Javaka Steptoe photographed by Gregg Richards.
“Radiant, wild, a genius child” are just some of the words people use to describe Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“There’s this narrative where people speak about Basquiat—he’s primitive, he’s a wild child,” says Javaka Steptoe, the author and illustrator of Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
But that narrative belies the intention behind the postmodernist painter’s bold, brilliant art, he says: “It’s because of the drugs, it’s because he has a mental illness—it’s everything but him. No one ...
Nicole Dennis-Benn photographed by Emma Benn
In 2010, Nicole Dennis-Benn took a Jamaican vacation. But she wasn’t a typical tourist.
“Growing up there, I had this image of what Jamaica is,” says Dennis-Benn, who was born and raised in Kingston, the nation’s capital and largest city. “When I visited for the first time as a tourist, at the resort, I wasn’t getting the real culture—it was a performance. I knew for sure that these individuals were going home to nothing after giving us the fantasy ...
Ha Jin photographed by Jerry Bauer.
Though his writing is censored in his native country, Ha Jin says he fails to qualify for full boat-rocker status.
“No, I’m much tamer,” says the National Book Award-winning author, who calls his latest novel The Boat Rocker. In Chinese, he clarifies, that phrase comes across as less iconoclast, more troublemaker—someone whom others would do well to avoid. However, he shares one important distinction with the book’s investigative journalist protagonist.
They’re both blacklisted.
“I’ve been in the States for ...
Beth Macy photographed by Josh Meltzer.
In their decadeslong careers as circus sideshow superstars, African-American albino brothers George and Willie Muse were billed as Eko and Iko, “the Ecuadorian Savages,” “Darwin’s Missing Links,” “the Sheep-Headed Men,” and “Ambassadors from Mars.”
They were never billed as Harriett Muse’s sons.
“The truth was considerably less colorful. And more cruel,” Beth Macy writes in Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest—A True Story of the Jim Crow South, recently named a finalist ...
Juana Medina photographed by Silvia Baptiste.
What reason could a person possibly have for learning “the English” when she speaks perfectly good español? So reasoned author/illustrator Juana Medina, age 4, circa 1984, growing up in Bogotá, Colombia.
“My mom says that she picked me up from kindergarten and I was quite upset and fuming and not happy to have to learn something called ‘the English,’ ” says Medina, author of Juana & Lucas, a vibrant, charming chapter book (ages 5-9) loosely based on the ...
Maria Semple photographed by Elke Van de Velde.
Reader, you don’t owe Maria Semple anything.
“You don’t owe it to me to read my book,” Semple says over lunch at Tilikum Place Café in downtown Seattle one sunny September day. “I owe it to you to get you to the end of my book. You don’t owe me not to just go, ‘Oh fuck,’ and throw my book across the room if it’s boring—if it’s like taking your medicine.
“I have students,” she continues, “and ...
Robert Kanigel photographed by Felix Rust.
Jane Jacobs was far more than the sum of her activism. The woman who took on planning titan Robert Moses—defeating the Lower Manhattan Expressway proposal in 1962—was a critical thinker, dominant debater, insightful writer, mother, and wife. Above all, she was an iconoclast.
“For anybody who loves cities, Jane Jacobs is a part of their lives,” Robert Kanigel, author of Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, says of the The Death and Life of Great American ...
Anuk Arudpragasam photographed by Halik Azeez.
Anuk Arudpragasam came of age in southern Sri Lanka while civil war waged in the north. Near the end of the 26-year military campaign, in May 2009, additional tens of thousands of Tamils were killed in conflict-zone camps. Southerners, living their everyday lives, didn’t know.
“The Sri Lankan government didn’t allow independent observers or journalists into the war zone, so nobody really knew,” says Arudpragasam, author of The Story of a Brief Marriage. The news sources were either the ...