Zinzi Clemmons: ‘I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back’

What We Lose is a startlingly experimental and intimate first novel, about a character whose complicated cultural identity reflects the author’s own

About five years ago, Zinzi Clemmons’s mother’s health worsened dramatically and doctors told her she didn’t have much longer to live. Clemmons, who was away studying, returned home to Philadelphia – a detail she says “is highly relevant because of what’s going on right now [with healthcare in the US]”, as it was partly an economic decision: “I acted as her primary caretaker, and my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that unless I had done it. And we’re not badly off in any way.”

At that point, Clemmons was working on a story about HIV, exploring illness and its politicisation – themes that remain in her mesmerising debut novel What We Lose – but she didn’t have “enough direct experience”, and it wasn’t working. ...

Zinzi Clemmons: ‘I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back’

What We Lose is a startlingly experimental and intimate first novel, about a character whose complicated cultural identity reflects the author’s own

About five years ago, Zinzi Clemmons’s mother’s health worsened dramatically and doctors told her she didn’t have much longer to live. Clemmons, who was away studying, returned home to Philadelphia – a detail she says “is highly relevant because of what’s going on right now [with healthcare in the US]”, as it was partly an economic decision: “I acted as her primary caretaker, and my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that unless I had done it. And we’re not badly off in any way.”

At that point, Clemmons was working on a story about HIV, exploring illness and its politicisation – themes that remain in her mesmerising debut novel What We Lose – but she didn’t have “enough direct experience”, and it wasn’t working. ...

Jillian Tamaki: ‘Our brains are being rewired to exist online’

The stories in Boundless, her latest collection, show the Canadian author-illustrator pushing the boundaries of the graphic form to reflect a changing world In one of Jillian Tamaki’s comic-book stories, entitled 1. Jenny, a “mirror Facebook” appears on the internet. At first, it looks like it is merely a duplicate of the familiar social network – until small changes begin to appear on everyone’s profiles. Like most internet phenomena, it is “all anyone could talk about for two weeks”, considered “playful at best, mischievous at worst”. But as Jenny watches the mysterious mirror-Jenny’s life diverge from her own in tiny ways – growing her hair long, watching Top Gun – she grows increasingly obsessed with the life that could be hers; wishing, all the same, that “she had followed through with her threats to quit Facebook. (Threatening to whom?)” As in many of Tamaki’s stories in her delicate new ...

Eli Goldstone: ‘I can’t think of many great books that aren’t funny’

Strange Heart Beating is the story of a grieving widow, but the debut novelist explains how she has found humour ‘in unusual places’ to tell it Eli Goldstone’s right arm is adorned with a tattoo: a tombstone that reads “Bad Times”. She got it, she explains, to commemorate her bond with a Canadian friend who had to leave the UK and has a matching tattoo that says “Bad Vibes”. “It means ‘no more bad times!’ That’s the end of those for me,” she laughs. Goldstone, 31, seems like someone who knows how to laugh at herself and the darker parts of life, and does so often. “Six-year-old me would be really confused that it’s taken me this long [to write a novel], because I thought I was going to be the youngest person to ever write one,” she jokes. “I was always sitting in front of my typewriter starting ...

Alexandra Kleeman: ‘Where I grew up, there is a daily sense of your smallness’

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine depicts a young woman’s dissociation from suburban life. Its author explains her focus on a very modern kind of loneliness Alexandra Kleeman wants you to really think about your body and its every internal movement. “A massed wetness pressing in on itself, shapes thrust against each other with no sense of where they are,” she writes in the first pages of her debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Are we all the same inside? Anything could be in there – and so it’s no surprise, she writes, that we care most for our surfaces: “They alone distinguish us from one another and are so fragile, the thickness of paper.” Such is just the beginning of an unsettling and vivid descent into everything we consume: from junk food, to makeup, to advertising.
You Too Can Have a Body ...

The Good Immigrant: why BAME writers are ‘done justifying our place at the table’

Nikesh Shukla’s collection of essays by minority British writers makes it plain why the UK is long overdue for a more diverse self-defintion The Good Immigrant starts, appropriately, with an essay titled Namaste. “It just means hello,” says a bewildered Nikesh Shukla to a woman who repeats the Hindi word to him while offering him her henna stained hands. He’s outside an arts space that’s “part bar/club, part sustainable restaurant, part hot-desking for freelance artists and part dance studio”; tellingly, namaste is defined by Urban Dictionary as: “a word thrown around by Trustafarians and hippies as they shop in Whole Foods while wearing their eco-green Birkenstocks”. Namaste is thrown at Shukla again, this time as a defiant retort from two young neighbours when he asks them to turn down their music at 2am. Language matters. A lot. Cultural misappropriation is one of the many themes of this book of essays, ...

The Good Immigrant: why BAME writers are ‘done justifying our place at the table’

Nikesh Shukla’s collection of essays by minority British writers makes it plain why the UK is long overdue for a more diverse self-defintion The Good Immigrant starts, appropriately, with an essay titled Namaste. “It just means hello,” says a bewildered Nikesh Shukla to a woman who repeats the Hindi word to him while offering him her henna stained hands. He’s outside an arts space that’s “part bar/club, part sustainable restaurant, part hot-desking for freelance artists and part dance studio”; tellingly, namaste is defined by Urban Dictionary as: “a word thrown around by Trustafarians and hippies as they shop in Whole Foods while wearing their eco-green Birkenstocks”. Namaste is thrown at Shukla again, this time as a defiant retort from two young neighbours when he asks them to turn down their music at 2am. Language matters. A lot. Cultural misappropriation is one of the many themes of this book of essays, ...