TIME Books

Who Is Charles Wright, the New Poet Laureate?

Charles Wright
Charles Wright via the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has selected the 78-year-old poet for the honor

The Library of Congress announced today that Charles Wright will be the next Poet Laureate, kicking off his tenure with a Sept. 25 reading of his work.

James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress (yes, that’s his real title) praised Wright’s “Southern sensibility” and “allusive expansiveness,” and the last Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey said that his “belief in [poetry's] power to sustain us” made him the perfect person for the job.

But most poets aren’t exactly household names — so who exactly is he?

Wright was born in 1935 in Tennessee and served with the U.S. Army, first exploring poetry while stationed in Italy, and was later a professor at the University of Virginia. His influences range from the work of Ezra Pound to that of ancient Chinese poets. In 2011, he told PBS that the content of all of his poems, no matter their precise subject matter, is “language, landscape and the idea of God.” He also noted that his poems have gotten less “loquacious” as he’s gotten older. “I once said if a guy can’t say what he has to say in three lines, he better change his job,” he joked. “I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I’m down to six lines.”

His poetic bona fides are many: 24 poetry collections and two books of essays. A Pulitzer Prize. A National Book Critics Circle Award. A National Book Award. The International Griffin Poetry Prize. A Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. A National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. A term as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The Library of Congress’ own award for lifetime achievement in the form. (And lots more.)

But that doesn’t mean he’s totally sure what his new role entails. Reached in Charlottesville by the New York Times, he expressed happy confusion about what it means to be Poet Laureate:

“I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he continued. “But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”

Here’s his answer: though the Library describes the job with big words — he “serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans” — in practice the Poet Laureate doesn’t do too much. The Library of Congress is clear that it “keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate.” He’ll have to open the “literary season” (that’s the Sept. 25 reading) and close it in the spring; the nation is pretty much Laureate-less each summer. He’ll make suggestions for whom else should be included in the Library’s literary calendar, and the rest is pretty much up to him. Past Poet Laureates — a job called Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress until 1986 and, officially, Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry since then — have done things like launch newspaper columns and organize conferences. In exchange, the Poet Laureate receives a $35,000 stipend.

The reason for keeping the duties minimal is an important one: he needs time to write more poetry. Here, watch Wright read his poem “When the Horses Gallop Away from Us, It’s a Good Thing”:

TIME Books

A Facebook Employee Gets to Die in Game of Thrones

"Game Of Thrones" Panel - Comic-Con International 2013
Writer George R.R. Martin speaks onstage during the "Game Of Thrones" panel during Comic-Con International 2013 at the San Diego Convention Center. Kevin Winter—Getty Images

The character Dave Goldblatt will be introduced — and then killed off — in the next Game of Thrones novel

Facebook just has to win at everything.

A Facebook employee was awarded the honor of being killed off in George R.R. Martin’s next novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

Dave Goldblatt, a 30-year-old from San Francisco, was awarded martyr rights as the winner of the Game of Thrones author’s $20,000 charity auction prize. The Prizeo campaign was part of Martin’s efforts to raise money for both the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and the Food Depot of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Goldblatt chose to be a Valryian, a race commonly known for its purple eyes and platinum white hair. When asked by ABC why he chose Valyria, he replied, “You read some piece of fiction and for whatever reason you think one particular character or race is cool – and for whatever reason, I thought the Valyrians were cool. I’m hoping in future books we get to see more of them.”

Besides Goldblatt, another winner — a woman — was chosen to meet a fictional gruesome end, but the woman decided to remain anonymous.

TIME Books

Why People Are Talking About The Goldfinch Again

The Goldfinch
Little, Brown and Company

You've had more than six months to read it. Time to have an opinion.

Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch came out last October. It won a Pulitzer in April. So why are certain corners of the Internet upset about it today?

A new article from the July issue of Vanity Fair is making a book that may have seemed universally acclaimed seem less criticism-proof. The article starts by acknowledging that the book is a major sales and buzz success, with rave reviews from the New York Times and its Book Review, before launching right into pans from “higher brows” like The New Yorker and The Paris Review. The former compares the book to children’s literature and the editor of the latter accuses the New York Times Book Review of being “afraid to say when a popular book is crap.” (TIME’s own Lev Grossman is quoted in the story; he comes down on the pro-Goldfinch side, though he acknowledges that the world of the book is “slightly simplified.” Subscribers can read his review of the book here.)

The piece inspired a grabby headline from Page Six — “What the Literary World Hates About The Goldfinch” — and inspired those who didn’t like the book all along to have the courage to say so. “I had found the book ungainly, dull and shockingly unimaginative,” wrote Alexander Nazaryan for Newsweek. And Slate‘s Willa Paskin, apparently, agreed (at least until now):

Which, of course, led those who liked it—including TIME staffer Jessica Roy—to speak up too:

There’s no way for us to know why Vanity Fair is revisiting The Goldfinch this month in particular, though the book does remain at the top of many readers’ to-discuss lists, but perhaps the timing is as good as any. In some ways, this conversation has been going on non-stop for years and won’t stop any time soon. Just ask Jennifer Weiner, the author and outspoken critic of book reviews that focus only on perceived high-brow literature:

Weiner was interviewed by VF for the story, in which she’s quoted pointing out that the most perfect books aren’t always the ones that people decide to read, but she’s made that point many times before. The question is, in the end, whether The Goldfinch is “serious” enough — which is the same question that has surrounded lots of other books that have received lots of attention, no attention, big-name reviews, no reviews, high sales numbers and low ones. The Goldfinch has enough cred (awards! length! interesting author!) that it’s novel — no pun intended — to see it at the center of that debate. The debate itself, however, isn’t new at all.

TIME Books

Visiting The UK? Why Not Attend A Literary Festival

The UK is home to hundreds of literary festivals and a visit to at least one is an absolute must

The UK hosts more than 350 gatherings for book fans every year, according to Literary Festivals, allowing lovers of literature to exchange marginalia with their favorite authors, many of whom are lured into attending by the prospect of boosting sales of their latest work. At the Hay Festival in Wales last year, authors shifted some 35,000 copies of their tomes, whilst the Edinburgh International Book Festival did even better, with sales of 60,000. Both big business and an integral part of the literary scene, they’re a magnet for passionate readers. Below are some of the best fests the UK has to offer.

  • Foyles Grand Opening Festival

    Foyles and Graham Fudger

    The odd one out of this list, Foyles’ festival is a one off event being held to celebrate the launch of their new flagship store in London. The three week extravaganza will feature book signings, jazz and classical concerts, talks, debates, film screenings and creative workshops. Confirmed authors include Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel, chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and novelist Sebastian Faulks.

    The festival runs from June 11-July 5 and tickets can be purchased here

  • Port Eliot Festival

    Michael Bowles

    One of the trendier festivals, Port Eliot Festival is held in Cornwall in the family seat of the Earl and Countess of St Germans. Described by author Hanif Kureishi as “a sort of upmarket pop festival”, Port Eliot offers talks by authors, live music, outdoor film screenings, a wardrobe department and a flower show. This year’s festival will feature appearances from William Dalrymple, Shami Chakrabarti and Hanif Kureishi.

    The festival runs from July 24-27 and tickets can be purchased here

  • Edinburgh International Book Festival

    Edinburgh International Book Festival

    The festival, which began in 1983, calls itself “the largest and most dynamic festival of its kind in the world”. Hosted annually in Scotland’s capital since 1997, the festival offers over 700 events and hosts 800 authors, amongst them Nobel and Booker prize winning writers. The program for this year’s festival will be announced on 11 June and will include talks, debates and discussions in Edinburgh’s beautiful Charlotte Square Gardens.

    This year’s festival runs from August 9-25 , tickets go on sale June 24 and are expected to sell out fast

  • Wigtown Book Festival

    Colin Tennant

    Wigtown is Scotland’s national book town with around 12 second-hand bookshops, and has been described by the Guardian as “the sort of festival people get possessive about”. The town itself is charming, home to around 900 people who won a national competition in 1997 to turn it into Scotland’s book town. The 10 day festival attracts over 100 authors and this year will feature 175 events revolving around music, theatre, food and the visual arts.

    This year’s festival runs from September 26-October 5, the full program of events will be announced in early August

  • The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

    McPherson Stevens

    One of the four Cheltenham festivals of jazz, science, music and literature, this festival is the world’s oldest literary festival and began in 1949. Now it sells over 140,000 tickets and attracts around 600 authors, amongst them JK Rowling and Salman Rushdie. Speakers for this year’s festival are yet to be listed but visitors can expect to hear from leading figures from the worlds of sports, politics and, of course, literature.

    This year’s festival runs from October 3-12

TIME

Author Blake Nelson on The Prince of Venice Beach And The Rebirth of YA Literature

Hachette Book Group

The author of Girl and Paranoid Park discusses the state of YA literature

Blake Nelson is the author of many critically acclaimed novels, including Recovery Road, the seminal coming-of-age novel Girl, and Paranoid Park, which was made into a feature film by Gus van Sant. His subject matter tends to emphasize the “adult” in Young Adult fiction, tackling mature themes like sexuality, death and addiction in a frank, sparse and unyielding manner that thrills his audience. Even as a 40something man, Nelson is able to wholly inhabit his always teenaged, frequently female protagonists, bringing them to life in a starkly realistic manner, sure to open the eyes of more than a few parents.

His latest novel, The Prince of Venice Beach, focuses on Robert “Cali” Callahan, a 17-year old runaway bunking down in Venice Beach, Ca., wiling away his hours roaming the boardwalk on his skateboard, playing basketball and trying to avoid trouble. When a private investigator asks him to help track down another runaway, Cali finds out he has a knack for finding people. At first he’s excited to earn money as a boy detective, but when asked to help find a beautiful rich girl who doesn’t want to be found, he starts to question the motives of the people hiring him and he has to decide where his loyalties lie.

TIME talked to the author about his new book, Recovery Road getting a TV pilot, the rebirth of YA, and why you should always have librarians in your corner.

You’ve written books based in your hometown of Portland, Oregon, before, and now you live in Venice and your new book is based there, how do you feel that location affects what you write?

One thing I can say is that I lived in New York for about 15 years and I never felt that I could write about it. There was just something about it. But, Venice, I just took to it right away. There was also something about the circumstances about the kid being a runaway and adrift that I could immediately relate to. I was just a transient there myself, I was just kind of checking it out. I couldn’t act like I knew Venice backwards and forwards, but I know it as well as the character does. Cali came to Venice and really changed his life. In a weird way he’s had that classic California experience where he’s reinvented himself. I don’t go into what his life in foster care was like, but he was in the social service system in Nebraska and it was probably horrible. Then he comes out here and he gets to play basketball and surf and live a dream life. But, while I was writing the book, I wondered if it’s a good idea to tell the teenagers who will presumably be reading this book, that if they want to have a good life, they should run away and move to Venice?

But you dispel that in the first few pages, where the runaway from Seattle thinks it will be great, but ends up wanting to go home almost immediately after arrival.

Right, that’s right.

Do you think about the reader when you’re writing?

No, I don’t really think about the reader, I just think about the story. One of the interesting things about writing this book was that there is something about Cali’s situation — I’ve never done anything at all like what he’s done — but it echoed in someway my own experience. He triggered something in me, in my own personality, I really wanted to be Cali and I really wanted to see what he would do and I was really excited. Every couple of years someone tries to write a book about runaways or homeless youth and it’s a disaster, commercially. So I started writing this just to see if I could pull it off, just to try it out and see if it would work. I wrote the first two chapters and thought, eh, that’s not that great and put it away. At some point I took it out and wrote a little more and then it triggered something in me, in a good way, and suddenly I was Cali. That was the fun of the book! I hadn’t really written a mystery before, I just kind of got swept into it. I didn’t know what I would say about being homeless, because I don’t know much about it, but then I told my editor to never use the word “homeless” when describing Cali, always use, “runaway”. Runaway sounds more energetic, more exciting, more pro-active. Huck Finn was not “homeless”. He was a “runaway”.

What was your favorite scene or part of the book to write?

My favorite relationship is between Cali and Strawberry, the young girl who really doesn’t know what she’s doing. Every time I could come back to that I really enjoyed it. Sometimes I’ll flip through the novel and just want to read all the parts about Cali and Strawberry. A lot of the book is plot, but the relationship between Cali and Strawberry just feels real. If I wasn’t writing a mystery, I would write a whole book about that relationship. I just like the sweetness of it and the way they look after each other. I’ve read a few reviews that said this relationship isn’t realistic, but I think it is. Having hung out with some homeless people, I know they form relationships with each other and that they do look after each other. I think it makes it real. I didn’t become a writer to make money, I write to get at things like this, and when I can, it makes it worth it.

You read your own reviews?

I do! They are mostly good and the ones that are bad tend to be helpful.

What appealed to you about writing a mystery?

Being in LA had a lot to do with that. Every writer, when they come here, they soak up a little of that Noir Vibe. That’s really what LA feels like. And when I thought of Cali trying to find people, I could see that I was heading down that “mystery road”.

Did you go out and do much research?

I walked around Venice a lot. And when I was in the punk scene in Portland, there were always a lot of homeless— or borderline homeless, at least — kids hanging around in that scene. A couple of years ago, I went and talked to a girls in a juvenile correctional school and I told them that I was writing about street kids and I asked them what some cool street kid names were and I thought they would tell me a couple, but I went home and they wrote me a letter with a list of like a hundred street kid names. I forgot I had this list when I was writing, but I just found it the other day and they are great. I didn’t get to use the names this time, but if they let me do a series of these books, I will definitely use them.

What were some of them?

Black Barbie, Froggie, Trouble, Bubbles, Hawaiian Mitch, Keycatch, Polar Bear.

What would be your street kid name?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe someone else has to give you your street kid name.

Your book Recovery Road is being made into a pilot for ABC Family. What’s that book about?

Yes, they are shooting a pilot. It’s about two teenagers who fall in love in rehab. One of them — the girl — is from a very affluent neighborhood and the boy is from a lower class background. That doesn’t really matter when they are in rehab, but when they get out of rehab the differences in their backgrounds really start to come into play. She manages to not drink and not party and realizes that she wants to go to a good college, whereas the boy has a lot more trouble staying sober. It’s very gritty and it’s my best book since Girl, in fact a lot of people say it’s better than Girl. You should read it.

After the success of The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent and The Hunger Games, there has been a lot of interest in young adult literature, but you’ve been writing YA for years. Are you finding that your books have a new audience?

Yeah, I do. The fun thing with YA now is that adults read it, too. The tone of my books is more mature and I’m able to get away with that because the young adult world is so big now. I probably couldn’t have really survived in the young adult world in the past, but because it has grown, I can. I don’t have a huge audience of 13-year old girls, but there are a lot of librarians, so many adults, so many older teenagers reading YA now that my coming-of-age stories can ride the coattails in. Now, someone like John Green, he’s just super talented and he would be fine no matter the size of the YA market.

As an author known for writing YA, do you have people asking when you are going to write an adult book? Or has that faded as YA becomes more popular?

I don’t think the movement between those two worlds is as easy as people think. I’ve tried to do that, I’ve tried to do the adult thing, but if you write about teenagers and you’ve worked on it and really developed it, it can be hard to transition to writing about adults. James Patterson has made a little fortune writing kids books. Judy Blume did it, but I feel like you get kind of stuck in your thing. Not in a bad way, but if you work at something a lot and get good at it, it can be hard to switch. I wrote screenplays for awhile and it took a long time to get that out of my system. I had to totally stop and I had to rebuild my chops for writing prose. I hadn’t written any prose for almost a year and then when I sat down to write again, I couldn’t do it. It scared me! I had to rebuild. I think going between adult and young adult is a lot harder than it looks.

There’s been a lot of buzz about whether adults should be reading YA after that article in Slate came out. What’s your take on it?

I think it’s great that adults are reading YA. There’s a freshness to the genre. To me it feels like a “back to basics” movement. Strip away the pretension, renew the energy, make books FUN again.

Do you think it matters who your designated audience is?

I think it does. I would love to write a book about adultery, or the stuff that happens in mature relationships, or some complex, mature, novel about three generations of immigrants from Europe, but I can’t really do that, because I’m in the young adult world. It’s a little bittersweet that you’re closed off from stuff like that, but at the same time, in a classic literary career you don’t get to write ten coming-of-age novels, you get to write one. I’ve been able to write 12 coming-of-age novels!

Have you come of age?

Not yet!

MORE: Here Are the 15 Best Books of 2014 (So Far)

MORE: REVIEW: Save the Date: Jen Doll’s Wedding Survival Guide

TIME Television

Here’s How George R. R. Martin Would Improve HBO’s Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
HBO

Author would make each season last longer if he had his way

With the season 4 finale that premiers this Sunday looming, the HBO series’ fans cannot help but wish Game of Thrones were longer — and George R. R. Martin agrees.

In an interview with the New York Times, the author of the books on which the series is based said he regrets that the show’s writers have had to leave out scenes because of the 10-episode cap on each season.

“I wish we had more episodes,” he said in the phone interview. “I’d love to have 13 episodes. With 13 episodes, we could include smaller scenes that we had to cut, scenes that make the story deeper and richer.”

For instance, Martin explained, a scene from the first book was left out in which sisters Arya and Sansa Stark argue when invited to meet with Queen Cersei because Arya would prefer to go hunting. He said he thinks the scene would have been helpful in developing the relationship between the two sisters. He added, however, that he understands “battles are expensive”—an episode of Game of Thrones reportedly costs around $6 million.

Martin’s first book in the Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, is 825 pages long — so it is not surprising that the show’s writers had to be selective. Season 4 of the show covered the second half of the third book, A Storm of Swords, and the author has yet to publish the remaining two books in the seven-novel series, which has left some fans wondering whether writers will be able to keep each character’s storyline interesting as they use up the show’s source material.

Ironically, Martin began his career as a science fiction writer in the 1970s by writing short stories. Now, his A Song of Ice and Fire series numbers some 5,000 pages — and he cannot write the rest fast enough.

TIME celebrities

George R.R. Martin Is Now On Twitter

All Men Must Tweet

Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin joined Twitter Tuesday—shifting mediums from 864-page, seven (maybe eight?) part book series, to the svelte 140-character-or-less genre.

Martin’s first tweet warned fans not to expect to much social media action:

(The live journal bit is not ironic—the author is very active on the older, more literary-inclined platform).

In spite of his warning, we still hope he live-tweets GOT episodes.

TIME Spain

After Four Centuries, Don Quixote Writer’s Remains May Be Found

Specialists use ground-penetrating radar to penetrate into the sub-soil in central Madrid
Specialists use ground-penetrating radar to peer into the subsoil beneath a Trinitarian convent in a quest to find the remains of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes in Madrid on April 28, 2014. Sergio Perez—Reuters

A team of researchers will spend several months excavating a Madrid church in search of Miguel de Cervantes' bones

When Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish writer best known for penning Don Quixote, died in April 1616, he was buried at a Trinitarian convent in Madrid.

For centuries, that’s all we really knew. The exact location of his remains was poorly documented and thus forgotten; it was long assumed that what was left of one of modern literature’s first great writers had been lost for good.

On Monday, however, researchers said they had identified a handful of locations in a Madrid church where Cervantes may have been buried — although they were quick to rein in their optimism.

“We don’t want to generate false hopes,” forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria, the project’s leader, said at a news conference, according to an AFP report. “I don’t know if we are going to find him … We are talking about a universal figure, we want to do things without any rush, seriously.”

The Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, where Cervantes’ bones are suspected to lie, has been renovated several times over the centuries, meaning any remains once buried there may have been misplaced. The excavation process, BBC reports, will require several months of effort.

The city of Madrid will fund the next phase of the project, which first began in April, Mayor Ana Botella told reporters at the news conference.

TIME Books

‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator Pens First Comics in Nearly 2 Decades

WATTERSON
Bill Watterson, creator of the syndicated cartoon strip "Calvin & Hobbes" is shown in this Feb. 24, 1986 file photo at his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. C.H. Pete Copeland—The Plain Dealer/AP

Bill Watterson, the lauded creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," drew as a guest on a syndicated strip this week

The reclusive and celebrated cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of the renowned “Calvin and Hobbes” series, emerged from nearly two decades of retirement this week to guest-draw in a syndicated strip.

Watterson, beloved for his portrayal of the troublemaker Calvin and the animated stuffed tiger Hobbes, is known considered by many the J.D. Salinger of the cartoonist world. He eschewed contact with the public after his last strip in 1995, and reportedly turned down Steven Spielberg’s offer to make an animated Calvin and Hobbes movie.

But when syndicated cartoonist Stephan Pastis drew a strip that praised “Calvin and Hobbes” and sent it to Watterson, thanking him for his influence, Watterson emerged with an offer: would Pastis be interested in teaming up on a strip?

Pastis recounted in a blog post Saturday that Watterson wanted to guest-draw Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine,” and would draw as a less-competent Pastis. What resulted was Watterson drawing in the guise of a very funny second-grader on his strip.

Pastis called it “the highlight of my career.” You can check out the rest of the strips and the story of Watterson and Pastis’ collaboration here.

TIME Companies

Hachette: Layoffs Aren’t Related to Amazon Fight

The company denies the layoffs are related to its ongoing spat with Amazon

Hachette Book Group, the publishing company involved in an ongoing dispute with online marketplace Amazon, said Friday it would be cutting about 3% of its U.S. staff, according to Publishers Weekly.

The move is reportedly a part of a “cost-saving initiation” essential to the company’s future growth. Hachette, however, says the layoffs were planned well before its ongoing fight with Amazon broke out into the open. Amazon has been blocking customers from pre-ordering Hachette books and taking them off prominently featured pages in a dispute over the publisher’s contract with the online marketplace.

(WATCH: Stephen Colbert Ripped Amazon Apart Over Its Hachette Dispute)

Hachette’s sales reportedly fell 6.2% during the first quarter of this year. A total of 28 positions will be cut.

[Publishers Weekly]

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