans of Chattanooga, that I stumbled across her name again and decided to take a closer look. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Andrea Bernstein

Andrea Bernstein is the author of American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power.

From the transcript of her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: So I'm going to ask you, like, an impossible question to answer briefly, but...

BERNSTEIN: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...I'm going to give it a shot. I think you might be up to the task (laughter). One of my favorite episodes of your podcast, "Trump, Inc.," is called Why Ukraine. And it basically asks the question, why is, like, Giuliani and his business associates and other people - you know, Paul Manafort - why are they all connected in some way to Ukraine?

And I think the larger question is, why were there so many corrupt business deals emanating from Ukraine? And you have a great podcast that goes into depth about some of this. But just tell us a little bit about, why Ukraine? And, of course, Ukraine is at the very center of the impeachment and the possible Senate trial.

BERNSTEIN: So the name of my book is "American Oligarchs." When I picked the title for it, I did not know what was going to be happening with Ukraine. But one of the things that has become clear and that I've learned in the course of reporting this book is how the political system works in Ukraine. And the way the political system works in Ukraine is the very rich simply hire the political consultants they want to install the politicians they want to make it possible for them to keep making money. And that's what we saw during Paul Manafort's trial, that exact fact pattern.

And it is an eerie premonition of our political future where the rich just contribute directly and get what they want. And what is happening in Ukraine is that it is a battleground. It is between Russia and Europe. It is a place where there is a battle of the oligarchs, where there is very little in the way of the rule of law. So it's a great place for U.S. businessmen and entrepreneurs and people like Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen and others to try to go and make money - and they do.

But it is also this sort of tragic place because it clearly wants to separate itself from the old Soviet ways. It clearly wants to be a democracy. And one of the things that we are seeing in this whole impeachment trial is that exact struggle, is bipartisan U.S. policy trying to make Ukraine more democratic. And what we are seeing is that, rather than that happening, what Donald Trump has done with the assistance of Rudy Giuliani is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 10, 2020

Alan Gallay

Alan Gallay's new biography is Walter Ralegh: Architect of Empire.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that Ralegh “epitomized the Renaissance man of action.” What are some of the ways in which he did so?

A: More than in any other period of European history, intellectuals in the Renaissance sought to connect all areas of existence—art, history, poetry, science, religion, and politics were interwoven.

Colonialism and empire, for instance, were characterized and promoted in poetry, depicted in painting, assessed in the laboratory, and contemplated in both spiritual and religious terms. Colonialism was also a physical act that involved intense preparation, movement across oceans, and the building of new societies.

The Renaissance intellectual, if capable, attempted to physically act on ideas. When Shakespeare had Hamlet say, “To be or not to be,” he drew on observing a generation of Elizabethans who answered, “To be!”

For Ralegh, that meant employing his physical skills as a soldier, courtier, naval captain, politician, bureaucrat, statesman, and scientist, while thinking about and reflecting on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue