jstumpEnglish-language readers might have at long last become acquainted with one of the most-lauded voices in French literature last year when Knopf published Marie NDiaye’s book Three Strong Women to very strong reviews (“NDiaye is a hypnotic storyteller with an unflinching understanding of the rock-bottom reality of most people’s lives,” said The New York Times). The fact that she was also just shortlisted for the International Booker Prize (alongside such giants as Marilynne Robinson and Lydia Davis) probably also brought her a few more well-deserved readers.

Three Strong Women is a difficult-to-classify book, which takes the form of three thematically linked long stories (or possibly novellas), shows NDiaye’s rare ability to take time-worn forms and make them her own. That capacity is further on display in All My Friends, which will be published by Two Lines Press in on May 21 of this year. Instead of three tales this volume includes five, all of which sit somewhere between novella and story, or story and parable. What remains the same are NDiaye’s labyrinthine sentences, her strange but all-too-human characters, and her plotlines that hold up to (or maybe require) multiple reads.

Charles Blackstone is the still-fairly-new Managing Editor of the now-iconic Bookslut, a pioneer of online literary culture.  I was interviewed by Bookslut in 2004, after its founder and curator, Jessa Crispin, had recently moved from Austin to Chicago.  Jessa, who has always struck me as a sexier version of a young Virginia Woolf, soon became a well-known figure in the Chicago literary scene—but Bookslut’s flavor has always been an international one.  When your book is mentioned on the Bookslut blog, you get emails from everyone from Richard Nash to random non-writer friends teaching English in Japan.  In a culture simply glutted with information, it still seems true that when Bookslut talks, people listen.

Rhonda Hughes is the powerhouse behind indie publishing sensation Hawthorne Books.  More than a decade old and located in the Pacific Northwest, I had heard of Hawthorne only vaguely until a couple of years ago, when suddenly they seemed to burst as a force to be reckoned with onto the publishing scene, with highly assertive and competent marketing, beautifully designed books, and the kind of wider distribution that seems, to many small indie presses, only a tantalizing dream.  They’ve also developed a stable of writers from whom they put out more than one title in fairly close succession, in an old-school publishing model that favors loyalty and cultivating talent/brand above constantly trying to throw All Things New against a wall to see what sticks.  Plus, they have a whiff of Chuck Palahniuk cool about them, which doesn’t hurt!  Amidst her busy schedule, Rhonda was able to talk with me about what makes Hawthorne tick—and thrive—and some future exciting projects on their list.