Phillip Lopate’s most recent book is To Show and to Tell, a collection of essays. He is a Professor in the Writing Program at Columbia. (May 2016)

Innocents Abroad

Mischa Berlinski, 2012
The idealistic impulse of Americans who go abroad to study other cultures or improve the lot of others more desperate than themselves makes a ripe subject for ironic fiction. Today’s expatriates who work for charitable organizations are the descendants of Henry James’s Continental travelers who sought to acquire the Old …

In the Kingdom of Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates with her father, Frederic Oates, 1943
Joyce Carol Oates has published three books this year—a memoir, a serious novel, and a thriller. In fact, she has written so many books in so many genres that it is entirely possible to hold opposing views of her, as both underrated and overrated, depending on the sampling of her …

The Shadows Know

Jerome Charyn, New York City, late 1970s
In his long, exceptionally prolific career, encompassing over fifty titles in fifty years, Jerome Charyn has attracted the warm respect of critics and fellow writers, if not a mass public following. Walking a tightrope between high literary sophistication and pop culture (his first two loves were comic books and movies), …

The King of the Insomniacs

Charles Simic, New York City, May 1996
Charles Simic is one of our most celebrated living poets. He has won a Pulitzer, a MacArthur Fellowship, the Wallace Stevens award, the Frost Medal, the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, and served as the US poet laureate. What’s striking is that his distinctive poetic style continues to feel modest, …

‘Life Is an Ecstasy’

Edward Hoagland, Bennington, Vermont, 2001
There is probably no essayist today who has earned more respect from his peers and fellow practitioners than Edward Hoagland. John Updike called him “the best essayist of my generation,” Philip Roth said he was “America’s most intelligent and wide-ranging essayist-naturalist,” and Joyce Carol Oates described him evocatively as “our …

The Best German Novelist of His Time

Ulli Lommel as Major Crampas and Hanna Schygulla as Effi Briest in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Effi Briest
The novels of Theodor Fontane (1819–1898) are so sparkling, tender, sympathetic, delicately ironic, and psychologically astute that it is a wonder they are not better known by American readers. Considered the most important German novelist between Goethe and Mann, or even, as Gordon A. Craig, who wrote a fine book …