Maureen Corrigan

In the spring of 2020, the British newspaper The Guardian asked a group of prominent novelists, including Hilary Mantel, Marlon James and Kazuo Ishiguro to

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Once in a while, in the torpid weeks of late summer, a new writer appears whose voice has so much zest and authority, they pre-emptively steal some of the spotlight from the big Fall books. Skinship, a just-published short story collection by Yoon Choi, is in that magical category of debuts.

Something strange is afoot in mystery and suspense fiction. The plot of almost every thriller I've read in the past six months has had something to do with one character stealing the story of another character and passing it off as their own.

I was a Catholic schoolgirl during a strange moment in the 1960s when Catholicism infiltrated American popular culture. For a brief time, nuns, in particular, were everywhere.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Dana Spiotta's new novel, Wayward, is about a 53-year-old woman named Samantha — Sam — Raymond, who's going through menopause and becomes a little unhinged. She leaves her husband and her teenage daughter in the suburbs of Syracuse and impulsively moves into a dilapidated Arts and Crafts-style bungalow in a crumbling downtown neighborhood of that city.

The year was 1983. Alice Walker's The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award; Gloria Naylor's debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, won the National Book Award for first fiction.

At the end of his new novel, Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford describes how he was inspired by a London plaque:

[F]or the last twelve years, I've been walking to work at Goldsmiths College past a plaque commemorating the 1944 V-2 attack on the New Cross Road branch of Woolworths. Of the 168 people who died, fifteen were aged eleven or under. The novel is partly written in memory of those South London children, and their lost chance to experience the rest of the twentieth century.

It sounds like the premise for one of those classic screwball comedies of the 1930s: Thousands of out-of-work writers are hired by the United States government to collaborate on books. What could possibly go wrong?

But as Scott Borchert reveals in his new book, Republic of Detours, the amazing thing about the Federal Writers' Project was just how much went right.

Pages