Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Exploring Chicago’s Maxwell Street with Tim Cresswell

April 17, 2019
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To study the disappearing past of Chicago's Maxwell Street neighborhood and acquaint himself with its present, Tim Cresswell explored the area on foot, photographing everything he saw. Here are a few of our favorite photos, from Cresswell's newly released book, Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place. . . .

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Write That Book: Exercises for Creative Thinking from Janet Burroway

April 12, 2019
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In 1972, Janet Burroway was assigned to teach a “narrative techniques” class at Florida State. But when she went to find a text to use with the class, she could not find anything that spoke to fiction writing. “There were (it is difficult now to imagine) virtually no books to serve as guidance,” she explains in the introduction to the tenth edition of Writing Fiction, which publishes at the end of April. “Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was a mainstay, but it took, as White notes, a barking tone toward its writer novices. I reread E. M. Forster’s lovely Aspects of the Novel, but it was mostly too abstract and too advanced for my Florida eighteen-year-olds. I combed Eric Bentley’s The Life of the Drama for clues to plot. I read another how-to, the name and author of which I no longer remember, but which memorably assured me that women use a lot of exclamation points but men should not.” So Burroway, a writer of novels herself, decided to create a guide of her own. Three decades later, Writing Fiction has sold more than a quarter million copies and remains the go-to book for aspiring writers. And despite the . . .

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7 Questions for Andrew Hartman, author of A War for the Soul of America

April 9, 2019
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When it was published in 2015, Andrew Hartman’s history of the culture wars was widely praised for its compelling and even-handed account. Yet, what received nearly as much attention was Hartman’s declaration that the culture wars were over—and the left had won. In the wake of Trump’s rise, which was driven in large part by aggressive fanning of those culture war flames, Hartman has brought A War for the Soul of America fully up to date for this second edition, which look towards the signs of a new politics to come. We sent him a few questions recently to find out what it feels like to be wrong and what he sees for the future. The first edition of A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, argued that the culture wars had basically played themselves out. There would still be skirmishes, but the larger struggle had reached its endpoint, and that endpoint represented an overwhelming victory by the left. Two months after the book was published, Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce he was running for president. So . . . how’s it feel to be wrong? Ha! Well, it’s . . .

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5 Questions for Joy McCann, author of Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean

March 27, 2019
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In her new book, Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean, Joy McCann reveals the secrets of elusive Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean, weaving together sea captains’ journals, whalers’ log books, explorers’ letters, scientific research, and ancient beliefs with her own travels there while researching the book. We sent McCann a few questions recently to learn more about her motivations for writing the book. First, just where is the Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean? This might seem a straightforward question of geography, but you explain in the book that the exact borders have actually been contested since the early twentieth century. The simple answer is that the Southern Ocean flows completely around the Antarctic continent in the high southern latitudes, uninterrupted by any landmass. Unlike the Arctic region, where ocean is surrounded by land, the Antarctic region comprises land surrounded by ocean and encircled by twenty tiny sub-Antarctic island groups. It is the world’s only circumpolar ocean, and it was formally recognized as the world’s fifth major ocean in 2000 because of its distinctive physical and biological characteristics. As I discuss in Wild Sea, however, the question of Southern Ocean geography is complicated. The northern limits of the ocean are indistinct . . .

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Women’s History Month: Let’s Talk about Sexual Division of Labor

March 13, 2019
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Feminist linguist Deborah Cameron's new book isn't out until May, but we're giving you a sneak peek in celebration of Women's History Month. . . .

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Magic, Mayhem, and Maps in the Harlem Jazz Age

October 10, 2018
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  Historian Susan Schulten takes us on a deep dive into the fascinating story behind a favorite map from her new book, A History of America in 100 Maps. In 2016, the Beinecke Library at Yale University paid $100,000 to add Elmer Simms Campbell’s energetic profile of interwar Harlem to its celebrated collection of black history and culture. The Library described Campbell’s image as a “playful rendering” of the age, but it also captures the complex dynamics that made Harlem the cultural capital of black America. Campbell’s success may even have surprised him. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to Manhattan in 1929 to seek work, though faced a string of rejections due to his race before catching a break at the newly founded Esquire magazine in 1933. For the next four decades, Campbell supplied the magazine with cartoons and illustrations that shaped its knowing, urban, and often cheeky sensibility. Though he initially struggled to find work, Campbell immediately found in Harlem’s jazz scene. He quickly befriended Cab Calloway, who, along with Duke Ellington, presided over legendary performances at the Cotton Club. The men became drinking buddies and regulars at Harlem’s famed clubs and speakeasies, all of . . .

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Liam Heneghan interviewed on WBEZ’s Worldview

August 24, 2018
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Liam Heneghan interviewed on WBEZ’s Worldview

It is perhaps ironic that even the need to instill the next generation with a sense of connection to the natural world becomes increasingly important, the ability to nurture this type of connection and sense of responsibility in children has perhaps become more and more difficult in proportion. Mediated as we are by our technology and with the boundaries of the “real” wilderness receding ever further from our front doors, by what means can we best relate the importance of  protecting a seemingly alien ecology, upon which we nevertheless depend? With his recent book Beasts at Bedtime, University of DePaul Professor of Environmental Science Liam Heneghan offers one answer – one that is right under our noses, deeply infused in the tales that delight our children at bedtime. In his book Heneghan unearths the universal insights into our inextricable relationship with nature that underlie so many classic children’s stories from Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter, showing how kids (and adults) can start to experience the natural world in incredible ways from the comfort of their own rooms. Recently Heneghan stopped by WBEZ’s Worldview to discuss the vital environmental education children’s stories can provide with host Jerome McDonnell. The show aired Tuesday but the . . .

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6 Questions for Alastair Bonnett, author of ‘Beyond the Map’

July 13, 2018
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You never quite know where Alastair Bonnett will be off exploring on any given week. A modern day adventurer and lover of unusual places, Bonnett collected stories about his favorite intriguing spots around the world in his new book—Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias. The New York Times Book Review praises: “Bonnett has a flair for communicating his passion for ‘the glee and the drama, the love and the loathing’ that emanate from the earth’s most perplexing and mutable places. . . .  provocative detours show us how much more we can know of the known world, if we know where to look, and how.” Publishers Weekly says, “By turns delightful and sobering, this book, like the best travel, inspires both the mind and the imagination.” We spoke with Bonnett recently to learn more about his upcoming travels, his motivations for writing the book, and some of his recommended reads. What are you reading at the moment? I’m going to Budapest next week so I thought I’d try something Hungarian; which has turned out to be Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai. The title sounds really pretentious—maybe it’s better in Hungarian—and the sentences are ten miles long, but it’s . . .

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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

June 26, 2018
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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

                    Daegan Miller’s new book This Radical Land  has been receiving strong praise for its unearthing of forgotten nineteenth-century stories of American dissent and environmental awareness. Kirkus Reviews wrote: A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment–especially long-lived trees–to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism. Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources . . . the author builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century. . . . He offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose. A reviewer for Pacific Standard, meanwhile, praised Miller’s “interpretive brilliance and gorgeously crafted prose” and called the book “one of the most elegant and insightful examples of environmental writing I’ve seen in many, many years.” We asked Daegan to take time out from his daily routine of work, reading, writing, running, and raising a family to answer a few questions about the book and the stories it tells. This Radical Land maps a number of little-known stories of nineteenth-century America. Which one—if any of these—set you off on the project of the book? And how . . .

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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

June 15, 2018
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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

Scott Samuelson is a philosopher in an old tradition: he’s interested, not in some sort of academic philosophy that only talks to others who are deeply embroiled in its history and traditions, but rather in a philosophy that helps us deal with the problems we face in our everyday lives. His book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering draws on his study of the discipline and his experience as a teacher of philosophy in a variety of settings–including in prison–to explore the many ways humans have attempted to explain, understand, and philosophically ameliorate suffering over millennia. Scott was kind enough to answer seven questions for us. Have you looked at the news lately? Why on earth would I want to read about suffering right now? Because we have a hunger to seek out meaning in the suffering that bombards us. Thoreau says, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Really, you should read both, but most of us could focus more on the Eternities. The fact is that there’s something deeply satisfying in thinking about suffering, just like there’s something deeply satisfying in a blues song. Once I was asked to lead a discussion at Laughing Sun Brewery in Bismarck called . . .

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