Smart takes on JUVENTUD in the latest reviews from The Rumpus and Ploughshares!

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Two extraordinarily thoughtful reviews of Juventud were published this weekend, each one honing in on the “youth” aspect of the book in unique ways. Here, from the Ploughshares review of Juventud: ‘In the beginning of the novel, Mercedes describes a young boy who has been displaced by the conflict. He holds a sign stating, “Ayuda. Somos desplazados.” Help. We are displaced. This moment serves two purposes: the boy’s sign reflects Mercedes’ emotional state during a time of violent sociopolitical upheaval, and also holds Mercedes—and Juventud’s readers—responsible for serving those ravaged by conflict.’

And I was elated to mull over the final paragraph of this review of Juventud at The Rumpus: “The novel’s title brings to mind Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal play This Is Our Youth. Though Lonergan’s teenage characters live and work and play on the Upper West Side of New York City, they suffer seemingly similar plights as Mercedes—particularly Warren, one of the nineteen-year-old soul-searching protagonists, whose dad engages in successful but murky business dealings. As Warren describes him: “But my father is not a criminal. He’s just in business with criminals.” Though we never meet Warren’s father, we learn about his fate, particularly at the end of play in Warren’s closing monologue: “but when he was at the height of his powers, he totally lost control of his own daughter, and she ended up getting beaten to death by some guy from the world next door to us.” Like Mercedes and many young people,  Warren’s sister was drawn to worlds unlike her own, and she becomes a sort of cautionary tale about the cost of rebellion. Mercedes, on the other hand, is a strong agent of her own fate, who leaves casualties in her wake. Blakeslee does not deliver a neat ending; instead, she provides a story worthy of deep philosophical discussion and debate.”

Seeing these latest reviews in dialogue with each other is affirming beyond measure, and writing a thoughtful critique takes diligence and effort. I’m grateful for both of these essays being out in the world, and to have Lonergan’s work brought to my attention. Juventud appears to be finding itself in fine company, indeed!

JUVENTUD earns the spotlight at Washington Independent Review of Books ~ plus my “Table of Contents” menu at Real Pants

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Tremendously excited to see this thoughtful review of Juventud at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Reviewer Patricia Ann McNair says,

“Because Juventud is at its best a love story between Mercedes and Manuel, Blakeslee has to navigate the language of romance and sex as well as that of history and politics. When these things work together, the writing is at its most interesting: “We made love on the couch, where countless volunteers had bickered over ideas and spilled Cokes and cried for their captive relatives; the cushions stung my knees.”

There is another love story here, too, the one between Mercedes and her father, Diego, the most complex and compelling character in these pages. Diego’s love for his daughter both protects and damages her, despite his best intentions. This is the relationship that most matters in Mercedes’ story, the one that drives the novel forward. It is potentially the most rewarding, as well.”

In addition, I had a great fun inventing a Juventud-themed menu at Real Pants for their “Table of Contents” series.

Hard to believe, now that I’m back behind the register at Bookmark It in Orlando, that just a couple of weeks ago I was running from one Northern city in the height of autumnal bloom to another. If you haven’t made it yet to a launch event, you may get a glimpse here of my Sunday Salon NYC reading on Oct. 18th in the East Village (Jimmy’s 43). We sold out once again that night, a wonderful precedent that I very much hope will continue!

Happy pub date to JUVENTUD, and high praise from Publisher’s Weekly!

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Publisher’s Weekly loves Juventud! Here’s what they have to say: “What begins as running away from tragedy and betrayal turns into seeking out the reconciliation of one’s past. This tale of self-discovery and intense first love is spiced with bursts of action and curious twists. It will engage readers who have a soft spot for entertaining storytelling and a familiarity with Colombian social history.”

After a month on the road of speaking to audiences and signing copies, today’s *official* pub date feels somewhat surreal. For a taste of what it’s like to be “in conversation with” the novel, check out this wonderful interview from earlier this month with my longtime friend, fiction writer Robin Rozanski, who teaches at The Loft, for their blog: The Loft Interview with Vanessa Blakeslee. Robin and I have been fast friends since I first walked into Pat Rushin’s contemporary fiction class back in August 2002, and enjoyed a wonderful sojourn in the Czech Republic back in 2005 as participants in the Prague Summer Program.

Tonight, if you’re in the Orlando area, I’ll be presenting Juventud and talking about the novel drafting process as a guest of the UCF MFA program’s GWA series. The campus bookstore will have copies for sale/signing. The event is free and open to the public.

Fireside Chat with Borges in this week’s episode of The Drunken Odyssey podcast

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This week I’m packing up my fall wardrobe as I get ready to head north for the Burlington Book Festival and the official kick-off of the Juventud book tour (remember, you can still donate at Vanessa’s National Book Tour and help offset expenses – thank you!) What makes great listening while packing? Why, none other than The Drunken Odyssey podcast about the literary life. In this week’s episode, host John King and I discuss This Craft of Verse, the wonderful collection of lectures by Jorge Luis Borges. You may tune-in to our rather meta fireside chat-about-a-fireside-chat here: Vanessa Blakeslee discusses This Craft of Verse by Borges. Enjoy!

Pre-pub buzz for JUVENTUD at Library Journal, New City Lit, and Seven Days!

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As the days cool off slightly in central Florida and I prepare to leave on book tour, it’s been heartening to catch some early praise for Juventud. I’ve been so consumed with final edits and arranging author events that I missed a very nice mention of the novel at Library Journal‘s “Books that Buzzed at BookExpo America,” from earlier this summer (you can find the following links on my official website: News and Reviews for JUVENTUD). The novel also received praise from critic Margot Harrison at the Vermont independent paper, Seven Days, from author Christine Sneed in her Fall Preview 2015 roundup for New City Lit, and Train Shots fan and book reviewer, Sarah Morgan, at the Internet Review of Books. Check it out!

Money…and A Room of One’s Own, my latest craft discussion with John King over at The Drunken Odyssey

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What kind of writer would you be if you had an income of $75,000 a year — the equivalent in today’s dollars of Woolf’s infamous “500 pounds”? How is Woolf’s collection of essays more relevant than ever to literary writers — male and female — today? Tune in to the latest episode for our lively, impassioned discussion: A Discussion of A Room of One’s Own with John King and Vanessa Blakeslee.

“The Triumph of Third Place” in Summer 2015 Issue of Kenyon Review Online

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Two subjects I know well, restaurants and short fiction, share the spotlight in my latest review of Egg Heaven, the debut collection by Robin Parks, over at the KR Online Summer Issue: “The restaurant provides respite for characters in conflict without taking center stage, its presence sound but inconspicuous. Yet whether her locales occupy the foreground or backdrop, the essential overriding effect that Parks curates is that of the constructed modern family. In these stories, the family one is born into can hardly be relied upon; rather, the individual, metaphysically if not literally orphaned, leans upon those he or she encounters within public spaces.”

In our latest podcast-odyssey, John King and I explore “On the Sublime” by Longinus

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What would our joint-study of ancient “writers on writing” be without a thorough examination of this work? On the Sublime may not be touted in writing classrooms as often as Aristotle’s Poetics, but the treatise still offers salient wisdom on what makes great literature resonate. In this latest episode of our up-close series on craft texts, John King and I discuss the relevance of On the Sublime to working writers today, in the context of contemporary works by Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, Toni Morrison, Rick Moody, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. Although Longinus’s prose is often dry, legalistic, and meandering (and my contribution peppered with a few sleep-deprived gaffes, which hopefully adds to the entertainment value) our examination ultimately proved meaningful and lively. You may listen to the full episode here:

http://thedrunkenodyssey.com/2015/05/30/episode-155-a-craft-discussion-about-longinuss-on-the-sublime-with-vanessa-blakeslee/

Roundtable Discussion of MFA vs. NYC with John King, Vanessa Blakeslee, Boris Fishman, and David James Poissant

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AWP 2015 Minneapolis is just a few days away, and appropriately enough, the latest episode of The Drunken Odyssey podcast follows suit, with a lively, at times heated, Roundtable Discussion of the much-buzzed essay collection MFA vs. NYC. My partner-in-crime a.k.a. host John King and I are joined by Boris Fishman, author of the fine novel, A Replacement Life, and David James Poissant, author of the delightful debut story collection, The Heaven of Animals, both of which debuted in 2014.

You can listen to the episode here:

http://thedrunkenodyssey.com/2015/04/04/episode-146-a-roundtable-discussion-of-mfa-vs-nyc/

Review of The Understory by Pamela Erens at Kenyon Review Online

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“Erens’ eye for detail isn’t confined to her principal characters. One of the most notable aspects of her fiction is the way she takes ‘sensory snapshots’ of her world and its inhabitants—honing in on details that may appear tertiary at the time, but which effectively build so that the novel feels like a living, breathing mural. ‘After Canal Street Chinatown dissolves into the municipal district, with its ugly horizontal architecture, its clouds of dirty pigeons, its stream of distressed visitors,’ Jack observes. ‘Lawyers leap out of taxis, thousands of lawyers on their way to family court, divorce courts, housing court, criminal court.’ The result is a ruthlessly poignant depiction of a New York City steadily ceding to gentrification, vividly relayed as Jack conducts his obsessive, routine walks through parks and bookstores…”

To read my entire review, click here:

http://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2015-winter/selections/the-understory-by-patricia-erens-738439/

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