Francine Prose is a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard. Her new novel, Mister Monkey, was published in October. (December 2016)


The Triumph of Foxy Grandpa

Michael Chabon, Oakland, California, January 2016; photograph by Benjamin Tice Smith


by Michael Chabon
On his deathbed, a cantankerous old Jewish guy, his habitual reticence disarmed by a painkiller, tells his life story to his grandson, a writer named Michael Chabon. This scenario, the premise of Chabon’s new novel, may make Moonglow sound more syrupy, more gimmicky—and less entertaining—than it is. In fact it’s …

The Cult of Saint Franz

Is that Kafka?: 99 Finds

by Reiner Stach, translated from the German by Kurt Beals
Almost a century after his death in 1924, Franz Kafka has become a sort of modern-day saint, one of those artist-martyrs revered, like Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, partly for their work and partly for the suffering they endured in order to create it. The process of Kafka’s “canonization” …

Quality Lit: She Took Charge

Blanche Knopf at Blake’s Bookshop, London, summer 1946

The Lady with the Borzoi: Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire

by Laura Claridge
In the opening paragraph of The Lady with the Borzoi, Laura Claridge provides a highly compressed and useful explanation of why one might want to read a biography of Blanche Knopf, who profoundly and permanently influenced the American public’s ideas about, and taste in, literature. In the early years of …

‘Beautiful and Horrible’

‘Window Shopping,’ circa 1930s; photograph by Eudora Welty

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

by Robin Coste Lewis
A startling shift in perspective occurs as we read—and remains with us after we have read—the title poem in Robin Coste Lewis’s first collection, Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, which received the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry. The poem is an incantatory compilation of the names …


What the Brontës Made

Many of the revelations in “Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will,” currently on view at New York’s Morgan Library, have to do with size and scale, with the contrast between the breadth and depth of Charlotte Brontë’s imagination and her physical delicacy, between the forcefulness of her writing and the neat, astonishingly minuscule handwriting (not unlike Robert Walser’s microscript) in which she, Emily and their brother Branwell penned their early work.

When Librarians Are Silenced

Video footage of library staff member Steve Woolfolk being arrested

A librarian in Kansas City, Missouri, was recently arrested simply for standing up for a library patron’s free speech rights at a public event featuring a former US diplomat. Both the librarian and the patron face criminal charges. One hopes that the case—only the most recent of many attacks on our libraries’ defense of free speech and privacy—will be resolved without further cost, trouble and damage.

The Trouble with Sombreros

Charro Days Festival, Brownsville, Texas, 1997

Novelist Lionel Shriver’s speech expressing her hope that identity politics and the concept of cultural appropriation would turn out to be passing fads contains a kernel of truth encased by a husk of cultural and historical blindness. It seems clear that one part of the fiction writer’s job is “to step into other people’s shoes.” But to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a hat is more than just a hat. Sometimes it is a symbol—and a racist one, at that.

The Music of Blighted Dreams

Conrad Tao and Rod Gilfry in the world premiere of David Lang's The Loser at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2016

Adapted from the Thomas Bernhard novel, David Lang’s beautiful and startlingly original new opera The Loser is an obsessive, maddened rant about the ways in which art can change (and destroy) our lives. The gauntlet that Bernhard and his characters have thrown down is: if you aspire to be any sort of artist, particularly a musician, be brilliant, be a genius—or don’t bother.


‘The Brink’

Offhandedly mocking our inadequate, improvisatory foreign policy in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, The Brink is funny, inventive, and fearless in what it has to say about geopolitics.