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literature

Illustration by John Ritter

What Is the Business of Literature?

Most other accounts of the contemporary business of literature are autobiographical, hagiographic, or histories of literature, avoiding the business and economics of it all. So why study a business that is sui generis, that isn’t even really a business—that, like America, is exceptional? 

The Devil’s Tail: Reading From the Lives of Authors

I spent a day with V. S. Naipaul in the fall of 1980. He was teaching undergraduates that semester at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and he’d agreed to be interviewed for a projected special issue of Salmagundi magazine. My companions on this visit were the novelist Bharati Mukherjee and my wife Peg Boyers. From the first, in our preliminary phone conversations, Naipaul had expressed objections about my friend Bharati. “Why bring an Indian with you?” he asked.

Humboldt’s Gift

Whenever someone asks me to name my favorite novel, I find myself putting on a ridiculous but revealing little performance, pretending to a natural consternation—after all, who can narrow a lifetime’s evolving preferences down to a single title? [...]

Writing Life: Remaking a Norton Anthology

What redeems literary anthologists, if we're able to claim neither the creativity of the poet nor the analytic rigor of the cultural theorist? Having dedicated myself for years to constructing elaborate critical arguments, how did I get involved in what one of my friends called "pretheoretical" judgments about poem-gathering, a suspiciously curatorial practice in our supposedly post-canonical era?

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