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Interviews

Recent Issue

Forward Thinking [private]

Claire Schwartz: According to the poet Marie Howe, who studied with Joseph Brodsky at Columbia, Brodsky said: “You Americans are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” You’ve written about the relationship between language and the social imagination—in particular, about the ways that totalitarian regimes in Russia and, more recently, the current government in the United States, have eroded public speech. Would you describe what you mean by that and how you see language functioning in public space right now?

Masha Gessen: For totalitarian regimes, language is an instrument of subjugation. It’s a way of controlling both behavior and thought. Attempting to ensure that words mean what the regime says they mean is a way of undermining people’s ability to inhabit a shared reality outside of what the regime says reality is. There are all sorts of tricks the regime performs along the way—such as using a word to mean its opposite, or almost its opposite. 


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Photo by John Ricard

Voice, Diction, and Influence

August 29, 2018

Mitchell Jackson began fastening the hashtag #litlifeislife onto his Instagram posts as early as September 2014. He has since adopted it as his unofficial catchphrase. The slogan is scattered generously across his feed, slapped onto snapshots of colleagues’ newly published books, event posters for upcoming writing festivals, slides announcing literary contest award winners, and—most recently—manuscript stacks of the forthcoming Survival Math fanning across tables and bedsheets.

Illustration by Sara Tyson

The Imaginative Reality of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin left behind a legacy unparalleled in American letters when she passed away this January at the age of eighty-eight. Named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress for her contributions to America’s cultural heritage—the author of more than sixty books of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, children’s literature, drama, criticism, and translation—she was one of only a select few writers (the others being Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth) to have their life’s work enshrined in the Library of America while still actively writing. She joined the likes of Toni Morrison, John Ashbery, and Joan Didion in receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation, and her work garnered countless awards: the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud, six Nebulas, six Hugos, and twenty-one Locus awards among them. Her name regularly appeared on the Nobel Prize for Literature short list, and writers as varied as Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, and Zadie Smith herald her as an influence. I believe you could start anywhere in her vast canon of work—with her poems, her translations of Gabriela Mistral or Lao Tzu, her remarkable book reviews, or her activism on behalf of writers, women, and the environment—to begin to understand the importance of Ursula K. Le Guin to both the world of letters and the world at large. But she was best known for her fiction, most notably her novels, and most specifically her books of science fiction and fantasy. And fiction, the genre she admittedly felt most comfortable talking about, was the occasion for the conversation that follows.

VQR Online

An Interview with Francine Prose

June 13, 2014

Even casual readers of literary warhorses the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books will recognize the name Francine Prose. She’s written more than a dozen novels dating back to 1973, from Judah the Pious (Atheneum, 1973) [...]

Leslie Jamison

An Interview with Leslie Jamison

April 14, 2014

The first Leslie Jamison essay I remember reading is “Fog Count,” in the Oxford American. At the time, I was busy researching and interviewing lifelong residents in small-town Virginia, and Jamison’s depiction of the community surrounding a W [...]