Literary News: Events & Articles

Literary NewsSpring-Summer 2019

Costa Award Book of the Year
The Cut-Out Girl by Bart van Es.
Pieced together by Van Es, the memoir recreates Lien de Jong's experience as a young Jewish girl in hiding in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The account covers her stay with the author's grandparents and others in the Dutch resistance. Lien suffered mistreatment and abuse but survived. Of the Netherland's 140,000 Jews, 104,000 were killed.

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai.
Yale Tishman, a 1980s Chicago art gallery director faces personal tragedy. An AIDS epidemic kills off his circle of friends until the only one left is Fiona, a friend's younger sister. Three decades later, Fiona resurfaces in Paris, in search of her own cult-joining daughter. The two storylines intertwine via an old friend she stays with in Paris, a photographer who documented the Chicago 1980s AIDS crisis.

ALA Best Young Adult Novel
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.
In a novel in verse, Xiomara Batista, an Afro Latina teenager coming-of-age in Harlem, rebels against her mother's strict Catholicism, joins a poetry club, hides a young romance, and has a "blazing" family fight over her poetry. X, as the young woman is called, appeals to an outsider, whose aid leads her family (X, her twin brother, and Papi and Mami) down a healing path that makes room for her poetry.

Book Prize Winners 2019

Mockingbird's 1930s Racism in 2019
How does one pull it off—adapt a revered classic set in the 1930s to our own troubled times, yet remain faithful to the original? If you're Aaron Sorkin working with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, now showing on Broadway, you script a version with a few daring changes (executed by a first-rate ensemble). First, you limit the focus to a key narrative thread—the trial of black handyman Tom Robinson (played by Gbenga Akinnagbe) for the rape of a white woman in 1930s Maycomb, Albama. The charge is false, a lie told by Mayella Ewell (Erin Wilhelmi), white, cowering daughter of racist Bob Ewell (Frederick Weller). "I was guilty," says the play's Tom Robinson, “as soon as I was accused.” It's a line lifted from the novel, from the narration, not the dialogue, there ("Tom was a dead man from the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed"). And the one narrating is Scout (Celia Kennan-Bolger); she's looking back on events years later, in retrospect. Six years old when the events start, close to nine when they end, Scout is daughter to Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels). He's the white liberal attorney who defends Tom Robinson before an all-white jury (represented by empty chairs in the play). A widower, Atticus has two children—Scout and her brother, Jem (Will Pullen)—whom he raises with much help from Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), the household's black maid. Calpurnia is a commanding black presence onstage, where she too is more outspoken than in the novel. "I believe in being respectful," of everyone, says Atticus. "No matter who you're disrespecting by doin' it?" she quips, her exasperation showing, despite their amicable relationship. Calpurnia is Atticus's foil in this version; she sets off his idealism and racial insensitivities. Embracing the role, actress Richardson Jackson honors the strength and service of such women in history by playing the part (Essence Magazine, Dec. 13, 2018). Lee's novel and Sorkin's adaptation honor historical realities too—of race relations in the 1930s (when the novel is set), in 1960 (when it was published) and in 2018 (when Sorkin's rendition opened). But there's a major shift in focus from the book to the play. Scout's line of narration, quoted above, shows her coming of age in the novel to recognize racial injustice in her society. In the play, the line morphs into dialogue that shows Tom Robinson's expectation of racial injustice. And, by the final curtain, Atticus must swallow proof of that injustice. Actually the play makes Atticus, not Scout (or Tom Robinson, for that matter), the center of attention.

Attorney Atticus Finch and defendant Tom Robinson

Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch and Gbenga Akinnagbe as Tom Robinson in Aaron Sorkin's To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Bartlett Sher. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

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