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We enter Panem, home of The Hunger Games, a dystopian film and book franchise that centers on the oppression of the 12 mostly impoverished Districts controlled by the Capital. Every year, the Capital holds an event called The Reaping where they make each one of the Districts sacrifice two children to The Hunger Games. During the event, they are forced to kill one another until there is only one left standing. That last child is the “victor” and wins a year’s worth of food for their district. We enter during the 74th Hunger Games, where the focus is on a young, white teenage girl named Katniss. All but two of the 24 tributes are white.

Mainstream dystopian fiction focuses primarily on the white protagonist and white-dominated societies — The Hunger Games is no exception. This trend can be seen in both Divergent (which has a white, female lead) and The Maze Runner (which has a white, male lead). Dystopian literature is defined as a sub-genre most commonly used within speculative fiction and science fiction. It shows a fictional world that explores social and political structures of a world in peril. To live in a dystopia is to be a part of a world that is impoverished, living in squalor, and/or highly oppressed. Dystopian fiction is that which dramatizes what it is like to be a marginalized within a culture, a body, and a world. Which is why it is so shocking that, at the margins, every character is white. More… “The Reality of Rebellion”

Byshera Williams is a Pre-Junior English Major at Drexel University and the current Assistant Editor for The Smart Set.
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Every year when the Orange Prize announces its longlist, or its shortlist, or its jury members, or an anniversary, or is mentioned in the press, people start to write long opinion pieces about the sad state of women’s fiction. This year’s award will be announced next week, and we’ve been enduring months of such complaints. Women’s fiction is too domestic, too small scale, too dreary, too often about rape or abuse. It’s not ambitious enough, not universal, not epic. Let’s leave behind whether or not it’s fair — after all, we do not saddle men’s books with the responsibility of being representative of their half of the species. Let’s also leave behind the fact that most of the people complaining about the state of women’s fiction seem not to have read very much, or at least not much outside the territory of books with cover art that could… More…

Instructions: Insert author name, dig up old letters, attach "A Writer's Life."

The other week I popped into an outlet of major retail bookstore chain just to use the restroom. I walked out with Marion Meade’s Lonelyhearts and Tracy Daugherty’s Hiding Man — biographies of Nathanael West (and Eileen McKinney) and Donald Barthelme respectively. That’s me down $52. In my bag, as my commute read, I already had Misfit, Jonathan Yardley’s bio of Frederick Exley. That morning I’d just returned to the library Literary Life, the second and very gossipy volume of Larry McMurtry’s memoirs. I don’t even read McMurtry, though I did see most of The Last Picture Show and the episode of Lonesome Dove that featured a turn by pro wrestler Bret Hart. Have I mentioned having just returned from Florida? Chester Himes’ My Life of Absurdity was my airplane book. I stuck with it and was greatly rewarded despite the line “For I fell madly in love with her… More…

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It is impossible to write about such a book as Best European Fiction 2010 without also writing about America’s disinterest in such a book. Neither Zadie Smith nor Aleksandar Hemon could do it — and they’re the author of the introduction and the editor of the anthology. It’s a well worn angle by now: the fact that only three percent of literature published in the U.S. is work of translation, the fact that most of that work is being published by small independent presses and university presses. How else to explain how this anthology came to being in Champaign, Illinois from a small press named Dalkey Archive, its very name being an obscure Irish literature reference. Rather than from, say, Harcourt Houghton Mifflin, which produces almost identical anthologies of every other subject in the world: travel writing, sports writing, short stories, essays, whatever the hell that McSweeneys one is. Nonrequired Reading?… More…

Combining the "liney" with the "painterly."

 

Updike gave a lecture on American art last year at the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was called “The Clarity of Things: What is American about American Art.” Updike discussed how American painting finally managed to become American. Most of the early American painters were tradesman. They knew how to paint, but they didn’t know how to be “painterly.” As Updike put it, they were “liney” in the beginning.

A line is a child’s first instrument of depiction, the boundary where one thing ends and another begins. The primitive artist is more concerned with what things are than what they look like to the eye’s camera. Lines serve the facts.

Liney is how you paint when you know how to render individual things but you don’t have the skill to make the depth and perspective cohere into… More…

"Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being."

The toxic yet vacuous phrase “self-indulgent” was often used by the detractors of David Foster Wallace (as if it isn’t self-indulgent to write anything at all). Another accusation, that Wallace was overly cerebral, misses the point completely. As a writer, the guy was as large-hearted as he was big-brained. Don Gately, the recovering narcotics addict in Infinite Jest, is one of the most compassionately drawn and convincingly real characters in contemporary fiction, close in intention, conception, and articulation to a latter-day Leopold Bloom.

I don’t think an essay more hilarious than “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” — Wallace’s account of a botched vacation on a cruise ship — has been written. It ranks with Twain and will endure as long as people want to laugh. His essays often brought forth a sense of exuberant joy, with their meanderings and addictive, often imitated footnotes and mock-scholarly sensibility. Yet… More…