It rained for about a couple of hours last week, which means that fall has finally arrived in California (or at least I can pretend that it did.) Fall also happens to be book award season and, while there was a lot to celebrate in this year’s various selections, nothing thrilled me more than to hear that Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature. His work probes at the complicated nature of belonging for exiles, refugees, and immigrants in a world that too often demands that we make our allegiances clear and our identities simple. Back in 2005, I reviewed his novel Desertion forThe Nation and later did a panel conversation with him at the PEN World Voices Festival. He was one of the nicest and most humble writers I’ve ever met. You can listen to me and others discuss his work on this NPR segment for All Things Considered. And if you’re new to his fiction, I would suggest starting with By the Sea and Paradise.
The paperback edition of Conditional Citizensreleases next week, on October 19. I have a few book online events coming up, details of which I’ve posted here. More are coming soon. You may have heard about the disruption to supply lines, so if you’re thinking of giving books as a holiday gift, it’s a good idea to order early.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since my last update! My collection of essays, Conditional Citizens, comes out in paperback on October 19. The beautiful cover design is by Isabel Urbina Peña, who also designed the paperback cover for The Other Americans. I love hardcovers, but honestly most of my books are paperbacks; they’re light and portable and I find it less sacrilegious to scribble notes all over the pages. Anyway, I hope you’ll suggest Conditional Citizens to your book club, add it to your class reading list, or buy a copy for yourself or a friend. The pandemic continues to affect supply chains, so if you’re thinking of giving it as a gift for the holidays, you should consider pre-ordering your copy now.
Over the last few months, I’ve also written a few pieces that have since appeared in print. I reviewed Matt Salesses’s Craft in the Real World, which I found to be “a significant contribution to discussions of the art of fiction and a necessary challenge to received views about whose stories are told, how they are told, and for whom they are intended.”
More recently, I wrote an essay on the trauma of 9/11, the wars that followed, and the malleability of memory for the New York TimesSunday Review. In it, I reflect on how the U.S. built a national memory around what happened, and what this memory leaves out: “The story America told about itself after Sept. 11 was one of heroism and resilience in the aftermath of a brutal attack; the invasion of other countries, and the interruption of their political destinies, had no place in it.” This piece was tough to write. I’m very grateful to those of you who’ve shared it on social media and emailed me about it.
I’ve also been busy with press in support of foreign translations of The Other Americans. After delays caused by the pandemic, the novel came out in quick succession in German, Dutch, Persian, and Arabic. I continue to do bookstore events, college classes, and festival appearances in support of this book.
Thank you to all who attended my tour events online this month! For those of you who want to hear more about Conditional Citizens, I wanted to highlight a few interviews I did for the fall promotional tour: I spoke with Noel King for NPR’s Morning Edition, Georgina Godwin for Monocle 24, Carolyn Kellogg for Shondaland, JR Ramakrishnan for Electric Literature, and Joel Stein for Soul Pancake’s Show Your Shelf. I also had a conversation with the playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar for the Los Angeles TimesBook Review about fiction, nonfiction, and the present moment. Elsewhere, I talked to Audible about Conditional Citizens and the process of recording the audiobook myself. (Link coming soon.)
In other news, I wrote a piece for the New York Times Style on tchotchkes, souvenirs, and other objects of comfort I’ve accumulated over thirty years of living between countries. The essay accompanied photographs by the artist Leonard Suryajaya and later served as a prompt for the NYT Learning Network. And heading into the 2020 presidential election, I wrote a letter to non-voters for PEN America’s We Will Emerge project.
I’m also delighted to share that Conditional Citizens was included on the longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy, suggesting it to your book club, or assigning it to your students. If you’ve read it, perhaps you will consider telling a friend about it or leaving a review online? As always, thanks for your support.
That’s all I have for now. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.
My new book, Conditional Citizens, comes out on September 22nd. It’s about belonging and unbelonging in the United States, an experience I know I share with many of you and that can be especially intense these days. An adapted excerpt appears in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I hope you’ll take a look and add the book to your reading list.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot less time online; it may take me a while to read or respond to emails and queries. I hope you’re all staying healthy, and that you’re managing to remain sane during this pandemic.