This November, we’re publishing our first anthology of new writing in more than fifty years. The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review features thirty-one stories, poems, and essays by a new generation of writer. It’s a master class, across genres, in what is best and most alive in American literature today.
Take a look at the cover and you’ll recognize names such as John Jeremiah Sullivan, Atticus Lish, Emma Cline, Ben Lerner, and others who have become emblematic of a renaissance in American writing. Although these are younger writers, already any history of the era would be incomplete without them. At a moment when it’s easy to see art as another product—and when writers, especially, are encouraged to think of themselves as professionals—the stories, poems, and essays in this collection have no truck with self-promotion. They turn inward. They’re not afraid to stare, to dissent, or even to offend. They answer only to themselves.
In the coming months, we’ll reveal more about the anthology, which Akhil Sharma calls “the best possible introduction to the best literary magazine we have.” Stay tuned!
- The USPS, in its infinite wisdom, has finally put Flannery O’Connor on a postage stamp, but it’s kind of an ugly one. (Peacock feathers have never more resembled dune grasses.) Our art editor, Charlotte Strick, took a stab at a redesign: “I thought about the puzzle offered up by a six-stamp grid. Using selections of the cover art from our newly rereleased O’Connor editions, I found it great fun to wrap the elements around one another in new ways—aiming for each individual stamp to be a mini-artwork of its own.”
- On Max Beerbohm, whose writing, with its “high masquerading style,” is the subject of a new anthology, The Prince of Minor Writers: “No one is more emphatic about the necessity of making a style out of the sound of spoken English … He understood that the sound of spoken English might be anything but blunt—that spoken English tends to be more circuitous, touched by asides, than the self-consciously simplified kind. There are two kinds of extended sentences: one depends on expanding an idea, the other tries to detail a consciousness. The first is argumentative, the second exquisite.”
- Johannes Kepler is remembered for his contributions to astronomy, but his 1608 book, Somnium, in which a demon describes life on the moon, testifies to his talents as a science-fiction author. Jason Novak has illustrated a few passages: “The dark side of the moon is urban, with landscaped gardens and commerce. The face of the moon is wilderness, with forests, fields, and deserts.”
- In which the printing press meets its perfect shadow, the scanner: “As I pushed down on the lever and the shutters fired, it struck me that this was a kind of reverse press, of the most ancient Gutenberg kind. Instead of a block of ink-stained type being pressed on to a page, the book itself is pressed towards the light and its contents are released into the digital ether, to be republished, retransmitted once again.”
- If autofiction and the “memoir-novel” are the order of the day, then why does Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life succeed on such fiercely imaginative terms? “However much this story of failed love between a wounded veteran and an illegal immigrant smacks of authenticity, its author seems to have done precisely what has been cast as no longer possible, creating an immersive world that is fundamentally a fabrication. The success of this novel beckons a closer look at the most consistent sentiment voiced by its reviewers—that it just feels so different.”
- Larry Kramer, seventy-nine, came of age at a time when being gay was still illegal; his latest opus, The American People, is kind of a novel, kind of not, very long, and very gay: “a history of hate [from] one among the hated.” “Most histories are written by straight people who wouldn’t know, see the signs that a gay person does when they look at a person’s life,” he says. “I mean, how could you write the life of Mark Twain without realizing that he was hugely, hugely gay? The way he lived, who his friends were, and how his relationships began. And what he wrote about! I don’t know how you could avoid the assumption that he’s gay.”
- An interview with Atticus Lish, who won our Plimpton Prize this year: “Spoken language is primary, and I want it to be primary. Everything should pass the reading-aloud test; that became a real theme with me before I even was aware of it. I said, ‘Don’t write like a writer; write like a talker.’ ”
- But how do you write like a talker if the person talking is an animal? Fiction is still grappling with animal consciousness, with varying degrees of success: it may be largely impossible, as Thomas Nagel wrote in his 1974 essay “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?”, reminding us that “acts of sympathetic imagination are fatally restricted by the incalculable difference between human and bat.”
- In which Kerry Howley follows two boxers: “Sportswriters talk constantly of ‘focus,’ ‘dedication,’ and ‘single-mindedness.’ It is a measure of this cliché’s persistence that, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, men still use these words to describe Manny Pacquiao. This is a boxer who sidelines as a working politician and a low-budget-movie star, a man who leads Bible study on Sundays and moonlights as one of the shortest professional basketball players in the Philippines. He has recorded two platinum albums, and a hit single called ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ …”
- And Chris Offutt pursues “trash food,” whatever that may be: “The term ‘white trash’ is an epithet of bigotry that equates human worth with garbage. It implies a dismissal of the group as stupid, violent, lazy, and untrustworthy—the same negative descriptors of racial minorities, of anyone outside of the mainstream. At every stage of American history, various groups of people have endured such personal attacks. Language is used as a weapon: divisive, cruel, enciphered. Today is no different. For example, here in Mississippi, the term ‘Democrats’ is code for ‘African Americans.’ Throughout the U.S.A., ‘family values’ is code for ‘no homosexuals.’ The term ‘trash food’ is not about food, it’s coded language for social class. It’s about poor people and what they can afford to eat.”
Our Spring Revel was last Tuesday, and it was, as Gay Talese put it simply, “a real party,” a party for the ages. About five hundred of us gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street to honor Norman Rush with the Hadada Award, presented by James Wood, who recited one of my favorite jokes from Subtle Bodies: “Pinot noir meant don’t urinate at night.”
Hilary Mantel took the stage to award Atticus Lish the Plimpton Prize for Fiction; “I am extremely fortunate to receive this award,” Lish said, “as is anyone who receives recognition in any field. Few people get much of a gold star no matter what they do in life.”
Mark Leyner received the Terry Southern Prize for Humor—which he has publicly promised to hang above his bed, like a mobile—from Donald Antrim. Never in recorded history have the words Sugar-frosted nutsack been uttered before so large and so gracious a crowd. Last, The Paris Review bade a fond farewell to our longtime publisher, Antonio Weiss, who has absconded to Washington to serve as the counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. Our loss is the nation’s gain.
It was a spectacular evening, as the photos below attest. You can read accounts of the fun from Womens Wear Daily, New York Social Diary, and Page Six—and you can see even more photos of the revelry here. Happy spring, and see you next year!
Photos by Clint Spaulding / © Patrick McMullan / PatrickMcMullan.com
Each year, at our Spring Revel, the board of The Paris Review awards two prizes for outstanding contributions to the magazine. It is with great pleasure that we announce our 2015 honorees.
The Plimpton Prize for Fiction is a $10,000 award given to a new voice from our last four issues. Named after our longtime editor George Plimpton, it commemorates his zeal for discovering new writers. This year’s Plimpton Prize will be presented by Hilary Mantel to Atticus Lish for his story “Jimmy,” from issue 210—an excerpt from his novel Preparation for the Next Life.
The Terry Southern Prize is a $5,000 award honoring “humor, wit, and sprezzatura” in work from either The Paris Review or the Daily. Perhaps best known as the screenwriter behind Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, Terry Southern was also a satirical novelist, a pioneering New Journalist, and a driving force behind the early Paris Review. This year’s prize will be presented by Donald Antrim to Mark Leyner for “Gone with the Mind,” a story from our new Spring issue.
Hearty congratulations from all of us on staff!
(And if you haven’t bought your ticket to attend the Revel—supporting the magazine and writers you love—isn’t this the time?)