In July and August, Leonard Lopate explores underappreciated and forgotten works of great literature as part of a special summer reading series. The series will focus on authors that are little-known in America, authors that mysteriously fell out of fashion, and authors who never gained wide recognition in the first place.
Farah Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, discusses Ann Petry's 1946 novel, The Street, for our final Underappreciated segment of the summer. The Street is about a young single black mother who is trying to save money in order to move her son away from the influence of 116th Street. When it was initially published, it made Petry one of the first female African-American authors to receive significant critical and popular acclaim. Lately, the novel been getting more critical attention for its representation of gender politics within Harlem. It also provides a rich portrait of Harlem at that time—its neighborhoods, business districts, bars, and music clubs, making it more than simply a protest novel.
For this week’s Underappreciated segment, Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, and Chronic City, discusses L. J. Davis's 1971 novel, A Meaningful Life. It’s about a failed writer who attempts to channel his creative energy into real estate, in the form of a decaying Brooklyn mansion-turned-rooming house he buys in the late 1960s. The novel raises questions about gentrification that are still relevant today. Lethem wrote the introduction for New York Review Books release of the novel, grew up down the block from Davis in Boerum Hill.
For our latest Underappreciated segment, Phillip Lopate discusses William Dean Howells’ 1890 novel A Hazard of New Fortunes, set in New York City in the late 19th century. The novel describes political tensions, social inequality, and urban landscapes all of which are still visible in present day New York, if slightly transformed. The novel follows Basil March and his family as they adjust after a move from Boston, and as he co-founds a magazine named “Every Other Week.”
For this week’s Underappreciated segment, novelist Jane Smiley discusses the anonymously authored Egil’s Saga, an Icelandic saga dating back to 1240 AD, which follows the family history of Egil Skallagrímsson, a skaldic poet with a hot temper. Predating Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales by almost a century, the saga is part of the rich Viking literary tradition often overlooked by American readers. Jane Smiley wrote the preface of Sagas of Iceland.
This summer's second Underappreciated segment looks at David Markson's 1988 novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress, which David Foster Wallace called “pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.” Ann Beattie, longtime admirer and friend of David Markson, and Françoise Palleau-Papin, professor of American Literature at the University of Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle), discuss Markson's work.
This summer’s first Underappreciated segment is on 19th-century Realist writer Theodor Fontane. Professor Edith H. Krause, Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Duquesnes University, discusses Fontane’s best known works—his 1896 novel Effi Briest, considered a masterpiece of realist fiction alongside Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, and his 1892 novel Irretrievable, which was recently re-published by New York Review of Books.
For our latest Underappreciated segment, Morris Dickstein, Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center, discusses John Williams: author of the 1965 novel, Stoner. The book’s main character, William Stoner emerges not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero; standing alone in unforgiving world.
Our latest Underappreciated is all about writer Louis Couperus, considered to be one of the greatest Dutch novelists of his time. Author and literary critic Paul Binding and award-winning translator Ina Rilke join us to discuss the life and work of Couperus, whose 1889 novel Eline Vere launched his career as an author. A psychological novel inspired by the naturalist style of Zola and the innovative characterizations of Flaubert, this "novel of The Hague" presents readers with an entire society while simultaneously questioning its values.
For this week’s installment of Underappreciated, Martin Holman, literary translator, professor, and puppeteer, discusses the work of Yasunari Kawabata. After a tragic childhood, during which Kawabata lost nearly every one of his close family members, he achieved recognition from a number of his short stories shortly after he graduated from university. Kawabata received particular acclaim for The Dancing Girl of Izu in 1926. He went on to publish several successful novels, and in 1968: Kawabata became the first Japanese to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, he has fallen out of the English-reading public's attention since then.
For this week’s Underappreciated segment, noted literary critic James Wood examines the life and work of English writer Henry Green, whose novels are frequently described as among the most important works of English modernist literature. His best-known work is Loving, and altogether he wrote nine novels and a memoir, Pack My Bag, between 1926 and 1952.
For this week’s Underappreciated, New Yorker fiction editor Willing Davidson discusses the life and work of Henry Roth. Roth’s first novel Call it Sleep was first published in 1934 to mixed reviews. However, when it was published again thirty years later, it was a great success: selling over a million copies. Roth didn’t write another novel until the multi-volume Mercy of a Rude Stream came out in the mid-1990s. His final novel An American Type was published posthumously. Davidson assembled it from a stack of nearly 2,000 unpublished pages.
Our second Underappreciated segment of the summer is on Andrei Bely's Symbolist novel Petersburg, which Vladimir Nabokov ranked as one of the top four novels of the 20th century, along with Franz Kafa's Metamorphosis, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, and James Joyce's Ulysses, to which it is ...