Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: “Sweet at Sixty”

By Vicraj Gill

Eimear McBride searched for nine years for a publisher who’d accept her radically inventive first novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2013). Now the book has won the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction—sliding past Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Donna Tartt’s much-lauded The Goldfinch, among other titles,for the honor.

McBride wrote her novel in six months. Hanya Yanagihara’s debut, The People in the Trees, (2013) took 20 years to complete. But it, too, is getting its due, having landed on the shortlist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Joining it there is Godforsaken Idaho, the first short-story collection by Bloomer and Bloom contributor Shawn Vestal.

Kim Church’s novel Byrd, spotlighted earlier this year (and followed by a Q&A with Church herself), just made the longlist for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Joining her on the list is another Bloomer, Smith Henderson, whose book Fourth of July Creek just received a rave review from The Washington Post’s Ron Charles.

Bloomer Jane Gardam’s most recent novel, Last Friends (2013), made the Folio Prize shortlist last year (as did books by Bloomers Sergio de la Pava and Rachel Kushner). Lee Monks of literary blog The Mookse and the Gripes describes Gardam as “a pretty much unanimously revered writer” that he “had yet to read a word of” before he picked up the recently released The Stories of Jane Gardam. He liked the book so much that over the coming weeks he’s dedicating a post to each story in the collection, in the hopes of spreading the word. Click through to read the first one, on the story “Hetty Sleeping.”

This month, New York Review of Books Classics released The Professor and the Siren, which collects three heretofore unpublished stories by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Lampedusa was one of the first Bloomers our founding editor Sonya Chung wrote about for the “Post-40 Bloomers” feature at The Millions, which would eventually inspire the website Bloom.

Composer Charles Ives demonstrated an all-consuming passion for music before early failures and losses seemed to stymie his creative progress. But he continued to compose in secret through the years he spent as an insurance salesman in increasingly poor health. And finally, at the age of 65, he began to receive the critical attention he’d been searching for. It wasn’t necessarily positive; fellow composers often judged Ives harshly for his “amateurism,” assuming that his day job meant he wasn’t fully committed to art. At The New York Review of Books, Jeremy Denk makes a convincing case that such judgments are unfair.

Writer Henry Roth has a similar story to Ives’s; Roth became disenchanted with literature when his first novel, Call It Sleep (1934), didn’t make much of an impression, and the writer’s block that followed lasted for 50 years. He eventually managed to break that silence with the publication of the first and second volumes of Mercy of a Rude Stream in 1994 and 1995, though he didn’t live to see the third and fourth released. Call It Sleep continues to inspire writers like Sam Lipsyte, who tells the Center for Fiction that the “bleak” book “helped me understand that the best writers don’t flinch from that part of life.”

Writer Edward Platt has been on the walking tour of Suffolk, England that inspired W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (1998), and went on it yet again in honor of the posthumously published essay collection A Place in the Country. In his account of the hike at The Daily Beast, Platt considers Sebald’s “strange genius,” the mechanics of the Sebaldian paragraph (which our own Robert Goree also wrote about last year) and Sebald’s ongoing struggle to reconcile the world’s beauty with its brutality.

“Tell me,” author Siddharth Chowdhury wrote to Amitava Kumar upon the publication of the latter’s novel Home Products (2007), “is Paul Auster ever bothered about how he is perceived in India? Or whether his books sell at all in India?” The question leads Kumar to wonder whether the privilege Indian writers often give to Western markets and audiences might be misplaced. Could Indian writers feel just as validated writing for Indian readers? Kumar’s inquiry makes for an intriguing complement to Sue Dickman’s recent piece on Kiran Nagarkar, whose decision to write in English over Marathi met with controversy.

At The Point, Charles Finch makes an interesting claim about the work of the man James Wood called “the most neglected major writer in America,” Norman Rush (featured at Bloom last year, and name-checked in this Q&A with recent featuree Tim Horvath). Finch describes a ladder of literary genius with three rungs: “technical” virtuosity at the bottom, the “visionary” ability to capture human life at the top, and “sentence-to-sentence” greatness in the middle. Rush displays the third kind of genius, Finch maintains, which makes him a modern heir to writers like Michel de Montaigne and Giacomo Leopardi: writers whose astute observations and essayistic prose styles lend themselves naturally to aphorism.

Susannah B. Mintz, recently featured on the site, told us in a Q&A that she found Amazon’s Kindle Singles a great platform for her short memoir, Match Dot Comedy. (Read an excerpt from the memoir here.) It’s not necessarily so for all authors, though. Journalist Tony Horwitz published Boom, an account of the Keystone XL pipeline, as a Kindle Single earlier this year. He found the experience disastrous. And in his New York Times op-ed on the subject, he “question[s] whether there’s an audience large enough to sustain long-form digital nonfiction” when the Internet has so completely changed the market.

Software developer and aspiring writer Jamie Todd Rubin is an adherent of the “quantified self movement,” which holds that people can improve their lives by tracking and gathering data on their behaviors. He decided to track the times and amounts he wrote in the hope that he could spur himself to write every day. The approach may sound odd, but it worked for him, and he has some advice for those who want to do the same.

For some, the secret to success is writing more; for others, like Julia Fierro, it’s to not write at all. After Fierro’s first novel, written soon after she received her MFA, didn’t sell, she took a break from writing for seven years to focus on teaching, reading, and editing others’ work instead. It was that hiatus, she says, that gave her the knowledge and confidence to complete the novel Cutting Teeth (2014). “After so many years of writing and not writing,” she says, “of failing and succeeding, the best advice I can give my students (and myself) is a reminder that there are many definitions of success.”

The indie press Two Dollar Radio brings us a Q&A with Carola Dibbell, a longtime music critic who’s publishing her first novel, The Only Ones, next year, a month before she turns 70. Asked about other fiction she’s written that hasn’t yet been published, Dibbell observed that “We’re working novelists even when we’re not published novelists.” “It is very, very sweet,” she adds regarding the publication of The Only Ones. “It also would have been sweet at 60. Even 50.”

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Homepage photo credit: BasBoerman via photopin cc

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