What Teaching Shakespeare Taught Me About Writing Horror
lithub.com – Monday May 8, 2023
Titus Andronicus May Be Bloody, but the Scottish Play and Othello Are Psychological Horror Perfection
A desolate moor, haunted by incomprehensible supernatural beings. Chains rattling in a dark castle, ghosts prowling the ramparts. A grisly corpse, hands chopped off and tongue sliced out. For any horror-lovers, whether the Gothic classics or the contemporary greats, these tropes will ring familiar.
They come, of course, from Shakespeare.
In fact, after more than a decade of teaching his work, I’ve come to see Shakespeare—at least when he’s writing tragedies—as primarily a horror writer. He might perhaps be the most significant influence in the entire English language to the Gothic, and consequently the modern, horror tradition.
On the surface, no play epitomizes this more than his first tragedy, the grisly Titus Andronicus. It is the Saw franchise of Elizabethan theatre, filled with as much shock and gore as Shakespeare could possibly have packed into a single play. As well as a full complement of stabbings, hangings, and beheadings, the audience is treated to Aaron being buried up to his neck until he starves to death, seeing Lavinia’s hands removed and tongue cut out, watching on as Alarbus’s arms and legs are cut off and he is thrown into a fire, and finally, Shakespeare delivers the coup-de-grace as Chiron and Demetrius are baked into a pie and then fed to their mother. Let it not be said that gore is a new thing in popular entertainment.
Asked to Delete References to Racism From Her Book, an Author Refused
nytimes.com – Monday May 8, 2023
The case, involving Scholastic, led to an outcry among authors and became an example of how the culture wars behind a surge in book banning in schools has reached publishers.
It was the most personal story that Maggie Tokuda-Hall had ever written: the tale of how her grandparents met and fell in love at an incarceration camp in Idaho that held Japanese Americans during World War II.
The book, called “Love in the Library,” is aimed at six- to nine-year-olds. Published last year by a small children’s publisher, Candlewick Press, it drew glowing reviews, but sales were modest. So Tokuda-Hall was thrilled when Scholastic, a publishing giant that distributes books and resources in 90 percent of schools, said last month it wanted to license her book for use in classrooms.
When Tokuda-Hall read the details of the offer, she felt deflated — then outraged. Scholastic wanted her to delete references to racism in America from her author’s note, in which she addresses readers directly. The decision was wrenching, Tokuda-Hall said, but she turned Scholastic down and went public, describing her predicament in a blog post and a Twitter post that drew more than five million views.
Jaime Green on Writing with Research
lithub.com – Saturday April 29, 2023
I realized early on that what I loved about writing nonfiction was the finding. Digging some marvel out of a dusty corner and giving it a good wipe-down, holding it up so the reader can see how it catches the light. Look at that!
The item is always in the light, not me. The thrill of the jackpot in research entranced me, as did the satisfaction of setting the artifact in the perfect frame of an essay. Instead of puzzle pieces with only one solution, the research was mosaic tiles, making a different picture if you placed them this way or that. I thought, for a while, that was my art.
But it’s a choice, of course, how visible a writer makes their research. Not the information found, but the act of finding. And not the credit and citation—that’s not a flexible requirement—but whether the sourcing lives in your prose instead of just the back of the book. You do get to decide.
I'm a poet. And I celebrate the days I write nothing
wbur.org – Friday April 28, 2023
During the 30 days of April, poetry, normally not-in-the-limelight, earns a hashtag: it’s #NationalPoetryMonth. It's as though Emily Dickinson has won a Publisher's Clearinghouse prize. There's a major uptick in poems studied, written, performed, and published as poetry becomes the focus of national educational organizations and local community arts counsels, heralded by U.S. Presidents and English language arts teachers alike.
I've been writing and publishing poetry since I was 15. It's usually a quiet gig. Come April, though, my day planner is flooded with readings, public appearances, online events, interviews and contests to establish or judge — and I'm only a state poet laureate. I can't imagine what U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limon's calendar looks like for those four weeks. All this fanfare for a genre that won't be touched by most literary agents.
Without freedom of publishing, culture withers
telegraph.co.uk – Friday April 28, 2023
In a world of ideological polarisation, books are in a hazardous position. On the Left, we have those who want to rewrite history, to vandalise our cultural heritage – as illustrated by Penguin Random House’s assault on the works of Roald Dahl, disclosed by The Telegraph in February – and to introduce a literary landscape where the experience of the individual is favoured over the unfettered imagination.
Yet while such small-mindedness is prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic, America is also seeing a rise in censorship and book banning from the Right – which, fortunately, is yet to make it to British shores. The New York Times reported that according to the American Library Association, attempted bans have seen an alarming rise, with 2,571 titles under fire in 2022, compared with a mere 223 in 2020. Many of these books are estimable, but seem to fall victim to their thematic content, which doesn’t always sit well with middle America. Third on the list, for instance, was Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye (first published in 1970), which not only features a racially abused black child who yearns to have blue eyes, but also contains a hefty amount of sex and violence.
Margaret Atwood and Mona Awad on Writing Outside the Lines
nytimes.com – Saturday April 22, 2023
Margaret Atwood: I’ve been an admirer of Mona’s novel “Bunny” (2019) for some time. It’s a form of Gothic satire, and she sets it at a writing school. It’s very funny, kind of horrifying and quite far outside the lines. You think, “She’s not going to go there … yes, she is.”
Ideas about writers were so thin on the ground when I decided to be one. I was talking to somebody else about this recently and said, “People like you and me went into it out of ignorance.” And she said, “Had I only known, I never would have!” It was kind of like walking across Niagara Falls blindfolded without knowing it. And then people would say, as they did in my presence, “Well, of course women can’t write.” This was the mid-60s. Luckily, I was in Canada, and Canadian writers were so bottom of the heap they were willing to become friends with anybody, even if they were female. So writers of my generation in Canada were making it up as we went. We made up small publishing companies. We made up little magazines. We made up writers’ organizations. Because few of those things existed. Creativity moves in to fill a vacuum.
What the death of a literary magazine says about our cultural decay
washingtonpost.com – Tuesday April 18, 2023
hristian Lorentzen, the former book critic for New York Magazine, is a longtime contributor to Bookforum, the London Review of Books and Harper’s Magazine.
I was the boy who loved magazines. At home, my parents would confiscate the copies of Mad, Ray Gun and Spin that came in the mail, forbidding me from so much as looking at them until I finished my homework. My appetite for glossy pictures, for clever cartoons, for punning prose — for all the intelligence I couldn’t find in my small town or on television — had to be suppressed, lest I fail out of school. (So thought my mother.) Even now, the arrival of the latest issue of the Baffler or New Left Review feels like an event: a new vision of the world as seen by many minds, wedged between two covers.
But the American magazine is in a state of decay. Now known mostly as brands, once sumptuous print publications exist primarily as websites or YouTube channels, hosts for generic scribblings, the ever-ubiquitous “take.” Meanwhile, a thousand Substacks bloom, some of them very good, with writers in the emancipated state of being paid directly by their readers. Yet even in this atomized, editorless landscape, perverse incentives apply. Are you thirsty for another post about cancel culture or wokeness? Me neither. Yet culture war still largely rules the day.