For all the praise that has been to Karl Ove Knausgaard in recent years – and James Wood, in conversation with him at the First Parish in Cambridge, cites him as one of the most lauded foreign novelists of the past decade, alongside Elena Ferrante – he hasn’t gotten enough praise for being a child prodigy. Wood correctly notes that what Knausgaard’s new book, Autumn, immediately reflects is innocence.Autumn comprises a series of missives to an unborn daughter. It includes dozens of brief and obliquely vivid comments on objects – “Apples,” “Daguerrotype,” “Earth,” “Silence,” and so on. The seeming purpose of this is to give the daughter a solid understanding of what she will have been gotten into. Does the author’s innocence qualify him as an authority? James Wood says that most writers would have been afraid to write the way Knausgaard does of blood’s involvement in blushing.
Claire Messud and I met outside, under the blue umbrellas of Pamplona Cafe. The day was cloudy but the author wore a thin grey sweater and a smile. She’d arrived a few minutes past the hour, which most students would probably call early, but Messud began by apologizing: she’d bumped into a former student in the lobby of the English department and had to say hello, probably with a hug, the same way she’d greeted me. We sat and ordered coffee. Next door, a baptism was happening at St. Paul’s. A fire truck screamed past, and I asked about last week’s reading at the Harvard bookstore. “I suppose one way it might be expressed,” Messud tapped her cup, “is that I’m writing a cliche of frustrated narrative expectations.” She was referring to the suggestion, or maybe it was a complaint, that The Burning Girl, her newest novel, lacked the kind of sexiness that defined the bestselling The Woman Upstairs or 2006’s The Emperor’s Children.
It was only fitting that Michelle Kuo gave her Cambridge reading at the Cambridge Public Library. College ’03 and Law School ’09, and now a professor at the American University of Paris, Kuo spent two years after college in Helena, Arkansas with Teach for America. Her memoir, Reading With Patrick, documents and reflects on her time working with Patrick Browning, a quiet and introspective student in her classroom whom she returned to Arkansas to see upon learning he had been placed in jail for killing another man. While awaiting Patrick’s trial, in which the unintentional death was ultimately charged as manslaughter, Patrick and Kuo read and wrote together every day. I sat down with Michelle to talk about the complex process of writing and discussing the memoir, the questions we ask ourselves as progressives and young people, and, of course, books.
Jamie Stewart, a square-jawed man with a razor-sharp side-part, has a low voice, a few tattoos, and the airs of someone with a strict hygiene regimen. Stewart is the anchor behind Xiu Xiu, a dark experimental act out of San Jose, whose combination of relentless nihilism and dry humor often splits the critics. Stewart is Xiu Xiu’s only constant player –– the band has added and shed eleven members since forming in 2002 –– and the band’s sound, like its membership, is always changing. Their repertoire ranges from the grim and percussive Angel Guts: Red Classroom, to Plays the Music of Twin Peaks (a bleak but lovingly rendered take on the cult TV show’s soundtrack), to Nina (an out-there tribute album to Nina Simone, that sounds more like an out-of-breath Anohni [à la Hopelessness] than anything from the Simone catalogue) to the upbeat, nearly noise-pop Forget, the band’s tenth release, which came out this past February.
Elif Batuman –– acclaimed New Yorker contributor, recent author of The Idiot (a novel set at Harvard in the ’90’s) and former Advocate member –– is every bit as genial, witty and inspiring as her Twitter page makes her out to be. It was truly a pleasure to have the chance to chat with her about her debut novel, The Idiot, Turkish heritage, and the 19th century Russian novel. She proves that it is, in fact, possible to be dazzlingly intelligent, publish two best-selling books and still be one of the warmest, most approachable people ever.B- We're very excited about The Idiot. How did you decide on your subject matter, and how was it to transition from writing mostly non-fiction to fiction?E- The Idiot is based on a draft that I wrote many years ago in 2000-2001; at that point I was in my early 20s.
Gabrielle Smith wants you to consider ginger. Smith, the producer; writer; singer and all-round artistic force of Eskimeaux takes a moment to pause on 21 South Street. Smith is known for the quiet intimacy of songs that grow to a growl; her projects “O.K” and the 2016 “Year of the Rabbit” cross from tender revelations “i admit i'm scared” into accusation: “I say, "i love you" just to get you to say anything.”On April 14th, Smith brings her lyrical, gritty sound to the Sinclair. By the time she comes to Boston, Eskimeaux will have completed a cross-country odyssey in the company of alt-rock band WHY? Today she talks with the blog about spices, guitar strings, and sonic inspiration.You’re touring with “Why?”; you’ve worked with “Japanese Breakfast;” “Slutever” and others; what’s it like to work with different artists?It’s great! Working with different artists always gives me new perspective on how something can be played, how a song can be structured, what kinds of sounds I like but have never used for some reason, etc.
Known for mixing elements of First Nations music with EDM, Canadian DJs A Tribe Called Red explore a range of genres on their third album, We Are the Halluci Nation. Pitchfork praises the release as “some of the heaviest and most infectious sounds around,” going as far as to say, “This album is critical listening for everyone.” A Tribe Called Red will be performing at The Sinclair on Saturday, March 18.JK: I’d love to start by talking about the intersection of art and politics. Do you see yourself primarily as an activist? As an artist? Do you think the two are fundamentally tied together?BW: They can be for sure. In my case personally, I don’t really see myself as an activist. I see myself as indigenous. The activism isn’t really a choice for an indigenous person. It’s a part of life.JK: Is it irritating that the public perception of your art can be connected to your heritage and political causes that you haven’t necessarily chosen? Or does it feel like an honor to be part of that tradition?BW: It’s a responsibility really.
(Arthur Sze’s ninth book of poetry, Compass Rose (Copper Canyon, 2014), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A new collection, Sight Lines, will be published by Copper Canyon in February 2019. His poem "Dawn Redwood" is included in the Harvard Advocate's upcoming Cell issue.)EE— First of all — thank you so much for taking the time to meet! We at the Advocate are huge fans of your work and incredibly excited to be publishing “Dawn Redwood” in Cell. In reading your poems, something that’s really struck me is their sort of contemplative traveling energy — reading them we transit through their images, say, from a landscape into the cells of a tree into the cosmic scale of stars. Are your poems driven by memory, by research, by invention — what would you say is the driving thread connecting the images of your poems?AS— That’s one of the mysteries of art, and I’m not sure I can be the best articulator of it! But I can say that my work has to do with braiding, and with exploring what’s happening in different spaces, allowing the imagination to jump or move, in a way that isn’t linear but still convergent, so that the disparate worlds going on are braiding different narratives or lines of exploration, influencing and affecting each other.