Skip to main content

National Book Award authors

The Jesters

They had never seen these neighbors. Whoever lived on the far side of the wooded area were strangers to them. There was no occasion for the husband and the wife to drive on West Crescent Drive, which wasn’t easily accessible from the cul-​de-​sac at the end of East Crescent Drive, where they lived: This would involve a circuitous twisting route to Juniper Road, which traversed the rural-​suburban “gated community” called Crescent Lake Farms, an approximate half mile north on that road, and then a turn into the interior of the development and, by way of smaller, curving roads, onto West Crescent Drive.

A Book of Martyrs

The vow was unspoken between them: Once started on their drive into a more northerly part of the state, once embarked upon this journey, they could not turn back.


So lonely! Shyly they glanced at each other across the dining room table in whose polished cherrywood surface candle flames shimmered like dimly recalled dreams. One said, “We should purchase a RepliLuxe,” as if only now thinking of it, and the other said quickly, “RepliLuxes are too expensive, and you hear how they don’t survive the first year.”

“Not all! Only—”

“As of last week, it was thirty-one percent.”



She was very young then. It had to be 1974 because she was in second grade at Buhr Elementary School, which was the faded-red-brick building set back from the busy street; she has forgotten the name of the street and much of her life at that time, but she remembers the school, she remembers a teacher who was kind to her, she remembers Rock Basin Park, where the child was smothered.

Form, Eros, and the Unspeakable: Whitman’s Stanzas

Whitman did not number the fifty-two sections in the 1855 version of the great, free-flowing outpouring that is “Song of Myself,” or even separate them by much. But he must soon have realized the reader's need for a helpful scaffolding, since he added stanza numbers in the edition of 1860, and section numbers in 1867. Of these sections, the briefest are two six-line units, utterly different from each other.

So Help Me God

Phone rings. My cousin Andrea answers. It's a pelting-rain weekday evening last April, just past 7 p.m. and dark as midnight.


Robert Bly and James Wright: A Correspondence

For as long as I can remember I've been hearing the story: that James Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, had nearly given up writing early in his career. What saved him? An unexpected copy of a new magazine called The Fifties and the ensuing correspondence with its young poet-editor Robert Bly. The correspondence bloomed into a friendship, and Wright's best and most famous poems were written at Bly's farm in Madison, Minnesota. As I say, I've been hearing this for as long as I can remember. But without a biography or a volume of Wright's letters to confirm the story, it always remained in the realm of rumor. 

Romance and Anti-Romance: From Bronte’s Jane Eyre to Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys's haunting and hallucinatory prose poem of a novel, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), boldly tells the story— authentic, intimate, and unsparing, because first-person confession—of Mrs. Bertha Rochester, the doomed madwoman of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Yet Rhys's novel is more than a remarkably inspired tour de force, a modernist revision of a great Victorian classic: it is an attempt to evoke, by means of a highly compressed and elliptical poetic language, the authentic experience of madness—more precisely, of being driven into madness; and it is a brilliantly sustained anti-romance, a reverse mirror image of Jane Eyre's and Rochester's England.