Michiko Kakutani has praised her “intuitive rendering of her characters’ inner lives” and Cynthia Ozick has said “Rosellen Brown can do anything with language.” She’s received many honors, including an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, along with other prestigious institutions.
Brown and I met one afternoon in downtown Chicago, after she had spent the morning teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where’s she on the faculty. But a couple of weeks ago I came across this long, memoiristic piece I did for Gayle Publishers for their Contemporary Authors series, and I mention there that my daughter had just graduated from college, which happened in 1989, and that I was thinking about this book about Jewish farmers. I feel like I can’t write a story or the novel until two disparate ideas come together.As with all my books, I didn’t have any idea of where it was going to go. I wanted to try to reconstruct this, the Columbian Exposition, this beautiful, beautiful place, that somehow my character wormed her way into. She was drawn to him almost despite his wealth, which is a flip. And she took it to FSG and she asked two editors what they would do with it. There are so many good books that don’t get published, better books than anything you’ve ever read!And there was one other thing playing in the back of my mind—I’m a very bad storyteller, and I have to get my ideas from somewhere, like from other books or articles—which is that I read about a woman who worked in a cigar factory, Rose Pastor Stokes. Instead of a having a woman trying to make herself physically appealing to attract wealth, she has a libidinous motive. And John Glusman, who had just had a child—so he was in the fatherly mode and the book is about parents—he loved the book, and so I worked with him for two books. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.” So what happened with as part of a two-book deal, and they waited very, very patiently for years for another book. So I thought about the small presses I’ve always liked, and Sarabande was up there.I don’t know how they’re going to handle Asher’s chapters, all that wordplay. The other thing that’s happened for the book—and I don’t even know if I should say this because I want people to patronize independent bookstores—but Costco ordered a thousand copies, just for their Chicago stores. Rumpus: But some of your books have done quite well. That is the only one that sold a lot of copies, because the marketing and the timing just worked out, and they did a movie. But there’s only so much that’s under your control. She said, “Oh, this isn’t the Rosellen Brown people expect. There are a few things, and I had a sister-in-law with family who had lived on a farm. I tried to learn what I could about that, but often I just went with intuition.It was on the bestseller list for four weeks or something. I don’t know if anyone back East is ever going to hear about it. But for the Columbian Exposition, there are a million books.
We first noticed the work of Teng-Yuan Chang at Art Central in Hong Kong back in March, and captivated by the trippy visuals that mix illustration, painting, and narration along with elements of graffiti.