Greil Marcus has been one of the most distinctive voices in American music criticism for over forty years. His books, including Mystery Train and The Shape of Things to Come, traverse soundscapes of folk and blues, rock and punk, attuning readers to the surprising, often hidden affinities between the music and broader streams of American politics and culture.
Drawn from Marcus’s 2013 Massey Lectures at Harvard, his new work delves into three episodes in the history of American commonplace song: Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1928 “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” Geeshie Wiley’s 1930 “Last Kind Words Blues,” and Bob Dylan’s 1964 “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” How each of these songs manages to convey the uncanny sense that it was written by no one illuminates different aspects of the commonplace song tradition. Some songs truly did come together over time without an identifiable author. Others draw melodies and motifs from obscure sources but, in the hands of a particular artist, take a final, indelible shape. And, as in the case of Dylan’s “Hollis Brown,” there are songs that were written by a single author but that communicate as anonymous productions, as if they were folk songs passed down over many generations.
A rare US appearance by László Krasznahorkai—the “contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse,” wrote Susan Sontag. Winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, Krasznahorkai is author of The Melancholy of Resistance, Satantango and Seiobo There Below. His new collection of nonfiction is Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens: Reportage.
He is joined by one of his biggest local admirers, Salman Rushdie, whose new novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is set in a New York of the near future made strange after a massive storm. “He is rare and magical writer,” wrote Michael Chabon.
The writers will be introduced by Valeria Luiselli, who will also interview them after their readings. Luiselli's new novel is The Story of My Teeth, which is "playful, attentive and very smart without being for a minute pretentious," wrote The New York Times. "She is an exciting writer to watch, not only for this book, but also for the fresh approach she brings to fiction, one that invites participation and reaction, even skepticism—a living, breathing map."
Bad Women: A Discussion About Women, Character, and Likability, featuring, from left to right, Anna North, Emily Shultz, Chloe Caldwell, Jenny Zhang, and moderator Isaac Fitzgerald.
In 2013 actress Anna Gunn wrote in the New York Times about the mass online anger directed at the character she played on Breaking Bad. She had realized “most people’s hatred of Skyler White had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives.” This panel of novelists and essayists will talk about the onus of likeability placed on women and whether women are allowed to be flawed, in fiction and life. Presented by Buzzfeed Books and Joyland Magazine.
Emily Schultz is the co-founder of Joyland Magazine, host of the podcast Truth & Fiction, and creator of the blog Spending the Stephen King Money. Schultz’s newest novel, The Blondes, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015 and will be available in paperback from Picador. It was selected for NPR as a Great Read of 2015 and Kirkus declared it a Best Fiction Book of 2015. She lives in Brooklyn.
Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella, Women, and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray. Her upcoming essay collection, I’ll Tell You In Person, will release fall of 2016 from Coffee House Press & Emily Books. Her work has appeared in VICE, Salon, The Rumpus, Nylon, The Sun Magazine, Jewcy, and Men’s Health. She lives in Hudson, New York.
Anna North is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, Nautilus, and Salon; on Jezebel and BuzzFeed; and in the New York Times, where she is a member of the editorial board. The author of the novels America Pacifica and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Jenny Zhang is a poet, fiction and non-fiction writer who has published work in Bomb, Iowa Review, the Hairpin, Glimmertrain, Rookie, and Poetry Magazine. Her poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find was released from Octopus Books, and her forthcoming collection of short stories We Love You Crispina, will be published by Random House in 2017. She was born in Shanghai and raised in New York. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Moderator Isaac Fitzgerald is the books editor of Buzzfeed and co-founder of Pen & Ink.
Video by Kevin Kino
In order of appearance:
John Leonard Prize
Kirstin Valdez Quade, Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton & Company)
Ross Gay, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn (Penguin)
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions)
Frank Stanford, What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford (Copper Canyon Press); read by editor Michael Wiegers
Leo Damrosch, Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake (Yale University Press)
Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Graywolf)
Terry Alford, Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth (Oxford University Press)
Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (Random House)
T.J. Stiles, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Alfred A. Knopf)
Rosemary Sullivan, Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (Harper)
Karin Wieland, Dietrich and Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives (Liveright); read by Shelley Frisch, translator
Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World (Grand Central Publishing)
Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
George Hodgman, Bettyville (Viking)
Margo Jefferson, Negroland (Pantheon)
Ari Berman, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Jill Leovy, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (Spiegel & Grau)
Brian Seibert, What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Paul Beatty, The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (Riverhead)
Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)
Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth)
Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen (Penguin Press)