• 11 November 1945: Kurt Vonnegut writes to his soon-to-be wife Jane, wondering about his future, ‘Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief? Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief?’ Correspondence between the two highlights the debt Kurt owes to his wife – she constantly reasserted his potential as a writer, had him write for two hours every day and made him send her the stories to edit and retype. Is Jane Vonnegut yet another woman erased from history, ploughing her own ample gifts into her husband’s future? Or this just ‘the very ecstasy of love’? · New Yorker

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  • Alyssa Pelish looks through the nineteen journals she’s filled in her life, a ‘compulsive tally of each day’s obligations and incidentals’ and wonders ‘Why?’ Why keep a journal? Joan Didion has a firm disapproval for what she called ‘pointless entry’.  ‘What is this business about “shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed”?’ Yet Didion too kept notebooks. While they disagree on methodology, both share a faith in the importance of recollection, ‘Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point’, Didion admits · Paris Review

 

  • If only we could’ve been privy to the negotiations leading to Paul Beatty and Bob Dylan’s recent award success. For all we know the decisions were far from unanimous. We can’t – just yet – but for now David Trinidad has unearthed the deliberations behind Anne Sexton’s Pulitzer win of 1967. It turns out one of the three jurors objected to giving it to a dead poet (Theodore Roethke), who couldn’t use the money. Sexton was their compromise, the only poet who appeared (however low) on all three of their shortlists. ‘Would it have made Sexton happy to know she won the award by default?’ asks Trinidad. In any case, winning the prize gave Sexton the boost she needed, launching her into literary stardom. Here she is reading ‘Menstruation at Forty’ · Poetry Foundation

 

  • Bureaucracy as Sadism: Does the bureaucracy (or ‘rule by desk’) of the modern office bear uncanny resemblance to the world of the Marquis de Sade? Drawing from Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, Lucy Ives argues that sadism involves a ‘sexual relationship in which choice, chance, personal dependency, and the existence of a consenting other have been removed.’ An apt description perhaps of the ‘dispassionate intimacy’ of our office culture, centred around ‘polite, efficient apathy’ · Lapham’s Quarterly

 

  • We suspect you might have already discovered Zadie Smith’s ‘What Beyoncé Taught Me’. Yoke Zadie Smith and Beyoncé together in one headline and you’re on to a winner. But this essay tracking the history of dancing via the lens of writing technique is so good we had to feature it. Starting with a comparison between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, moving via Michael to Janet Jackson and Madonna, Smith asks the question: ‘what can an art of words take from the art that needs none?’ · Guardian

 

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