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Works of Radical Imagination

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Winner of the Center for Fiction's 2016 First Novel Prize

The hotly anticipated first novel by lauded playwright and The Wire TV writer Kia Corthron, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter sweeps American history from 1941 to the twenty-first century through the lives of four men—two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland—whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, in a tiny Alabama town, two brothers come of age in the shadow of the local chapter of the Klan, where Randall—a brilliant eighth-grader and the son of a sawmill worker—begins teaching sign language to his eighteen-year-old deaf and uneducated brother B.J. Simultaneously, in small-town Maryland, the sons of a Pullman Porter—gifted six-year-old Eliot and his artistic twelve-year-old brother Dwight—grow up navigating a world expanded both by a visit from civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph and by the legacy of a lynched great-aunt.  

The four mature into men, directly confronting the fierce resistance to the early civil rights movement, and are all ultimately uprooted. Corthron's ear for dialogue, honed from years of theater work, brings to life all the major concerns and movements of America's past century through the organic growth of her marginalized characters, and embraces a quiet beauty in their everyday existences. 

Sharing a cultural and literary heritage with the work of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, and Edward P. Jones, Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a monumental epic deftly bridging the political and the poetic, and wrought by one of America's most recently recognized treasures.

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“Kia Corthron has written a magnificent, truly epic tale of the American Century told through the lives of two families, four brothers, three generations, big movements and small moments. It deserves a place among the great American novels precisely because it cuts to the very heart of America: the color line. In vivid, often breathtaking language, she reveals a changing world where love and sex and violence can rain down in the same cloudburst, and laughter and terror mingle easily, where the color line is not merely a barrier but a jump rope, a noose, a sign, and above all a tether that binds her characters and this country together.”

“There are whole chunks of writing here that are simply sublime, places in which one gets swept away by the way she subverts the rhythm of language to illuminate the familiar and allow it to be seen fresh ... [Corthron] blindsides you. She sneaks up from behind. Sometimes, it is with moments of humor, but more often with moments of raw emotional power—moments whose pathos feels hard-earned and true...[The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter] succeeds admirably in a novel's first and most difficult task: It makes you give a damn. It also does well by a novel's second task: It sends you away pondering what it has to say.”

“Kia Corthron’s first novel is a stunning achievement by any measure—a riveting saga of two twentieth-century American families trapped inside the quotidian contradictions and compulsions of race, disability, and sexuality. The untidiness of history is conveyed through experiences, dreams, and inevitable eruptions of violence, yet also unexpected patterns of escape and possible orbits of justice.”

“When I first read it, I was stunned. It's a haunting and devastating tale, leavened with humor and hope ... I believe [The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter] is the most important piece of writing about twentieth-century America since James Baldwin's Another Country.”

“In the tradition of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Alice Walker, she makes the personal political, creating an epic portrayal of race in America.”

“Playwright Corthron's big, open-hearted debut novel has echoes of noted writers from the mid-20th century, which serves as its backdrop: the social conscience of Steinbeck, the epic sweep of Ferber, the narrative quirks of Dos Passos. Reading Corthron's novel adds racial context to the classic works of these earlier writers. . . This huge novel has the intimacy of memoir; Corthron's narrative voice makes it easy for readers to immerse themselves in the book, rarely coming up for air.”

“This big, ambitious, challenging novel should have gotten much more attention. It tells the 20th-century history of the United States through the intersecting lives of two white brothers and two black brothers. It is, by turns, tender, brutal and redemptive.”

“What makes [Corthron's] drama an occasion of great joy... is the presence of a unique and powerful voice in the theater. Not since the emergence of August Wilson has there been a playwright who has created language in such a fever of fervent poetry.”

“Kia is in the dimensionality of her creations. Her people live in ideas, and also in bodies, in feelings, in specific communities, in specific parts of town. And they live in their words, their dazzling language, Kia's dazzling language... You can hear echoes of older African American writers like Amiri Baraka and Adrienne Kennedy, those most political and personal of playwrights, even as you are aware of another foundation, laid by British playwrights, social and political dramatists, over the past several decades, a tradition that Kia is Americanizing and making sound altogether new.”

The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a stunning novel. Kia Corthron plunges us into generations of American history, moving with force and subtlety through the charged realities of race, gender and region. It is a novel of ideas and politics, of psychological complexity and of vibrant, kinetic language.”

blog — June 05

50% Off Our Dark Fiction for Sunny Days Reading List

The Seven Stories fiction list began with Nelson Algren stories, with titles like "The Face on the Barroom Floor" and "The Lightless Room." These are not exactly beach reads, nor are the books you'll find below. What you will find are novels rooted in this world, presenting the dignity of people struggling to make sense of it and in one way or another to change it.

So, this is another kind of summer fiction list. We hope you'll find much that will challenge, inspire, and engage, in times of darkness and of light.

All titles 50% off for one week only, through June 14, 5:00PM EST. Check out the full collection here.

Parable of the Sower is the Butlerian odyssey of one woman who is twice as feeling in a world that has become doubly dehumanized. The time is 2025. The place is California, where small walled communities must protect themselves from hordes of desperate scavengers and roaming bands of people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape, and murder. When one small community is overrun, Lauren Olamina, an 18-year-old black woman with the hereditary trait of "hyperempathy"—which causes her to feel others’ pain as her own—sets off on foot along the dangerous coastal highways, moving north into the unknown.

Parable of the Talents is the continuation of the travails of Lauren Olamina, the heroine of 1994's Nebula-Prize finalist, bestselling Parable of the Sower. It is told in the voice of Lauren Olamina's daughter—from whom she has been separated for most of the girl's life—with sections in the form of Lauren's journal. Against a background of a war-torn continent, and with a far-right religious crusader in the office of the U.S. presidency, this is a book about a society whose very fabric has been torn asunder, and where the basic physical and emotional needs of people seem almost impossible to meet.

The Undiscovered Chekhov gives us, in rich abundance, a new Chekhov. Peter Constantine's historic new collection presents 38 new stories and with them a fresh interpretation of the Russian master. In contrast to the brooding representative of a dying century we have seen over and over, here is Chekhov's work from the 1880s, when Chekhov was in his twenties and his writing was sharp, witty and innovative.

The Years is a personal narrative from Annie Ernaux of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present—even projections into the future—photos, books, songs, radio, television and decades of advertising, headlines, contrasted with intimate conflicts and writing notes from six decades of diaries. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for the ever-proliferating objects, are given voice here.

"The Years is an earnest, fearless book, a Remembrance of Things Past for our age of media domination and consumerism, for our period of absolute commodity fetishism."—Edmund White, New York Times Book Review

"The Years is a revolution, not only in the art of autobiography but in art itself. Annie Ernaux's book blends memories, dreams, facts and meditations into a unique evocation of the times in which we lived, and live."—John Banville

Jalla is a boy growing up in Salé, Morocco—the hometown author Abdellah Taïa fled, but which he continues to reimagine in his fiction and films—with no one to care for him but his mother, a prostitute and witch doctor. Fiercely protective of her, but also deeply vulnerable, he is propelled through a world peopled with an unforgettable cast of characters—soldiers, wanderers—and set aglow by the spirit of Marilyn Monroe, until unforseeable events at last set him on the path he has least forseen for himself: the one that leads to jihad.

"Infidels combines a lightness of touch, a deep lyricism, an openness to beauty and mystery, with an undercurrent of daring, fierce, erotic energy and images of shocking brutality and challenging complexity."—Colm Tóibín

Elfriede Jelinek's first novel to be published in English after she won the Nobel Prize, Greed is the story of Kurt Janisch, an ambitious but frustrated country policeman, and the lonely women he seduces. It is a thriller set amid the mountains and small towns of southern Austria, where the investigation of a dead girl's body in a lake leads to the discovery of more than a single crime. In her signature style, Jelinek chronicles the exploitative nature of relations between men and women, and the cruelties of everyday life.

Winner of the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

The hotly anticipated first novel by lauded playwright and The Wire TV writer Kia Corthron, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter sweeps American history from 1941 to the twenty-first century through the lives of four men—two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland—whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.

"A stunning achievment by any measure."—Angela Davis

A masterpiece of mood and setting, character and remembrance, The Cuban Club is Barry Gifford's ultimate coming-of-age story told as sixty-seven linked tales, a creation myth of the Fall as seen through the eyes of an innocent child on the cusp of becoming an innocent man.

Read a (very) short story from The Cuban Club here.

“For a long time I believed that writing meant dying . . .” begins So Vast the Prison, the double-threaded story of one woman’s existence set against the unforgiving history of her country.

So Vast the Prison is the most ambitious work to date by Assia Djebar, the woman many consider to have been North Africa’s most important literary voice. The tragedies of Algerian history are its subject—particularly the condition of women in Islam. Djebar’s fiction, like that of Nadine Gordimer and Edna O’Brien, wrestles with issues of oppression and the subtle ways that language and history enforce it.

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The author of more than fifteen plays produced nationally and internationally, Kia Corthron came to national attention in the early nineties with her play Come Down Burning. Portraying characters who live in extreme poverty or crisis and whose lives are otherwise invisible, her plays paint a disturbing picture of American history and its repercussions on our most intimate relationships. Corthron's most recent awards include a Windham Campbell Prize for Drama, the Simon Great Plains Playwright (Honored Playwright) Award, the USA Jane Addams Fellowship Award, and the Lee Reynolds Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women, and she has developed work through various international residencies. She has also written for television, receiving a Writers Guild Outstanding Drama Series Award and an Edgar Award for The Wire. She grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, and now lives in Harlem, New York City.