Francine Prose is Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard. Her newest book is a collection of essays, What to Read and Why.
 (April 2020)


‘Their Chaotic Mouths’

Kevin Barry; drawing by Hope Gangloff

Night Boat to Tangier

by Kevin Barry
In an afterword to the paperback edition of his first novel, City of Bohane (2011), Kevin Barry writes, “I work primarily from the ear…. If you can get the speech, I believe, you can get the soul.” He’s talking about a book in which he not only got the speech …

What Can’t Be Forgotten

Eduardo Halfon, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2008; photograph by Vasco Szinetar

The Polish Boxer

by Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead, and Anne McLean


by Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
Halfway through Monastery, its narrator, a writer and teacher of literature named Eduardo Halfon, is en route from his native Guatemala to Belize, where he has been invited to give a reading at a university. After a tense encounter with a thuggish border official—Halfon’s Guatemalan passport has expired, but he …

The Immigrant at Home

Keith Gessen

A Terrible Country

by Keith Gessen
According to the familiar adage, there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town. It’s a catchy premise that falls apart when measured against one’s experience of literature. Yet I found myself recalling it after reading Keith Gessen’s excellent new novel, A …

Boogie Nights

Douglas Crimp in his office at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, circa 1970. The actress known as Ultra Violet, a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory, appears in the poster behind him.

Before Pictures

by Douglas Crimp
Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures is the sort of book that can make its readers feel as if they have made an interesting friend (or at least an acquaintance) without the bother and awkwardness of getting to know an actual person. We hear our new friend’s favorite stories, polished to a …


A Haunting Tribute to Tadeusz Kantor

Zbigniew Bzymek in in A Pink Chair: (In Place of a Fake Antique) at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, July 2017

The Wooster Group’s A Pink Chair (in Place of a Fake Antique) suggests what it might have been like to watch a ghost materialize on stage, called up by an early-twentieth-century medium. The ghostly presence summoned here is that of Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990), the celebrated director and performance artist who profoundly affected modern theater, both in his native Poland and the wider world. Kantor’s history haunts A Pink Chair, which extracts the high points from his play, together with selections from his writings, read aloud.

Truth in Advertising

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017

By the final scene, a great quantity of blood will have been splashed across the screen, yet despite the impressive amount of mayhem and gore on view, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an unusually literary film. Martin McDonagh, who began his career as a playwright, is intensely concerned with language. In fact, Three Billboards is partly about the power of language—specifically, the outrage and havoc caused by the few words that Mildred chooses to display. Just before Mildred’s first conversation with Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) begins, we may notice that Red is reading a book by Flannery O’Connor. It’s by no means a casual or accidental choice. One feels O’Connor’s spirit hovering over the film, and not only because, like her fiction, it is set in the rural South and leavens a deep seriousness with broad and often grotesque humor.

The Problem With ‘Problematic’

Jonathan Wolstenholme: A Literary Joust, 2006

It’s undeniable that the literary voices of marginalized communities have been underrepresented in the publishing world, but the lessons of history warn us about the dangers of censorship. Unless they are written about by members of a marginalized group, the harsh realities experienced by members of that group are dismissed as stereotypical, discouraging writers from every group from describing the world as it is, rather than the world we would like.

This Empty House

Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, 2017

One may wind up concluding that by far the most terrifying thing about Mother! is that Darren Aronofsky seems to be Hollywood’s idea of an intellectual, our own brainy, home-grown auteur. Aronofsky isn’t much interested in these people’s complexity or humanity, but purely in his own big concepts. Of course, it’s possible to have characters and ideas; it’s a great gift of narrative art.


‘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.