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Latest news and features from, the world's leading liberal voice
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    & yes, my family did raise me right. Yes
    they stripped their bones & cracked them clean
    open to suck. Would fight over cartilage & knuckle.
    Sip the marrow’s nectar from urn. Yes, I watched.
    Yes, I’ll teach my children the same. To savor
    the sound of their teeth against bone pulling & pulling
    always in search of more. But right now I’m eating alone
    in a strange city with money in my pocket
    no children waiting to be fed or taught. Meat on the bones,
    skin in the trash. Joints a trap of bird & muscle
    wanting to be chewed. Let me be young & disrespectful.
    Let me leave my plate an unfinished slaughter.
    Let me spend & eat until I, no one else, says I’m done.

    • From If They Come For Us, published by Corsair (£10.99). To order a copy go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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    More than 25 years after her groundbreaking Daughters of Africa anthology, Margaret Busby reflects on the next generation of black women writers around the world

    Time was when the perception of published writers was that all the women were white and all the blacks were men (to borrow the title of a key 1980s black feminist book). At best, there was a handful of black female writers – Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou– who were acknowledged by the literary establishment. This was the climate in which, more than 25 years ago, I compiled and published Daughters of Africa. It was critically acclaimed, but more significant has been the inspiration that 1992 anthology gave to a fresh generation of writers who form the core of its sequel, New Daughters of Africa.

    The critic Juanita Cox told me: “I received Daughters of Africa as a birthday gift from my father. Two things immediately struck me about the book. It was huge and it contained women like me. Even though I’d been brought up in Nigeria, I had had very little exposure to black literature. At school the only black characters I’d ever read about occupied the margins: figures like the Sedleys’ servant Sambo and the mixed-race heiress Miss Swartz in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Daughters of Africa introduced me to a huge number of writers I’d never previously been aware of. And on a more personal level it made me realise that I was somehow valid. The anthology was peopled not just by women of ‘pure’ African descent, but also women of mixed ancestry, and just like the women the book contained, I too could have a voice.”

    Tradition, romance, sexuality, race and identity all are explored, in ways that are surpris­ing, angry and joyful

    I do not remember when I wrote Audre but I did, and I remember that she answered immediately and sent me a copy of A Burst of Light with the inscription, “Sister Survivor – May these words be a bridge over that place where there are no words – or where they are so difficult as to sound like a scream!

    It wasn’t until I met the force of the unflinching stories of our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters written by black women that I was compelled to find an answer to the question: “what did it mean to be a black woman in my grandmother’s time?”

    The book reveals works in progress, shapeshifting sensibilities, a delicious mash-up of expectations

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    This year’s Observer/Anthony Burgess prize for arts journalism goes to Jason Watkins for his review of the writer and actor’s one-woman show about her celebrated late father Ken

    • Joint runner-up: Kate Wyver’s reflections on the video game Sorry to Bother You
    • Joint runner-up: Tara McEvoy on Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

    Jason Watkins is a special needs teacher and tutor for pupils out of education based in Otley, West Yorkshire. He previously worked in TV and as a film researcher. The judges praised his “lively, casually erudite style, in the best tradition of Anthony Burgess’s own work for the Observer”.

    In naming his daughter after the Greek goddess of discord and misrule, maverick director/actor/playwright Ken Campbell gave her a lot to live up to. Pigspurt’s Daughter, a solo show by Daisy Eris Campbell to mark the 10th anniversary of her father’s death, is a window on a remarkable parent-child relationship bound by a love of logic-defying overstimulation and an aversion to anything routine or everyday.

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    Burgess Prize runner-up 2019: Tara McEvoy’s analysis of a collection that explores the form’s boundaries earned her joint second place in this year’s Observer/Anthony Burgess prize
    • The winning review: Jason Watkins on Daisy Campbell’s Pigspurt’s Daughter
    • Joint runner-up: Kate Wyver’s reflections on the video game Sorry to Bother You

    Tara McEvoy, 25, is a PhD student and editor of the Tangerine, a magazine of new writing. Her work has been published in Vogue, the Irish Times and the Wire. She lives in Belfast. Her piece “confidently navigates challenging material”, and, most importantly, sent the judges “back to the poems.”

    James Baldwin described the predicament like this: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” Terrance Hayes’s latest collection, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, makes visible the outlines of the trap of history by pushing against the constraints of the 14-line sonnet form. The result is a book that speaks with urgency and authority, bearing witness to the absurdities and cruelties of the present moment.

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    The worlds of conservation and nature writing are overwhelmingly white and male. But the Forestry Commission is taking steps to change all that

    A chilly breeze blows through the wood and the old tree trunks creak as they are rubbed together by the wind. A grey squirrel twists around a grove of ancient yews, its claws scrabbling drily on the dark bark. A great tit’s seesawing song is the only note of spring. There is no sign, however, of the newest inhabitant of Leigh Woods.

    Zakiya Mckenzie, one of the Forestry Commission’s new writers in residence, can’t find her way to this nature reserve just west of Bristol. Mckenzie, chosen from more than 1,000 applicants to write about woodland life for the commission’s centenary year, is extremely lost, somewhere on the wrong side of the city where she lives.

    I’m not going to tell the kids to be quiet in the countryside just to make everyone else feel comfortable

    The woods remind me I'm so tiny compared to everything else

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    Nature poetry reveals a much darker world than usual in a child’s guileless impressions of her abuser

    Ivy Leaves

    His hands were shaped into ivy leaves
    that climbed up the tree, camouflage
    for its inner rings, tickling the light.
    Horse chestnut buds had given them
    a stickiness which the rains could not
    wash off. Touch them, he said.

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    At first he was feted. But then his novel about a handsome, Yale-educated serial rapist made him an outcast. Ten years after his death, has the scabrous author’s time finally come?

    On 6 August 2015, the American author and playwright James Purdy left New York for the last time. Bound for Denmark, he travelled in a small flip-top leather case with a combination lock. This was inside the rucksack of Maria Cecilia Holt, Harvard doctor of theology, who was asked to produce the necessary papers while going through security at Boston Logan airport.

    “I’d collected James’s ashes from his literary executor,” she explains. “It had been quite traumatic. So I presented security with the papers and the ashes and they said, ‘Ma’am, we’re sorry for your loss.’ I began to cry. I wanted to say, ‘It’s not my loss, it’s yours. America is losing a great writer. He’s leaving the US for ever – and no one even cares.’”

    He said being published was like throwing a party and having all these wicked people come and vomit all over the house

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    Morning Glory on the Vine, which combines lyrics, poems and paintings by the revered singer-songwriter, was originally produced privately in 1971

    A rare book of lyrics, poems and illustrations that Joni Mitchell created for her closest friends more than 40 years ago is to be commercially published for the first time this autumn.

    The Canadian musician put together Morning Glory on the Vine in 1971, the year her album Blue topped charts around the world. Collecting lyrics, poems and more than 30 of her paintings, just 100 copies were hand-produced in Los Angeles for her friends. “Existing copies of this labour of love have rarely been seen in the past half-century,” according to the singer’s website.

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  • 03/11/19--09:05: Martin Woodcock obituary
  • Artist admired for the illustrations that grace the pages of the monumental The Birds of Africa, first published in the early 1980s

    Amid the economic uncertainty of the mid 1970s not many people gave up a job in the City of London. But in 1974, Martin Woodcock did just that, swapping life as a stockbroker to become a freelance bird artist.

    He never looked back. Martin, who has died aged 84, spent the rest of his distinguished career travelling through Asia and Africa to observe, draw and paint some of the world’s most elusive birds. His masterwork, which kept him busy for almost three decades, was the monumental, multivolume The Birds of Africa, for which he painted more than 200 colour plates.

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  • 03/13/19--10:39: Gabriela Mistral | Letters
  • Letters: She won the Nobel prize 26 years before Pablo Neruda, writes Heather Mayall, and was the reason for his love of literature

    It was good to see mention of a Latin American Nobel prize winner in your editorial (There will be two Nobel prizes for literature this year. That is one too many, 9 March) but, on the day after International Women’s Day, so much better if it had been Gabriela Mistral rather than Pablo Neruda.

    She was the first Latin American to ever be awarded a Nobel prize, and it was “for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world”. This was in 1945, 26 years before Neruda’s award in 1971.

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    Winners of Windham-Campbell prizes, intended to free authors from money worries, only learn they were in contention after they have won

    The Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin was on a trip with her family to mark her 50th birthday when the phone rang and she discovered she’d won one of this year’s Windham-Campbell prizes, announced on Wednesday evening. The $165,000 (£125,000) award came at a good time, McLaughlin revealed.

    “It was like a miracle,” she said, “arriving at a time when I was experiencing a bit of a wobble, psychologically, in my writing life. In a sense, it was like an answer to a question I had started asking myself.”

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    Writer who protested against environmental destruction and the Vietnam war died at home in Hawaii

    WS Merwin, a prolific and versatile poetry master who evolved through a wide range of styles as he celebrated nature, condemned war and industrialism and reached for the elusive past, died Friday. He was 91.

    A Pulitzer prize winner and former US poet laureate, Merwin completed more than 20 books, from early works inspired by myths and legends to fiery protests against environmental destruction and the conflict in Vietnam to late meditations on age and time.

    Related: Poem of the week: After the Dragonflies by WS Merwin

    with the night falling we are saying thank you
    we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
    we are running out of the glass rooms
    with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
    and say thank you

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    The poet and performer on his dad’s sandwiches, the iniquity of snacking and disappointing Dutch food

    When I was a kid, for a while my mother worked afternoons at the high-class confectioners round the corner. It was also a tobacco shop. The two went hand in glove. Quality candies, ice-creams, walking canes and baccy products. Mum would bring home lots of sweets which had been on sale too long but were still perfectly OK, and she’d say, “Take your pick.” That was a bit of a perk.

    The first time I saw a green pepper, it was outrageous. There were quite lot of Jewish people in Salford and some were Sephardi and they ate Greco-Middle-Eastern food. I remember my mum saying, “Ohh, you can’t eat green and red peppers – they’ll blow the top of your head off.” So for a long time I thought they were chillies the size of fists.

    Related: John Cooper Clarke interview: 'Poetry is not something you have to retire from'

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    A wayward grandfather’s advice, this is a joyful freewheel through life’s possibilities

    Hey Jude
    (for little Jude)

    When you sing your song
    you can make it an angry one,
    and do it so loud the punks climb out
    of their graves to applaud.
    Give them your autograph.

    Related: Matthew Sweeney obituary

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    Booker winner Milkman and Normal People, which took the Costa novel award, among 20 contenders for the £30,000 prize

    The 2019 Rathbones Folio prize longlist spans the world, from a Booker-winning novel set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland to a life of St Francis of Assisi told in verse.

    Related: Normal People: how Sally Rooney’s novel became the literary phenomenon of the decade

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    The young Canterbury Tales author was paraded by his employer in scandalously tight outfits, says Oxford academic Marion Turner

    He may be revered as the father of English literature, but Geoffrey Chaucer’s first appearance in recorded history is as a teenager wearing leggings so tight one churchman blamed the fashion for bringing back the plague.

    Scholars have known since at least 1966 that Elizabeth de Burgh, who employed the adolescent Chaucer, bought him a “paltok” for four shillings at Easter 1357, spending a further three shillings for black and red hose, and a pair of shoes. But Chaucer’s first female biographer, the Oxford academic Marion Turner, suggests that no previous biographer had ever considered what a paltok might be. Delving into contemporary chronicles, she found commentators at the time describing paltoks – a kind of tunic – as “extremely short garments ... which failed to conceal their arses or their private parts”.

    For Elizabeth de Burgh, it's part of her prestige to have beautifully dressed young men hanging around. They're like her display objects in the living room

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    Andrew McMillan’s candid exploration of gay adolescence is sensational

    Andrew McMillan’s poetry is see-through – it lets us understand, in an uncensored way, how it was to grow up as a gay boy. His much-praised physical made his name and this new collection is another negotiation with the body – the body that, as it were, has a mind of its own.

    The collection includes disturbing, unmediated bulletins from adolescence’s frontline. The poems have an anecdotal immediacy and are presented in an unpunctuated lower case. In “what 1.6% of young men know”, he writes about teenage boys who starve to acquire the perfect body and how this leads not to glory on the playing fields but to a more humiliating destination: “…they will end up in the carpark of the doctors”. One notes, in several poems, the decision to shy away from the first person, to keep things general. And the body’s elusiveness is summed up in a wonderful phrase (from “first time ‘posh’”): “the body that is only true in private”. It is McMillan’s enterprise to make the body true in public as well – there is no such thing as a taboo. This is a comprehensive coming out – in poetry.

    ...and the ones

    who turned sixteen find the foreskin too tight

    for their urges trying to breathe

    in a shirt done up to the collar

    when the collar is too small and how these boys must

    force themselves to tell their parents then show

    a doctor then a nurse how they must feel

    like someone who is trying to prove the fault

    with a product they are wanting to return

    ...this scar

    that catches the cold weather holds

    it deep inside reminder

    of my vanity tideline

    of Canute tattoo of the time

    I couldn’t live with what I was becoming

    …and I ran

    outside and cried and for the first time ever

    refused to go to class
    and my phone sat vibrating

    in my pocket like a heartbeat

    refusing to be silent maybe

    halfwanting to be discovered

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    As the poet behind the San Francisco literary institution turns 100, the city is preparing for ‘Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day’

    The last couple of years have taken their toll on Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The American publisher, poet, painter and political activist is frail and nearly blind. He spends a lot of time in bed, relying on his assistant for emails and phone calls.

    His body might be failing him. But his mind is still on fire. He’s hoping for a revolution. Trouble is, he says, “the United States isn’t ready for a revolution”.

    Related: Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 'experimental' new book due in time for 100th birthday

    Related: Interview with a Bookstore: San Francisco's historic City Lights

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    This week’s report into the gender gap for authors is a timely reminder of bias in the media against female writers

    Have you heard of Emilia Bassano? I hadn’t until this week, when her name was lent to a report on media coverage of male versus female writers. Bassano was England’s first published female poet, in 1611, and a play has been written about her struggle for recognition. It’s good timing – across the arts, people have been dredging the depths to conjure up history’s forgotten women and, in the case of books, reassess the canon.

    The Emilia report into the gender gap for authors, commissioned by the play’s producers and written by Danuta Kean, found a “marked bias” towards male writers in the review pages of newspapers. Furthermore, references to women’s ages were ubiquitous, and female writers told Kean how coverage tended to focus on the domestic rather than the academic. The report also highlights cover design as a factor in gender bias – gender stereotypes on covers “undermine the credibility of fiction by women and their ability to be taken seriously”.

    Related: Male and female writers’ media coverage reveals ‘marked bias’

    Related: How Was It for You? by Virginia Nicholson review – women, sex and power in the 1960s

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  • 03/20/19--10:13: Henry Graham obituary
  • Henry Graham, who has died aged 88, was a successful artist in the 1950s until he renounced painting for poetry a decade later. He subsequently had 10 books of his poems published and his work appeared in magazines throughout the world.

    Henry was born in Liverpool; his mother was a cleaner and his father ran a billiard hall in the city. Following national service in 1950, working in the British army’s mapping department in Trieste, he attended Liverpool Art School, establishing himself as a key member of the city’s art scene with paintings exhibited in many local galleries. He was also a jazz pianist in his own band, the Henry Graham Quartet, before leaving Liverpool to live and paint in London, where he met and married Liz.

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