PEN Out Loud: Boundaries and Borders with Daniel José Older and Idra Novey

I’m thrilled to be moderating a panel with the brilliant literary forces of nature Daniel José Older and Idra Novey this coming Monday as part of PEN America’s new “Out Loud” series at one of my favorite New York landmarks, Strand Bookstore. We’ll talk translation, travel, adapting to new cultures and feeling displaced within them, multilingualism, P.O.C representation in fantasy (or the fantasy of P.O.C. representation?) and more as part of this month’s theme: Boundaries and Borders. Please join!

Daniel José Older is the New York Times best-selling author of the YA series “Shadowshaper Cypher,” the “Bone Street Rumba” urban fantasy series, and the upcoming Middle Grade sci-fi adventure Flood City. He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, the Mythopoeic Award, the Locus Award, the Andre Norton Award, and yes, the World Fantasy Award. Shadowshaper was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic, and hear his music at and @djolder on Twitter.

Idra Novey is the author of the novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the Sami Rohr Prize, the Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and a finalist for the Los Angeles TimesFirst Fiction Award.  She is also a translator from Spanish and Portuguese, most recently of Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into 10 languages, and she’s written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Paris Review.

And I’m this guy.



Monday, October 2, 2017 | 7:00 pm EDT – 8:00 pm EDT

Get Tickets Here!


Q&A: Kirkus Reviews Word on the Street


I recently had the pleasure of talking to Kirkus Reviews for their “Word on the Street” series about the joys and challenges of working for an independent publisher of international literature. We cover bookstores, diversity, and other signs we’re living in a great time for smart literary publishing.

What are some upcoming trends for the rest of 2016?

Trends can be deceiving. Restless Books began as a digital publisher at a time (late 2013) when everyone seemed to be freaking out about eBooks. Since then, many of our paperless cohort have either shut down or adapted, as we have, by shifting to old-fashioned print publishing. So I would advise caution to anyone devising an Augmented Reality publishing platform (though I’d like to see them try it).

I am hopeful that the growing volume of conversations about race and identity will be reflected in a demand for a broader spectrum of books and authors outside the American mainstream. Let’s hope that the proliferation of literature in translation that has been noted by booksellers in this interview series is not a trend but a lasting transformation.

Speaking of booksellers, it’s gratifying to see independent bookstores doing so well. For all of our technology, storytelling is a human experience. The most effective avenue to book discovery has always been one person saying to another, “You have to read this.” Long may they prosper.  

What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?

Even before the ominous rise of Donald Trump, we made immigration stories a special focus of our list. This year we awarded our first Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing to a fantastically gifted young writer out of Abu Dhabi named Deepak Unnikrishnan, for his novel Temporary People (out in March 2017). Next year we’ll be awarding $10,000 and publication to a nonfiction book by a first-time, first-generation American writer. Submissions open in September; see our prize page for details.  

I’m thrilled that soon we’ll be breaking into international books for young readers. Too often when young people of color browse children’s or YA book sections, they don’t see their faces or their stories reflected in what’s on offer. Fostering a healthy global awareness—and book reading!—from an early age can only be a good thing.

What don’t you ever want to see again?

Books titled “The [   ] Wife” or “The [   ] Daughter.” It’s an appalling trend that needs to die.

Also, speaking as a sometime freelance editor: Aspiring writers who don’t read enough books. If you’re thinking of writing a book, read as many good books as you can, and pay attention. It’s the most important thing for any writer to do.

What is unique about your corner of the industry?

To someone who has worked for one of the “Big Five” publishers, the shift to independent publishing has come as a relief. It is an inescapable fact that the vast majority of books, taken individually, are not profitable. Yet the corporate ethos insists on year-over-year growth and profit, which (in addition to generating an atmosphere of fear and dread in-house) results in often-regrettable hail-mary bets and artistic compromises. It’s exciting to be part of a growing cohort of forward-thinking, independent publishers that, either through a non-profit structure or independent funding, are empowered to prioritize the quality and importance of a work over its potential profitability.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s a favorite pastime among book people to fret about the uncertain future of literature. I like to repeat a joke I first heard from Michael Pietsch, who has seen his share of highs and lows: “The second book to be published on the Gutenberg printing press was about the death of publishing.” We’re still here, everyone. Take a breath.

Nathan Rostron is the director of marketing of Restless Books. Previously, as an online editor, he helped to launch Bookish, an innovative book discovery website for readers. Prior to that, as a book editor at Little, Brown and Company, he edited several award winners and New York Times bestsellers. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Nathan holds a master’s in English and creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in English from Pomona College.

This interview was published as “Q&A: NATHAN ROSTRON OF RESTLESS BOOKS” on the Kirkus Reviews website on October 19, 2016.

Texas Book Festival Panel with Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jim Shepard: Twisting History into Fiction

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Join me in Austin for this year’s Texas Book Festival as I moderate a panel with two phenomenal authors: Jim Shepard and Viet Thanh Nguyen, in a conversation called Twisting History into Fiction:

“Take a look in history’s rearview mirror with Jim Shepard and Viet Thanh Nguyen as they consider the ways in which they twist war and history into fiction in their novels The Book of Aron and The Sympathizer. Moderated by Nathan Rostron.”

When: Saturday, October 17, 1:00pm

Where: Austin Capitol Extension Room E1.026


Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative, and the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the academic book Race and Resistance. He teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. Read more on his website.

Jim Shepard is the author of six previous novels and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won The Story Prize. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Electric Literature, and Vice, and has often been selected for The Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with his wife and three children and teaches at Williams College. Read more on his website.

New Trends in Literary Publishing: A Panel at AWP

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I’d love to see you at AWP! Restless Books will be at this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, to be hosted at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week from Thursday through Saturday. I’ll be speaking with publishing luminaries Fiona McCrae of Graywolf Press, Jon Fine of Amazon, Deena Drewis of Nouvella, and Kevin Nguyen of Oyster, in a panel on “New Trends in Literary Publishing,” moderated by Jeffrey Lependorf of CLMP, the Council of Literary Magazines of Presses.

What: AWP Panel: New Trends in Literary Publishing

When: Thursday, April 9, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Where: Minneapolis Convention Center, Auditorium Room 2, Level 1


Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of CLMP

Fiona McCrae, Publisher of Graywolf Press

Deena Drewis, Editor of Nouvella

Nathan Rostron, Director of Marketing at Restless Books

Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publisher Relations at Amazon

Kevin Nguyen, Editorial Director at Oyster

We’ll be talking about a host of issues facing literary publishing, including the changing landscape of digital publishing, new subscription models, longer/shorter formats, digital marketing, the rise self-publishing, and how traditional and new publishers are adapting to the changing climate.

More about the panelists:

Jeffrey Lependorf, CLMP’s Executive Director, has over twenty years of experience in development, fundraising, corporate sponsorship, and strategic planning. He serves as a “shared executive director” for Small Press Distribution ( His past work experience includes Development Director for the Creative Capital Foundation, Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, the Poetry Society of America, and In the Life Media. He is also a professional musician, active as a composer, a “certified master” of the shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo flute), and serves as Director of Music Omi, an international music residency program in upstate New York. His Masterpieces of Western Music audiocourse is available through Barnes and Noble’s “Portable Professor” series.

Fiona McCrae has been publisher of Graywolf Press since 1994, following eleven years at Faber and Faber, in London, where she was a director and executive editor. At Faber and Faber, she worked with such authors as Kazuo Ishiguro, Caryl Phillips, and Howard Norman. In 1982, she moved to Boston to work with Faber and Faber USA. While there, McCrae taught publishing courses at Harvard University and Emerson College. Authors that McCrae has published at Graywolf include Elizabeth Alexander, Charles Baxter, Per Petterson, Salvatore Scibona, Percival Everett, and Binyavanga Wainaina. She currently serves on the board of Books for Africa and is an advisor for Open Letter Press.

Deena Drewis is the founder and editor of Nouvella, an independent press dedicated to novellas. She started Nouvella in 2011, and in the three years since, they’ve picked up a National Jewish Book Award and an Amazon Best Book of December pick, and helped launch the careers of New York Times bestsellers like Edan Lepucki and Emma Straub.

Nathan Rostron is the Director of Marketing at Restless Books, a new independent publisher of international literature, based in Brooklyn. We’re devoted to expanding the horizons of English-language readers with great books and important stories from around the world. Nathan oversees Marketing, Publicity, Sales, and Distribution for Restless. Previously, as an online editor, he helped to launch Bookish, an innovative book discovery website for readers. Prior to that, as a book editor at Little, Brown and Company, he edited several award winners and New York Times bestsellers.

Jon P. Fine is director of Author and Publisher Relations for, coordinating outreach to the author and publishing communities, including the company’s grant program which supports a diverse range of not-for-profit author and publisher groups dedicated to fostering the creation, discussion and publication of new writing and new voices ( He joined the company as Associate General Counsel for media and copyright in January 2006, and subsequently led business development for Brilliance Audio following its acquisition in 2007. Prior to joining, he served as VP and Associate General Counsel for Random House, Inc., where he directed legal affairs for the Alfred A. Knopf division as well as for Random House of Canada. He previously served as Senior Media Counsel at NBC, handling content and associated issues for NBC News, Saturday Night Live, MSNBC, CNBC and other divisions; as counsel at King World Productions for Inside Edition and other “reality-based” programming; and as a litigation associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he focused on copyright, libel, internet and other media-related matters.

Kevin Nguyen is the editorial director at Oyster and edits The Oyster Review. He writes regularly for Grantland and has been published online in The New RepublicThe Paris ReviewThe Millions, and elsewhere.

Ilan Stavans at the Texas Book Festival: A Most Imperfect Union

DSC_2041I’m honored that I’ll be speaking with Ilan Stavans—prolific author, translator, critic, Amherst College professor and Publisher of Restless Books—at this year’s Texas Book Festival. Stavans and I will discuss his most recent book, A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States, an illustrated history of our country that serves as a corrective to mainstream received ideas. From the press materials:

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school. Ever since Columbus–who was probably a converted Jew–“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

The event, which will also be broadcast on C-SPAN’s BookTV, will be from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent. The festival is held in downtown Austin, TX, along Congress Ave. and in the State Capitol building. I hope to see you there!


Date: Sunday 10/26

Time: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent
Ilan Stavans
Nathan Rostron


Smith Henderson Reads from Fourth of July Creek

Smith Henderson Reading

Join us for a reading and conversation between Smith Henderson, PEN Emerging Writer and highly acclaimed debut author of Fourth of July Creek, and Nathan Rostron, Director of Marketing at Restless Books.

Tuesday, June 3, 7:00pm, Barnes & Noble, 150 East 86th Street, New York, NY 10028

A muscular, hugely ambitious literary debut set against the vivid backdrop of the Montana wilderness, Fourth of July Creek is the story of Pete Snow, a troubled social worker barely on the right side of the law, who tries to keep a dangerously paranoid survivalist from jeopardizing his family, even as Pete’s own family disintegrates.

“This book left me awestruck; a stunning debut which reads like the work of a writer at the height of his power… Fourth of July Creek is a masterful achievement and Smith Henderson is certain to end up a household name.” —Philipp Meyer, author of The Son

Fourth of July Creek knocked me flat. This gorgeous, full-bodied novel seems to contain all of America at what was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment in its history…. Smith Henderson has delivered nothing less than a masterpiece of a novel.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Fourth of July Creek cannot possibly be Smith Henderson’s first book. Its scope is audacious, its range virtuosic, its gaze steady and true. A riveting story written in a seductive and relentlessly authentic rural American vernacular, this is the kind of novel I wish I’d written.” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn

SMITH HENDERSON is the recipient of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writer Award in fiction, and was the Phillip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University the same year. His short story, “Number Stations,” won a Pushcart Prize and a finalist honors for the University of Texas Keene Prize, where he was a Michener Center for Writing Fellow. He currently works at the Wieden + Kennedy advertising agency, where he contributed to the Emmy-nominated “Halftime In America” Super Bowl Commercial. Born and raised in Montana, he now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Fox News Video: The Best Books to Give as Gifts

My first appearance as a talking head: dishing on books for Fox News. Watch out, O’Reilly.

Fox News Video: The Best Books to Give as Gifts

Here’s me on the “vanity cam,” which was clearly designed for selfies:

Fox News Selfie

Fox News Selfie

TV and Movie Character Memoirs We’d Love to Read

What if Walter White Wrote a Memoir?

What if Walter White Wrote a Memoir?

Don’t you wish you could know the full story behind your favorite film and TV characters? What was Walter White’s real endgame? How did “Twin Peaks” special agent Dale Cooper keep his cool? Why did Kenny from “South Park” have such trouble staying alive? For at least one of our favorite on-screen heroes, our curiosity has finally been satisfied with the release of “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy’s memoir, “Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life and Other Musings.” Inspired by Burgundy’s illuminating tell-all, we’ve put together memoir ideas for our favorite TV and film characters–plus the real-life book each should use for inspiration.

“The Heisenberg Principle: My Life in the Empire Business,” by Walter White

Model: “The Prince,” by Niccolò Machiavelli

Discovered posthumously under the floorboards of a remote New Hampshire cabin, chemistry genius and drug kingpin Walter White’s manifesto reveals the workings of a brilliant but monomaniacal mind. Handwritten in what looks to be great haste, White meticulously lays out his philosophy of family and empire–a mix of Walt Whitman, Machiavelli and Vito Corleone (turns out he loved “The Godfather” even more than “Leaves of Grass”): Master the universe, but keep it in the family at all costs.

“I Loved Lucy,” by Ethel Mertz

Model: “Here’s the Story,” by “Brady Bunch” star Maureen McCormick

Can you blame her? Suffocated by a husband as stingy with affection as he was with money and by a society that didn’t accept her, Ethel retreated into the gentle embrace of vaudeville–and of her favorite tenant, Lucy Ricardo. As she reveals in her startling memoir, “I Loved Lucy,” Ethel and Lucy carried on an illicit, steamy affair beneath the noses of unsuspecting Fred and Ricky.

 Check out the full list on Bookish.

Literature: It’s Better with Pictures

Remember trying to read “Moby-Dick” in high school? It was awful: Melville’s knotty prose and madman plotting were rendered in minuscule type in a claustrophobic paperback edition–it was like drowning in a stew of language. But I was lucky–years later, I made a discovery at my local bookstore (holler, @Powells): a stately, oversized edition with breathable type and, best of all, woodcut engravings that gave you a visual break from Melville’s insane story. I increasingly fell in love with it as I read, and nowadays, “Moby-Dick” is probably my favorite novel.

My turnaround with Melville made me wish all of those classics I resented having to read in high school would find their way back to me, complete with pictures. Artist Matt Kish has answered my call with a new edition of Joseph Conrad’s classic (also despised by my teenage self), “Heart of Darkness.” Each right-hand page bears the text of Conrad’s novel, set very readably on thick, creamy paper, and on each left-hand page is a vivid, striking image that corresponds to the text. For instance, here’s the image opposite the lines, “We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows–cannibals–in their place”:

Cannibals: fine fellows

I realize that the physical shape a novel takes should not alter your experience of a story, but Kish’s edition of “Darkness” presents a counter-argument. Beyond the pleasure of reading such a well-produced book, there’s brilliance in Kish’s illustrations in that they don’t attempt realism in the slightest. Rather, they’re like the hallucinatory images from a fever dream, which have the effect of displacing you further from your physical surroundings and pulling you deeper into the story, without stage-directing your experience. “The mind of man is capable of anything,” Conrad writes, and Kish illustrates:

The mind of man is capable of anything.

Conrad’s novel has had its psychedelic afterlife. Frances Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” a Vietnam-ized rendering of “Heart of Darkness,” has become so culturally potent that in coming back to the novel I half-expected to see Conrad’s storyteller, Charlie Marlow, hazy with opium or freaking out in a hotel room like Martin Sheen in the movie. But Marlow is no smoky-voiced burnout: He’s a vibrant raconteur, a yarn-spinner not unlike Melville’s Ishmael (though better at sticking to the point). Yet, the vision of darkness Conrad shows us is every bit as brutal as Coppola’s…. Read the rest on Bookish

What Tony Kushner Told Me About Maurice Sendak

He said what?

He said what?

Monday night I was in reader heaven: listening to one of my favorite authors talk about another of my favorite authors over dinner. It was after the ceremony for the Whiting Writers’ Awards, given annually to writers at the beginning of their careers. The speaker was Tony Kushner, whose play “Angels in America” I’m obsessed with–both as a book and as an HBO miniseries. (Al Pacino’s performance will break your heart into tiny little pieces.) Kushner joked about the irony that after he wrote last year’s “Lincoln,” a movie bursting at the seams with inspiring speeches, it was the first time in 18 years he hadn’t been invited to give a commencement address (which he loves to do just for the “contact high”). So, he had many inspiring words stored up for the Whiting honorees–of which he was one in 1990, years before “Angels.”

But the real treat for me was listening to Kushner talk afterwards about his decades-long friendship with Maurice Sendak–whose “Where the Wild Things Are” was my childhood bible. Some of what Kushner said about Sendak blew my mind–and were too good not to share. Here are five highlights:

1) Millions loved seeing Maurice Sendak appear as a guest on “The Colbert Report.” When Sendak got the call, he’d never heard of Colbert–but he enjoyed being on the show so much that he asked to be a regular guest. He wanted to be Colbert’s movie critic, with one stipulation: He would only review movies he hadn’t seen. Colbert loved the idea. (Unfortunately Sendak’s health declined before they could make it so.)



2) Sendak was a brilliant artist. But, in the 1940s and ’50s when he was starting out, abstract art was all the rage–Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, etc.–and Sendak preferred to paint and draw recognizable humans and objects. He became an illustrator of children’s books so that he could be paid for his art.

3) Sendak was an avid collector, obsessed in particular with Herman MelvilleWilliam Blake and Mozart. He owned a first-edition copy of “Moby-Dick” inscribed by Melville to his sister and dozens of rare Blake engravings, including one of “Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience” that had been embroidered by Blake’s wife (she signed it “Mrs. Blake”).

4) Sendak owned the second-largest Mickey Mouse paraphernalia collection in the world–but nothing that originated after 1940, when Mickey’s looked changed in a way that Sendak hated.

Maurice Sendak's self portrait with  Mickey Mouse

Maurice Sendak’s self portrait with Mickey Mouse

5) In the early 1990s, long before Sendak was publicly “out”…. Read the rest on Bookish