I first read Joan Didion as a senior in high school. When you’re a teen with literary ambitions, Didion is who you turn to for inspiration. My copy of Play It As It Lays is well thumbed and dog-eared. On the inside of the front cover, I wrote my name along with the date I purchased it—an affectation left over from when I thought I’d turn into the kind of woman surrounded by books and great swaths of fabric covering slightly dirty windows, a tumbler of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette slowly going to ash in the other, gazing at city lights through the window.
These days, the New Yorker fiction issue is so bad it’s hard to imagine anyone liking it who wasn’t told to. It wasn’t always this way. Through his “New Yorker short stories,” J.D. Salinger reveals himself to be more than a writer for teens who’ve discarded Ayn Rand and have yet to discover Dostoyevsky. John O’Hara spun his filthy yarns into portraits of middle-class misery. And so on.
This week, Gawker Review of Books is running interviews with three authors from the world of speculative fiction, discussing their work and their place within the evolving genre. Our final interview is with Daniel José Older, author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, which debuted in January with the release of Half-Resurrection Blues.
Zadie Smith, writer of famous words, still uses her Yahoo email account from 1996. "In there is probably the closest thing to an honest account of my life, at least in writing. That's me, for good and bad, with all the kind deeds and dirty lies and domestic squabbles [and] online fashion purchases."
As a young aspiring science-fiction writer, I've always considered Octavia Butler my spirit guide. I went to sleep and woke up with Kindred, the Parables, and Wild Seed and tried to recruit everyone in all of my English classes to her following. Turns out my teachers weren't all so interested in the rich tapestries of history that she wove and their hard reckonings with the sins of racism and misogyny. My fanhood remained underground: a collection of dog-eared books, a failed book signing, and a series of unpolished blog posts wondering why science-fiction's reading lists and movie scripts never seemed to remember her.
James Baldwin was a writer of unsparing conviction. His essays published during the 1950s and 60s, as America confronted its cruel legacy of racial inequality, manifested like small forces of nature. There was an unmistakable clarity in his work—and not just in his authorial voice, but in his moral obligation to truth telling. As Randall Kenan regarded in The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, Baldwin was "such a powerful writer, against such powerful odds."