All posts by LARB Blog

Music Disownership in the Streaming Economy

By Thomas Klepacz

On January 9th, Spotify found itself in the public eye of an atypical arena. The Swedish music streaming company — whose public persona typically consists of lime-green odes to U2, Rascal Flatts, and gingerbread emulations of prominent rappers — engaged in greater Twitter-political-discourse by proposing a tongue-in-cheek offer to Barack Obama. As Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of the company tweeted, “Hey @BarackObama, I heard you were interested in a role at Spotify. Have you seen this one?” Continue reading

John Gilmore (1935-2016): The Black Dahlia and the Bunco Artist

By Larry Harnisch

John Gilmore was a liar, a fraud, a con man, and a thief. The author of a string of “outsider” books — including the notorious Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder — Gilmore also had a hair-trigger for lawsuits. If he hadn’t died in October at the age of 81, I would most likely have had to defend in court what I just wrote. Continue reading

Letter from AWP

By Meghan O’Gieblyn

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, or AWP, the marquee national writer’s conference, takes place in a different city each year and draws thousands of writers, publishers, and editors from places far and wide across the Republic. It is the kind of gathering where you can grab a drink with the editor who published your short story, peruse a book fair where literary journals and publishing houses have set up booths manned by nervous-looking interns, and hear, three times in a single weekend, that old E.L. Doctorow saw about process: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Continue reading

Looking and Acting: On Ali Smith’s Autumn

By Milo Hicks

Reading a new Ali Smith novel always feels like returning to a familiar place. There is the usual smattering of quotes that mark the opening of each work, laid out like a welcome mat at the door. She always uses a single word — “past,” “beginning,” “I,” “there,” “one,” “1” — to open the first section of every one of her novels, a gentle reminder that every story is the bringing together of disparate parts. And then there is her undeniable voice that agitates and soothes in the same stroke, unbearably light and effortlessly heavy. Autumn, her most recent novel, is no exception, and it’s homier than ever. Underneath the new window coverings and re-arranged furniture are the same authorial concerns: time, art, and storytelling. Yet the familiar places of her novels never come across as worn or tired because they welcome such a diversity of characters. Smith knows that “whoever makes up the story makes up the world,” and advises us to “always try to welcome people into the home of your story.” This advice, which is one of Autumn’s foremost concerns, is lived out in every home she builds. Continue reading

Of Exports, Envoys, Boxers, and Books — Midwestern Links to the Middle Kingdom

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

The first English language publication to include a detailed profile of Mao Zedong, Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China, was by a man born in Kansas City. The historian often described as the doyen of Chinese studies in America, The United States and China author John King Fairbank, hailed from South Dakota. When Nobel laureate Mo Yan, James Joyce Award-winner Yu Hua, the acclaimed novelist Wang Anyi, and the celebrated poet Bei Dao visited the United States, one place they each spent time was Iowa City, whose celebrated International Writing Program has hosted many other leading Chinese writers as well. And yet, when the topic of historical ties between China and the United States comes up, the tendency is to focus not on states far from either coast, but those that stand beside an ocean. As a result, when Donald Trump announced that he wanted Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to be his Ambassador to China, the coverage occasionally veered in a man bites dog direction, as though tapping someone from the heartland to go to Beijing was a geographically eccentric move. Many journalists found it natural to list reasons — Branstad’s frequent visits Beijing, Xi Jinping’s visits to his state, the millions of metric tons of soybeans that Iowa ships to China each year, etc. — why this Midwesterner was actually a logical choice to represent America in the Middle Kingdom. Continue reading

Recovering and Tempelhof

By Jennifer Croft

Like many, I spent part of the last weekend in January at an airport. Across the country thousands protested detainments in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order, signed on Friday, January 27th, banning refugees from seven countries. Being at an airport without travel plans, in an atmosphere of kindness and community distantly removed from the usual airport experience, brought to mind another airport I went to — not through — not long ago that has been transformed into its opposite. Tempelhof, once the world’s most noble aerodrome, then a Nazi stronghold, now a public park, was also slated two weeks ago to become the largest refugee camp in Germany. So I wondered, surrounded at LAX by supportive sign-bearers chanting welcome slogans, contemplating Tempelhof: how do places change and heal, and can people — individuals and populations — follow suit? Continue reading