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This week at The Paris Review, we’re in the library stacks. Read on for Ishmael Reed’s Art of Poetry interview, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s short story “Two Sisters,” and Tom Disch’s poem “The Library of America.”
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Ishmael Reed, The Art of Poetry No. 100
Issue no. 218 (Fall 2016)
When I came back to Buffalo, I dropped out of school. I was seventeen. My plan was to stay home and read plays but my mother said, You’ve got to get a job, so I worked at a library and that’s where I first read James Baldwin. I think it was Notes of a Native Son. It stopped me cold. I had never seen a black guy that could do this. When I was a child, I thought literature was written by lords and knights and stuff. You know, these people living in these great estates wearing beautiful clothes. Baldwin showed me something different. Then I discovered Dante, man. That really turned me on. My parents thought I had lost my mind.
By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated by Anna Friedrich
Issue no. 227 (Winter 2018)
The girls could barely wait to go outside. They had a slice of bread, drank a cup of hot water with last year’s mint, and quickly left the building, missing the teenagers. Now there was the problem of transportation. In their previous life, bus drivers didn’t ask the old biddies for tickets, and the ticket collectors avoided them like radiation. The sisters decided to walk to the library, to exchange books. It was still very early and they sat in the park among pigeons and park workers, waiting for the library to open. Then it occurred to Rita that they were supposed to be in school! The librarian would probably wonder why the girls were roaming the streets instead of being in a classroom.
The Library of America
By Tom Disch
Issue no. 158 (Spring-Summer 2001)
It’s like heaven: you’ve got to die
To get there. And you can’t be sure.
The publisher might go out of business.
Or you yourself might not be good enough.
The vagaries of taste might swerve.
Suddenly, leaving you disaudienced.
Marquand. Aiken. cummings. Mailer.
What are their chances now, which once
Loomed so large? Ubi sunt, as they say
In France, while their language
Expires. It’s sad, this transience
We share, but look on the bright side …
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