Monday, June 23, 2014

"Mannahatta" Cited in HuffPost + Colleagues' & Students' Honors

A contemporary illustration showing Juan Rodriguez (holding pan)
establishing a trading post with Native Americans
on Manhattan Island in 1613. (Copyright © 
Charles Lilly Art
 and Artifacts Division, New York Public Library,
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture)
You never know what may appear in your email inbox, but unexpected good news is, at least for me, always welcome. I recently received some when Sandi Wisenberg, longtime co-director of Northwestern's graduate MA/MFA program, and literary advisor to TriQuarterly, wrote to say that my story "Mannahatta," which appears in Triquarterly'Issue 145, Winter/Spring 2014, was selected by Maddie Crum, for her Huffington Post list, "Read 15 Amazing Works of Fiction in Less Than 30 Minutes." With all the stories she quotes the opening line, and all are brief enough to take in, well, under half an hour. I'm always glad when my work merits some public acknowledgement, but I'm doubly happy that this story was name-checked, because I wrote it last fall, in the midst of demanding teaching (the writing-and-reading intensive undergraduate "Introduction to Literary Studies") and administrative duties (as acting Chair of African American and African Studies), and because it tells a far too little known story, about the histories of the African Diaspora and of New York.

When I read the story at Rutgers-Newark last winter during an event with my colleague Rigoberto González, I noted that doing so represented a personal and public 400th anniversary tribute to the story's protagonist, Juan (Jan) Rodríguez (Rodrigues). I hope the story whets readers' appetites for the rest of the collection, and for learning more about the rich and complex histories of our country; as was the case with Juan Rodríguez's story, "Mannahatta" is but the beginning.

UPDATE: I just saw on Facebook that Entropy, "a new website featuring literary & non-literary content," selected the translation of Hilda Hilst's Letters from a Seducer for its "Ultimate Summer Reading List." It's a wild ride, that will definitely take you places you usually don't venture in contemporary American literature! Definitely check out their list of other summer must-reads, by writers such as Hugo Ball (translated by Catherine Schelbert), Anne Carson, Joshua Corey, Hervé Guibert (translated by Nathanaël), Ray JohnsonDouglas Kearney, Kevin Killian, Édouard Levé (translated by Jan Steyn), Fred Moten, Sawako Nakayasu, Alejandra Pizarnik (translated by Yvette Siegert), and others.


I work with truly extraordinary people who regularly receive honors of all kinds, so I thought I'd mention a few of the literary awards and citations they've received (this is not comprehensive and I surely will be missing something). Rigoberto, whom I mentioned above, received this year's Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Poetry, for his collection Unpeopled Eden (Four Way Books, 2013). His beautiful collection was in one of the tightest competitions, with poetry books by Frank Bidart, Rafael Campo, David Groff, Randall Mann, Carl Phillips, and Brian Teare all in the running. Rigoberto also was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award for Best Gay Poetry for Unpeopled Eden, and was just named a full Professor of English.

Tayari Jones was one of the writers selected by Edwidge Danticat for Elle Magazine's "12 Great Female Authors Recommend Their 40 Favorite Female Authors," and O, The Oprah Magazine, chose her 2011 novel Silver Sparrow as one of its 2014 Summer Reads. Underlining these selections, back in April Flavorwire picked Silver Sparrow as one of its "50 Best Southern Novels Ever Written."

Akhil Sharma recently published his second book, Family Life (W. W. Norton, 2014), and it has received consistently high praise, including being featured on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.

RN MFA Program Director, Jayne Anne Phillips, whose stories in Black Tickets I first remember reading with excitement around the time I joined the Dark Room Collective, saw her 2013 novel Quiet Dell (Scribner), which has received stellar reviews, named one of the "Top 10 Fiction Books of 2013" by the Wall Street Journal, one of the Best Books of 2013 by the notoriously tough Kirkus Reviews, and one of last year's best books by The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.

Finally among my colleagues--and I probably have left out something--one of the newest arrives with a particularly high honor: A. Van Jordan, a poet I've known and admired for many years and a fellow Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, will be RN's first Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor, joining the English department and MFA Program in Creative Writing this fall.

Among my students, one who received his RN MFA last year, Vincent Toro, and another whom I had the great pleasure of teaching a few years ago during her undergraduate study in creative writing, Jeannie Vanasco, received 2014 Poets House Emerging Poets Residencies. I was away so I was unable to attend their residency reading earlier this month, but both are writers to watch, and not just for their poetry. Vincent is an accomplished playwright whose plays have been staged around the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, and Jeannie is a talented nonfiction writer who is currently working on a book that I can foresee garnering a good deal of acclaim.

Lastly, Drew Ciccolo, who received his RN MFA this year and who will begin the RN PhD program in American Studies this fall, has won Talking/Writing's Nonfiction Contest with his very fine piece "Paige." Drew was also one of 10 MFA students from across the US who had a story--"The Behemoth"--selected as a finalist by The Masters Review.

A hearty congratulations to all of them!

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