Author Archives: Katharine Boyer

A Debut Novel by Professor Idra Novey Tackles Translation

Professor Idra Novey

Professor Idra Novey

The protagonist of Idra Novey’s debut novel Ways to Disappear is a translator of Brazilian literature named Emma, who lives in Pittsburgh with her rather boring boyfriend. When Beatriz Yagoda, the author Emma has spent her career translating, disappears, Emma takes the next flight to Brazil to contend with loan sharks, washed-up literary agents, and the unfinished draft of Beatriz’ latest book to search for the missing novelist.

Novey, a lecturer in creative writing, is the author of two books of poetry, including Exit, Civilian, which was a National Poetry Series winner, and a translator of Spanish and Portuguese authors. She teaches translation at Princeton. Novey spoke with PAW about the art of translation, loan sharks, and surviving a monsoon.

The novel deals with the art of translating and Emma’s complicated relationship to her author. How much do these relationships draw on your own experience?

I translated a novel by a Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, who died long before I translated her, which meant I couldn’t ask her any of the questions I had about her work. As a result, she became a kind of phantom voice in my head. Continue reading

Laqueur *73 Unearths the History of Mortal Remains

Thomas Laqueur *73

Thomas Laqueur *73

From the monumental pyramids of Egypt to the modern cemeteries of Arlington, humans always have cared deeply about the dead and the work of attending to their remains. When Diogenes told his students to treat his corpse as an empty husk and toss it to the wild animals, he violated one of humankind’s only universal taboos. In The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, Thomas Laqueur *73 argues that human society is profoundly shaped by the activity of caring for the dead. The process promises meaning and remembrance, and helps us to live with the knowledge of our own mortality, Laqueur points out, writing, “The living need the dead far more than the dead need the living.” Continue reading

Orr ’96 Transforms the Reading of America’s Most Beloved Poem

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

David Orr ’96

David Orr ’96

These are among the most famous lines of American poetry ever penned. People all over the English-speaking world can conjure them up, quoting the conclusion of Robert Frost’s most famous poem, The Road Not Taken. The poem’s clean language, simple cadence, and easy rhymes have become a part of America’s cultural fabric, appearing in television commercials, song lyrics, and video games. Yet, as poetry critic David Orr ’96 explains in The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, Frost’s beloved poem is anything but easy to understand.

It is a familiar story: The lonely traveler stands paralyzed at the fork in the road, forced to make a decision. Eventually he takes one road, and years later he imagines himself reflecting on how this decision made all the difference in his life. Is this a poem about rugged individualism and self-assertion? Or is it about indecision and our indulgent justification of decisions that at the time were mostly arbitrary? Has the poem tricked its audience for all these years? After all, Frost is careful to tell us that the road “less traveled” is “worn … really about the same” as the unpicked route. The difference lies only in the narrator’s imagination. Continue reading

Professor Michael Wood Fends off Conspiracy Theories to Award a Highly Regarded Literary Prize

Professor Michael Wood

Professor Michael Wood

Every year a panel of five judges spends the better part of a year reading, analyzing, and debating the best literature that the English-writing world has produced in the last 12 months. At the end of that year, the judges award the Man Booker Prize for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. For years, this process has been the center of intense scrutiny.

This year, the chair of judges was literary critic and Princeton professor of comparative literature emeritus Michael Wood. On Oct. 21, a week after the winner was announced, Wood hosted a public conversation at Princeton about the judging process, telling his audience that it involved a lot more reading — and a lot less excitement — than people like to believe. “The more interesting aspect of the prize is not what actually happens, but what people think happens — the conspiracy theories, who bribed who, theories about passing on drugs. Actually, we had this fairly boring meeting by those criteria. No promises of future employment, no twisting of people’s arms,” Wood said. “It’s less like a conspiracy theory than game theory.” Continue reading

Sociologist Czerniawski ’03 Goes Undercover as a Plus-Sized Model

Amanda Czerniawski ’03

Amanda Czerniawski ’03

Amanda Czerniawski ’03 was a trained sociologist, a former child actor, and a graduate from two of America’s best universities when she decided to spend more than two years working as a model in New York City. At a size 10, Czerniawski had always thought of her body as average-sized, but in the fashion industry, she — like all women who wear more than a size eight — is considered plus-sized.

Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Sized Modeling is part memoir, part academic study. Czerniawski, who has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and is on the faculty of the sociology department at Temple University, punctuates her experiences as a model with interviews, sociological theory, and research on the modeling industry. Going from casting calls and agency meetings to hours-long hair and make-up sessions, Czerniawski discovered that plus-sized modeling both validated and challenged her self-esteem. “Here I was, a Princeton grad, the product of these super institutions, and it didn’t matter,” she says. “In fact, it hindered me because I wanted to speak up, and I wasn’t allowed to. I was judged before I even opened my mouth.” Continue reading

Williams ’87 Writes of Shipwreck and Ruin on the High Seas

Naomi Williams ’87

Naomi Williams ’87

In 1785, two frigates with 200 men aboard left Europe intending to circumnavigate the globe. For the glory of France and the chance to put their names on the ever-expanding map, these men and their leader, La Pérouse, took their microscopes, telescopes, and Enlightenment ideals to the high seas. Less than four years later, both ships had mysteriously disappeared, wrecked on a coral atoll in the South Pacific. Every man on board was lost, his final story destined to be forgotten. But what happened in those intervening years as they sailed from the southern tip of South America to the eastern coast of Russia and on to the newly mapped continent of Australia?

landfallsIn Landfalls: A Novel, Naomi Williams ’87 follows the historic journey of the La Pérouse expedition. Drawing on extensive research, she narrates each chapter from a different perspective and place. In one chapter, a native Alaskan Tlingit child tries to make sense of the Europeans’ arrival in her bay. In another, a lieutenant mourns the massacre of his shipmates in the Navigator Islands. The story ends in tragedy, but the shipwreck is by no means the most interesting thing that happens in this novel — cultures, storm systems, and individuals clash in fascinating ways.

The New York Times says Williams’ debut novel is “ambitious and meticulous” while Kirkus calls the book “literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction.”

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