This week the New York book world gets nutty. Book Expo America–BEA as it’s commonly known–brings thousands of publishers, agents, editors, booksellers, writers and readers to The Javits Center. It’s a place that can otherwise inspire nightmares (if a conference hall the size of a football stadium packed with thousands of maze-like booths, and even more wild-eyed people, freaks you out).
This behemoth of an event is the biggest in the American publishing industry, a way for everyone to connect face to face and discover new authors, but after a while of overhearing words like ‘commerical’ and ‘social media’ over and over again it can get overwhelming. Frankly, it’s a dizzying experience that makes you want to run for the hills with one lonely (and exceptional) book for company.
Then, just when you think you can’t take another event, comes Dear Reader at the Ace Hotel in New York, founded and curated by much the beloved writer Alexander Chee. The live event is the culmination of the Ace’s writer-in-residence program, where each month in 2015, a writer spends a night at the Ace Hotel and writes a letter, distributed later to guests in each room, in a limited edition printing for just one night. Last night Chee presented the first six writers to take part in the program: Chelsea Hodson, Saeed Jones, Atticus Lish, Lucas Mann, Sigrid Nunez and Dale Peck. Each read their letter and an excerpt from recent work, and the result was electric. Topics ranged from how to escape from between the jaws of an Australian crocodile, to a silent-as-a-mouse strangling, a Valentine’s Day lament, and more. The talent on show reminded me that exceptional writing is what its all about. It truly is all about the work. Phew, and from someone who needed that gentle reminder of why we gravitate to the written word in the first place, THANK YOU.
Here is some info about the six outstanding writers you MUST know:
Atticus Lish’s debut novel, Preparation For The Next Life, published last fall by Tyrant Books, was recently the winner of the 2015 PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction. As Dwight Garner said of it in the New York Times, it “is unlike any American fiction I’ve read recently in its intricate comprehension of, and deep feeling for, life at the margins.” Lish is also the author of Life Is With People and is at work on a second novel. He makes his living as a Chinese-English translator of technical documents, and has worked in a Styrofoam factory, as a construction laborer, personal trainer, moving man, security guard, fast food counter person and telemarketer. He served a brief stretch in the Marine Corps between Gulf War One and 9/11. (Photo credit: Shelton Walsmith)
Saeed was recently named the new Literary Editor at Buzzfeed, launched a fellowship program for writers there, and is a Pushcart Prizewinning poet. His debut poetry collection Prelude to Bruise was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in poetry, and was described by Publishers Weekly as “a dark night of the soul presented as the finest of evening gowns.” His work has appeared in publications like Guernica, The Rumpus, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Blackbird among others. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and Queer / Art / Mentors.
Chelsea Hodson’s essay chapbook, Pity the Animal, is an EmilyBooks book! Over at Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Tobias Carroll wrote this of Pity the Animal: “One of the best literary works I’ve encountered this year… immeasurably powerful… and hits harder than many works ten times its length.” She is also the author of the chapbook Beach Camp (Swill Children, 2010) and was a 2012 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her essays have been published in Black Warrior Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Lifted Brow, Sex Magazine, and Sundog Lit, among others. She has aso just released Night Redacted, an audio release of poems, by Black Cake Records.
Dale Peck began his career as one of the best of a generation of gay male writers to take on the AIDS epidemic in his fiction, with his first novel, Martin and John, which appeared in 1993. He returns to the subject of the AIDS epidemic in his new memoir, Visions and Revisions, which was published in April by Soho Press. The New York Times said of him, “He has galvanized his reputation as one of his generation’s most eloquent voices.” He is the author of twelve books in a variety of genres, including the novels Martin and John,Greenville (both of which will be re-released by Soho Press in new editions) and The Law of Enclosures. His fiction and criticism have earned him two O. Henry Awards, a Pushcart Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. He teaches in the New School’s Graduate Writing Program. (Photo credit: Gregg Evans)
Lucas Mann’s recently released memoir, Lord Fear, (out now from Pantheon Books) is a portrait of his life growing up in New York City’s West Village with his brother, who died of a heroin overdose before he could become the writer he might have been. Mann uses his diaries to examine the life he lived and the life he nearly had. Mann is also the author of Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. His essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Barrelhouse, Slate, and TriQuarterly. (Photo credit: Matt Celeste)
Sigrid Nunez’s novel, The Last of Her Kind, chronicles 1960s radicalism and feminism in fiction. She is the author of six novels: A Feather on the Breath of God, Naked Sleeper, Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury, For Rouenna, The Last of Her Kind, and Salvation City. Her most recent book is Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Believer, and Tin House. Sigrid Nunez has also been the recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a residency from the Lannan Foundation. She was the 2000-2001 Rome Prize Fellow in Literature at the American Academy in Rome. In 2003, she was elected as a Literature Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In spring 2005, she was the Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. Nunez has taught at Columbia University the New School, Baruch College, and Vassar College, among others. (Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger)