David Lynn, Editor
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. Shamsie, a Pakistani writer who also lives in London, opens this powerful novel in Nagasaki, shortly before its destruction. The young woman protagonist, who is one of the few survivors, leaves Japan and continues her life, forever transformed, in India, Turkey, Pakistan, and beyond. This is not Shamsie’s most recent novel, but it is one of great power and lyrical beauty.
David Baker, Poetry Editor
Heid Erdrich has edited a new anthology of poetry, New Poets of Native Nations (Graywolf), and I have been reading with deep pleasure, admiration, and gratitude for weeks now. These twenty-one poets, all of whom published their first books after 2000, represent a dramatic sweep of styles and aesthetic tastes as well as wide-ranging tribal and Native-nation affiliations. Some may be new to you—Sy Hoahwah, for instance, or Laura Da’—and some are more established both inside and outside of Native poetics, like Natalie Diaz, Tommy Pico, and Layli Long Soldier. One of my personal favorites for years has been dg nanouk okpik, who comes from a far north Inuit village, and another is Janet McAdams from Kenyon’s own English faculty. I urge readers to find this book when it’s officially released early this summer.
I had the honor to serve as a poetry judge this year for two major book prizes, the Pulitzer Prize and the LA Times Book Award, and I can’t speak highly enough of the two winners, Frank Bidart for his majestic Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar Straus Giroux) and Patricia Smith for her searing Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly Books). These are two masterful poets leading the way toward new directions in contemporary American poetry.
Caitlin Horrocks, Fiction Editor
As the title might suggest, The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead, by Chanelle Benz, has a higher body count than most short story collections. It also has more fearless, wild ambition than most collections. The stories hop between centuries, landscapes, and textual forms, and feature twisting, even shocking, plot turns.
Geeta Kothari, Nonfiction Editor
Although Mira T. Lee writes about mental illness with great empathy and perception, I read her novel, Everything Here is Beautiful, as a story about home—what Lucia, one of the main characters, calls querencia, Spanish for “the place we’re most comfortable.” That search takes Lucia and her older sister, Miranda, in different directions as they both struggle to maintain their relationship, a relationship made more complicated by Lucia’s mental illness. I identified with Miranda, who feels a deep sense of responsibility towards Lucia, but in the end, I fell in love with the unpredictable Lucia. This is a beautifully written story, with unforgettable characters.
Unpredictable might also be a good word to describe the stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s debut collection, All the Names They Used for God. Each of the nine stories has the breadth and depth of a novel, their worlds so fully imagined and convincing that I felt like I’d walked through a door at the back of my closet and into a parallel universe. In Sachdeva’s world, anything is possible in any number of settings: the prairie, the desert in Egypt, Glacier National Park, Nigeria. In “Killer of Kings,” John Milton has help from an angel when writing Paradise Lost, an unlikely muse who doesn’t seem to like writers. When Milton says he needs more time, she replies, “You all say that. It’s like one unending echo down here.” Loneliness is pervasive in these pages, an underlying condition many of the characters share. Sachdeva has a gift for balancing the strange with a deeply felt sense of humanity.
Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Associate Editor
Kirsten Reach, Associate Editor
Nicole Chung has been a brilliant editor for The Toast and now Catapult. Her memoir, All You Can Ever Know (Catapult, coming in October), is an eye-opening account of what it’s like to grow up without access to your biological family. Chung maintains a wholehearted compassion for both her biological and adoptive families’ toughest choices—and shares what it means to grow up in the space between them.
Katherine Hedeen, Translations Editor
The title of Kate Briggs’s book-length essay, This Little Art, refers to the often thankless, unrecognized work of the translator. An excellent and accessible meditation on the art of literary translation, it is well worth a read for those interested in understanding all that is at stake when we undervalue this essential art form.
And if you need more proof that literary translation is indeed a big, big art, A. James Arnold’s and Clayton Eshleman’s exhaustive 992-page edition of Aimé Césaire’s Complete Poetry does just that. The book is a tribute to one of the great poets of the twentieth century, presented bilingually, and includes an introduction, chronology, extensive notes, and glossary.
Natalie Shapero, Editor at Large
Katharine Weber, Editor at Large
Maggie Smith, Consulting Editor
This summer I’ll continue to work through the teetering stack of poetry books in my living room, including Bill Knott’s I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960–2014, which I’m loving as much for the poems’ unabashed tenderness as for their idiosyncratic rhetorical stances.
A poem is a room that contains
the house it’s in, the way you
accommodate me when I lie
beside you, even if the address
is lost so many times and the names
of streets and strangers that pass
shuffling a card-deck of maps
whose rubberband has snapped . . .
Misha Rai, Kenyon Review Fellow
I want to recommend two novels: When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy and What We Lose: A Novel by Zinzi Clemmons. Both of these books are beautifully written, important to the social and political conversations taking place globally, and generally a gripping read.
Anna Duke Reach, Director of Programs
Elizabeth Dark, Associate Director of Programs
Joy Williams’s short story collection, The Visiting Privilege, brings together fifty years of her thoroughly brutal and humorous analysis of the American experience. Together, her sentences and her characters expose our capacity to be cruel, our inability to hold it together, and our frustrating tendency to die. Reading this collection leaves us laughing at and reckoning with ourselves, all in one go.
Hanif Abdurraqib’s collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, demonstrates the insight and wisdom that can come from merging music writing, cultural criticism, and poetic flair with personal narrative. Abdurraqib ties our country’s fraught history and questions of being to each of the encounters he explores, be it a song lyric, a concert crowd, or a news cycle. When he asks, “What good is endless hope in a country that never runs out of ways to drain you of it?” he extends to us the invitation to partake in the answer.