In focus: Meet the masters of their craft

There are few greater pleasures in life than reading really fine writing — the kind written with such keen attention that each word is perfectly chosen and every line sings. This year’s Festival boasts a line-up of novelists, essayists, poets and critics who excel at doing just that.

From Pulitzer Prize winners to icons of countercultural poetry, discover six master storytellers at the peak of their powers… 

Junot Díaz

Few novels have received the praise and accolades that went to Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A lyrical blend of history, science-fiction, magic realism and swagger, the book was not only a bestseller but also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction — only the second book by a Latino author ever to do so. A writer of singular precision and an MIT professor, Junot is also the author of two short story collections, numerous essays and, most recently, a children’s book called Islandborn, which addresses issues of race, identity and belonging set against the story of a young Dominican girl living in the Bronx. Ahead of the Festival, read his searing, honest and essential essay on the legacy of childhood trauma, which was recently published in The New Yorker — a powerful stand against the systemic power structures that work to silence both men and women who experience sexual abuse.

 

What they say:

“He has the ability not only to make you laugh, but to wince with pain, to feel that you’re being offered tender X-rays into social worlds that are too often ignored by the gatekeepers of mass media.” — Telegraph

“…Díaz is almost too good for his own good. His prose style is so irresistible, so sheerly entertaining, it risks blinding readers to its larger offerings.” — New York Times

 

Get acquainted: Listen to an interview with Junot on the inspiration behind Islandborn and what it’s like to make the switch to writing for children, via the LA Review of Books.

Tayari Jones

Over four extraordinary novels, Tayari Jones has distinguished herself as a foremost writer of the American South. Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta (2002) is a coming-of-age story set against the tragedy of the Atlanta Child Murders; The Untelling (2005) explores infertility, friendship and a woman seeking to overcome the trauma of her past; and Silver Sparrow (2011), is a darkly humorous tale of a bigamist’s daughters set in 1980s Atlanta. Her most recent work, An American Marriage, is the story of a young black couple, Celestial and Roy, who are still newlyweds when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and the book unfolds as a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of race, class, love and the criminal justice system in contemporary America. Cementing her place as a writer of rare talent, Tayari’s latest book is also one of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club picks.

 

What they say:

“Powerful . . . both sweeping and intimate — at once an unsparing exploration of what it means to be black in America and a remarkably lifelike portrait of a marriage.” — The New Yorker

“…a compelling exploration of the thorny conflicts that drive us apart and bind us, the distorting weight of racism, and how commitment looks across time – and generations.” — BBC Culture

 

Get acquainted: Tayari explains the chance encounter that inspired the novel’s trajectory with NPR

Min Jin Lee

Spanning nearly 100 years and moving from early 20th-century Korea to pre- and post-war Osaka and, then Tokyo and Yokohama, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is a sprawling yet intimate saga of family, resilience and what it is to be a migrant in a foreign land. The novel, which was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Awards in the US, is a new high point in the author’s already impressive career: her debut novel Free Food for Millionaires (2007) was a Top 10 Books of the Year for The Times of London, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and a national bestseller. Praised by fellow Festival guest Junot Díaz as “among our finest novelists”, Min Jin’s work considers questions of home, identity, nationhood and tradition in a work that is soulful, sweeping and grounded intimately in the details.

 

What they say:

“Exquisitely drawn, Lee’s sprawling epic highlights the singular pain of searching for home while struggling to assimilate amid a backdrop of war and strife in both a unified Korea and Japan.”  — National Book Awards judges’ citation 

“…the kind of book that can open your eyes and fill them with tears at the same time.” — NPR

 

Get acquainted: Read an essay by Min Jin on selling her first novel after 11 years of rejections via Literary Hub

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan first decided she wanted to be a writer in the 1980s, and found early success in the short story form with the release of Emerald City in 1993. Novels followed — The Invisible Circus, Look at Me and The Keep — before her polyphonic, postmodern and utterly original work A Visit From the Goon Squad won her a Pulitzer and assured her a place as one of contemporary fiction’s most inventive voices. With her latest book, Manhattan Beach, Jennifer takes her work in a markedly different direction: it’s a conventionally-structured work of historical fiction. But that’s not to say that it’s in any way a predictable read — it’s been hailed as “a transporting work of lyrical beauty and emotional heft” and “a novel that deserves to join the canon of New York stories.”

 

What they say:

“To find a compelling story well told, one that is full of complex characters and sentences so luminous they stop you in your tracks, is one of literature’s greatest pleasures. That pleasure is bestowed liberally by Jennifer Egan in Manhattan Beach.” — The Irish Times

“Immensely satisfying […] It’s an old-fashioned page-turner.” — The New York Times

 

Get acquainted: Kate Evans interviews Jennifer on ABC RN.

Eileen Myles

The author of 20 books of poetry, fiction and criticism, muse of Transparent’s second season, and a rock star of spoken word, Eileen Myles is one of the most anticipated guests of this year’s Festival. They are also one of the most decorated, having been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for their memoir Afterglow, the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, the Lambda Book Award for Lesbian Fiction and too many more to mention. Eileen is a queer icon, a formidable poet, and a writer of expansive talent — this is a rare opportunity to see a true master reflect on their extraordinary, decades-long career.

 

What they say:

“…a swaggering troubadour of casually roving brilliance.” — Guardian 

“…Afterglow is like the Just Kids of dog books: a punk devotional, shot through with a sort of divine attention to material reality and a poet’s associative leaps.” — New Yorker  

 

Get acquainted: watch Tavi Gevinson, Hari Nef, Beth Ditto and others read Eileen’s 1997 poem ‘Milk’, the meaning of which they explain in this video.