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Black women who deserve a book deal more than Rachel Dolezal, and more book news

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Happy Saturday! Let’s read some news about books, shall we?

  • Salman Rushdie talks Shakespeare and Cervantes at the New Statesman:

Cervantes and Shakespeare almost certainly never met, but the closer you look at the pages they left behind the more echoes you hear. The first, and to my mind the most valuable shared idea is the belief that a work of literature doesn’t have to be simply comic, or tragic, or romantic, or political/historical: that, if properly conceived, it can be many things at the same time.

From that day on, I always answered The Question when it was asked. Once in a while, a teacher would look up from grading papers in the back of the room with a quizzical expression, but that was the extent of it. In middle schools, there would be a louder gasp or two from the students, or a whispered "What’d he say?" from neighbor to neighbor. Sometimes, in those audiences, eyes would light up, tiny smiles creeping at the edges of a 13-year-old’s mouth. A nearly invisible nod. Sometimes my solutions to writer’s block got bigger reactions.

  • The Booker International shortlist came out this week, and Words Without Borders conducted a series of interviews with the writers and translators.
  • Sara Nović has a gorgeous essay on storytelling and sign language over at LitHub:

Deaf culture is founded on storytelling, a culture more obsessed with its own language than any other I’ve encountered. This is borne of necessity—ASL is not quite a language in exile, but not for lack of trying. America has a long tradition of systematic attempts to quash signed language in favor of speech, to force deaf people to integrate into "normal" society.

  • Beverly Cleary turned 100 this week! We celebrated here at Vox with a love letter to Ramona Quimby, and at Slate, Ruth Graham reminds us not to forget Cleary’s books for teens:

Cleary treats teenagers with the mix of empathy and clarity she applies to all her young characters: She takes their feelings seriously, but she is also frank about the impermanence of their dramas. The fact that she lets them cheerfully arrive at the same conclusion themselves is downright refreshing.

I had written 10 books, I had published the book of poetry, I had gotten fellowships at Yaddo, Ucross, and Green Mountain. I had done all that — but then I dried up, and I remember jogging around an awful depressing lake, and I told myself, ‘You will have to write yourself out of this or you will endure doing nothing, being no one.’

I read Act 5, Scene II—The One With All the Deaths—on my phone while riding the F train, and when I finished, I looked around at my fellow subway riders in astonishment. How had no one ever told me about Emilia, who, in only a couple of lines, brings down one of the most conniving, merciless villains in all of Western literature? How had no one told me about this fantastic female character who defies not one but two sword-wielding men in order to make sure Desdemona, her mistress and friend, receives justice? I wanted to rip up my diploma. I wanted to start over as a freshman and devote my entire undergraduate career to the Gospel of Emilia.

  • Elle has your summer reading list covered.
  • Lynn Steger Strong has a terrific piece at Catapult in which she discusses both Virginia Woolf and the uses of language:

Sometime during each semester, I ask my students what they think language is meant to do. Depending on the class and the subject, the answers vary widely: beauty, say the fourteen-year-old poets; to torture me, say the freshmen engineers in the required class I teach.

They’re all right, of course. Language can make beauty, is capable of creation in ways that are separate from life; but language is, I think, first and always, a thing that we pass from one to another. It is a tool through which we communicate.

Happy reading!

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