It's the most magical day of the year! Have a safe and happy Halloween, and check out all of our Halloween treats below:
Australian author Richard Flanagan is the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The Man Booker Prize is awarded to the author of the year's best novel written in the English language, as determined by an esteemed panel of judges. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan's sixth novel, centers on Dorrigo Evans, an Australian POW captured by the Japanese during World War II. As he struggles to survive horrendous conditions, he is haunted by the love he left behind. See who Flanagan was up against for the prize here.
If you have ever attended the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, you know that many of the authors' sessions take place in the Legislative Plaza, in very formal hearing rooms with fluorescent lighting. As best-selling author Lauren Oliver said as she sat at the front of the room, it looks a bit like the author is going to be handing out prison sentences.
Halfway through Oliver's session last weekend, she accidentally knocked the State of Tennessee seal off the table, announced, "This is so me!" and held it up for fans to snap a picture. I can think of no better moment to illustrate Oliver's relationship with her readership.
After her session, Oliver sat with me and talked about her first novel for adults, Rooms. While she's clearly fascinated by haunted houses, her book is more concerned with the haunted relationships between generations. Check out the Q&A here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bret Anthony Johnston, Creative Writing Director at Harvard and author of Remember Me Like This, during the Southern Festival of Books. He was also a contestant in Nashville's first ever Literary Death Match, which was described by the velvet-jacketed host as a “highbrow, lowbrow literary clusterf__k.” It was indeed. During our interview, I asked Johnston about his involvement and wondered if he was afraid of sudden death.
So what is the Literary Death Match, and how did you get roped in?
Well, they’ve asked me to do it a number of times, because this thing is all around the country. But we had never been able to make the schedule work. But the Southern Festival of Books asked me to do it, and they’ve been incredibly good to me, so I'm doing it. I’m debating whether or not I should open with a really dirty Willie Nelson joke. (Editor's note: He did.) I wanted to show up in one of those Olympic wrestling outfits, like a onesie with shorts. But in my very lazy research, it didn’t seem like I could get it. But if you want to wrestle one up, I’ll totally wear it. (Editor's note: Sadly, I didn’t.) So my strategy is a half-assed costume, then I’m going to read something that’s about three minutes long that I didn’t write but relates to me, and then I’m going to read a three minute short story, because you just get seven minutes. And that’s the best I can do.
Johnston did exactly that, taking the stage at Third Man Records in a Lucha Libre mask and warming up the crowd with hilarious (well, hilarious in light of his success) rejection letters he's received throughout his career. (Letter: "The dead donkey was a bit much." Johnston's reply: "What dead donkey?") He then read his short story "Boy," inspired by Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl."
Johnston was competing against Pulitzer-Prize finalist Adrian Matejka, who performed a poem with musical accompaniment; Patricia Lockwood, whose short piece is so dirty we can't even tell you the title; and Abraham Smith, whose mesmerizing performance entranced the audience. It all came down to a sudden death match of "fictionary," in which audience members with questionable artistic ability drew book titles for the authors to guess. Smith was declared the champion, but not without the help of Johnston, who flexed his preternatural fictionary skills. Luckily, no authors were seriously injured during the Death Match, and afterwards, being in Nashville, we line-danced off into the sunset.
Read the interview with Bret Anthony Johnston here.
Christina Baker Kline's session last weekend was one of the most well-attended events I went to at the Southern Festival of Books. Come to think of it, it was one of the most well-attended author events I've been to—ever.
Which is really no surprise considering the runaway success of her 2013 novel, Orphan Train. With a contemporary story of two women forming a tentative friendship set against a little-known historical backdrop, it's perfect for sparking questions for reading groups.
Not only that, but the true story of the orphan trains has inspired many readers to discover the truth of their own histories, which happens to be one Kline's favorite things about the book's success. You can read all about it in our Q&A with Kline.
Readers who have read Orphan Train: What questions would you like to ask Kline?
Of all the many authors I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting at this year's Southern Festival of Books, it was especially thrilling to take a moment with award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson to talk about her new memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.
This truly marvelous book reveals a childhood caught between worlds, and her poignant verse succeeds in stripping away extraneous details, allowing room for readers to make an instant emotional connection.
Throughout her session, Woodson quoted from several of her books, including a selection from Locomotion that instructed a young mind to "be quiet" and to allow memories to make themselves known. She read several of the poems from Brown Girl Dreaming, including her favorite, "Music," which begins:
Every morning the radio come on seven o'clock
Sometimes Michael Jackson is singing that A-B-C
is as easy as 1-2-3
or Sly and the Family Stone are thanking us for
Sometimes it's slower music, the Five Stairsteps
things are going to get easier, or the Hollies singing,
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
So on we go . . .
After her session, Woodson graciously agreed to chat with me about the book, her complex relationships with music and the South, and so much more. A preview:
Why did you think verse works so well for this book?
It’s how memory comes. Memories come in these small moments, with all of this white space around them, but the moments are very distinct. I feel like I have all this information, [but I'm] not sure what it’s connected to. And then the exploration of years and months and days brings the connection together. But it wouldn’t have been a straight narrative. A straight narrative would’ve been a lie. It’s not how you remember things—you remember them in small moments.