George Liston Seay/edited by Peter J. Bean
The Art of Conversation (Johns Hopkins)
Culled from taped interviews at D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, this volume features down-to-earth talks with lofty intellectuals. As the title implies, the tone is conversational, and that helps personalize both the interview subjects and the subject matter. As a result, the professors, policy wonks, and deep thinkers often come across as regular folks—albeit ones with specialized world views and off-the-chart IQs. One of the most candid and interesting talks is with Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World, who tells interviewer George Liston Seay that he "rebelled" against writing the novel (which is about a black slave owner) and "kept putting it off, year after year." He stewed on it for 10 years, but eventually put it down on paper. The finished product, Jones's debut novel, won him a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur "genius" grant. It's one of many "genius" moments in this book.
Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Gone and Back Again (Soft Skull)
A highly regarded author of young adult lit (and occasional contributor to Baltimore), Fuqua stakes out new territory with this book. For one, he has a new publisher. Unlike much of Fuqua's previous work, Gone and Back Again isn't published by the kid-friendly Candlewick imprint; instead, it's been issued by Soft Skull Press, an edgy publisher known for titles such as A Good War Is Hard to Find and Burn, Christmas! Burn!! It's actually a good match though, because this poignant, funny, mem-noir-ish novel has a distinct edge. Based largely on Fuqua's peculiar childhood—which might make the Sedarises blush—it nails the roiling confusion, simmering anger, and quiet desperation inside a splintering, dysfunctional family. Caley, the boy at the center of the story, battles alcoholism, bullying, an eating disorder, rootlessness, and a profound depression that borders on psychosis. Confounding matters, his father exhibits multiple personalities—he's an erudite, pipe-smoking intellectual one day, a beer-swilling redneck the next. Fuqua renders such characters with great care, infusing them with generous amounts of humor and humanity. In a perfect world, director Wes Anderson options this book, shoots the film in the Ozarks (where most of the action takes place), and convinces reclusive indie-rock hero Jeff Mangum to do the soundtrack.
Edited by Jeana DelRosso, Leigh Eicke, and Ana Kothe
The Catholic Church and Unruly Women Writers (Palgrave Macmillan)
Dedicated to "unruly women everywhere," this collection of essays is as provocative as it is academic. Who would expect a collection of scholarly writings about Catholicism to include chapters titled, "I grab the microphone and move my body" and "Dis-robing the priest?" But my favorite essay cites correlations in the work of Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) and that of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Who knew?