The interviews in our new Winter issue feature three writers who have defied received wisdom—writers who have expanded art’s role in the national conversation. The first is one of the most politically engaged poets of our time; the second is a novelist whose experimental forms have made him a hero in his native Scotland, though he remains underread in the U.S.; and the third is with a critic who devoted his career to asserting and celebrating the centrality of the black experience to American culture.
First, there’s Claudia Rankine on the art of poetry, finding the lyric in nontraditional spaces, and reaching as wide an American audience as possible:
How do you get the work to arrive at readers in a way that allows them to stay with it and not immediately dismiss it? It’s something I think about, because I know I’m also writing for people who don’t always hold my positions. It’s not that I think white people are my only audience. It’s that I think of America as my audience, and inside that space are white people as well as people of color. Some white people still believe that white privilege and white mobility are the universal position. If a writer has a different experience of the world, the work is no longer seen as transcendent or universal. So as I’m moving around in a piece, I am hearing all those voices in opposition.
And in the Art of Fiction No. 202, Scotland’s Alasdair Gray talks about how socialism has shaped his fiction:
I think social justice is necessary to everybody. There are those who can take the political establishment of the time for granted, as being something quite good enough, to get on well with and to live well in if you exercise enough tact. This is certainly the opinion of Jane Austen. But it’s a view that very few people—well, very few thinking people—would adopt nowadays, because we’re all aware that our society is in transition, and that there is no normalcy to return to.
There’s also a lost interview with Albert Murray, conducted in his Harlem apartment in 1978:
When I spoke of Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, I meant that not many writers have been more successful than these musicians in stylizing American experience. This immediately leads us into a problem that confronts me personally—that not very much of my immediate experience has been processed into literature to my satisfaction. I can’t think of many examples that bear too favorable a comparison to what I’ve experienced of the literature of other cultures.
Plus new fiction by Tom Bissell, Amparo Dávila, Alexander Kluge, and Christine Lincoln; and poems by Cyrus Console, Tadeusz Dabrowski, Timothy Donnelly, Stephen Dunn, Tony Hoagland, Fanny Howe, Sarah Manguso, and Frederick Seidel.
Hilton Als has curated a portfolio of Alice Neel’s East Harlem portraits. “Five years ago,” he says, “people would not have been inclined to do a show on Alice Neel’s paintings of colored people, meaning people of non-European descent, because they would feel that we—the curators, the gallery—were essentializing the people in the pictures. But in fact, what we’re doing is talking about one of Alice’s major interests, meaning these communities, the people, the men.”
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