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A couple of years ago, as a graduate assistant at the University of California, Riverside, I assigned Samantha Irby’s “My Mother, My Daughter” as a mid-quarter palette cleanser to classrooms full of brown and black students who had been inundated with the words of old straight white men. Irby calls herself a “regular person”: she worked the same day job at an animal hospital for fourteen years until she landed a much-deserved book deal...
The son of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the United States around the 1975 Fall of Saigon, An Tran—whose debut collection of short stories, Meditations on the Mother Tongue, came out in February—has a keen eye for the tensions between homeland traditions and contemporary American culture. I had the pleasure of reading parts of the book during our low-residency MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte; his early work made a huge impression on...
Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, an excerpt of Joan Didion’s notes from the Patty Hearst trial, for a piece she never completed, appeared in the New York Review of Books. It was a pleasant surprise, the gift of a passenger seat ride in Didion’s car. It also included a Didion-ism so incredible, so encapsulating that it rolls through my mind with a striking regularity: “By the time I started going to Hawaii the Royal...
Hala Alyan knows how to balance identities. The Brooklyn-based Palestinian-American spent her childhood moving between the United States and the Middle East; at thirty years old, she’s a licensed practicing psychologist, award-winning author of three poetry collections, and, now, a novelist. It makes sense, then, that Salt Houses, her stunning debut, offers such a piercing examination of displacement, identity, faith, and what one character refers to as a lifetime of “emotional code-switching.” The book begins...

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