The Sewanee Conglomerate

Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, The Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Shane McCrae’s fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, examines a demographic fact foundational to our nation’s identity: that the ancestors of one in nine US citizens were brought to this country as slaves, and today those citizens are still subject to the inheritance of bondage. McCrae first approaches this fact, via metaphor, in “In the Language,” the final poem of the book’s first section, whose speaker we find caged up in a zoo. The zookeeper, a “fat white man,” guides the curious to the speaker’s cage with clockwork regularity. These zoogoers are us, the American reader, for whom the lives of African Americans are so often reduced to spectacle. The speaker’s voice is his only means of expression, but that voice, fed through English, a language forced upon him by historical...
Monday, April 30, 2018
For the past year, whenever I return home to San Antonio, I’ve been having lunch with my grandmother and her friend, an elderly woman named Marian. Both suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Because I didn’t know Marian before she lost her memory, you could say my relationship to her is like that of a reader to a character: I’ve stepped into her life in medias res, unbeknownst to her and without prior knowledge of her history except what I’m told by others.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
The Sewanee Review has received word that longtime contributor Earl H. Rovit passed away on April 16 at the age of 90. Rovit was a contributor of essays and criticism to the Sewanee Review for over forty years. A leading literary scholar of the writing of Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow and William Faulkner, Rovit was one of the first in the early 1960’s to discern and explore what became known as the Jewish American literary tradition, including writers such as Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth.
Friday, April 20, 2018
Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead opens with “summer, somewhere,” a long and remarkable, protest elegy, where the twin preoccupations of lyric poetry, eros and tragedy, buckle under the fact of racial violence in the United States. Smith evokes a series of stolen summers, a chronicle of black youth in which childhood ends far too soon. Its “boys brown/ as rye” live, play, and, too often, die at the hands of law enforcement, disease, or from suicide. This poem is both a prayer for the lost, a kaddish, and a spell, a desperate effort to bring the boys back home.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
A rusted-out Alfa Romeo, stranded in a grove of cherry trees; a one-armed, amnesiac veteran, estranged from his aristocratic family while living in their home; unshakable visions of an unnamed woman, her face hidden as though from the glow of a crescent moon emblazoned on her forehead—these images would be memorable even in a conventional novel. But place them in post-revolutionary Tehran, then filter them through a psyche that has literally split itself in two, and you get the first chapter of Shahriar Mandanipour’s Moon Brow, the most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year.
Wednesday, April 04, 2018
About ten years ago, Richard Powers began to try his hand at short stories. His novels, starting with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), had brought home honors of all sorts, including the 2007 National Book Award for The Echo Maker. Praise-singers, among them Margaret Atwood and Colson Whitehead, hailed his ability to wring drama out of hard science.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
In a moment when alternative music is dominated by bedroom auteurs, here is an honest-to-god rock band—one with accomplished musicians who know exactly how to complement each other, and a frontwoman whose words and voice can break your heart.
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
In the summer of 1937, Clark Mills McBurney and Tennessee Williams (born Thomas Lanier Williams) set up a “literary factory” in the basement of the McBurney family home. Huddled in the corner by the coal furnace and the washing machine, the factory consisted of two tables, two hard chairs, two typewriters, a bookcase, and a beat-up sofa.
Friday, December 22, 2017
Frank Bidart’s collected poems, Half-light, are this year’s selection for the National Book Award for Poetry. This honor is long-deferred; at seventy-eight Bidart has previously been a finalist for the Award once and the Pulitzer three times. Bidart’s selection, though well deserved, seems untimely. Given his age, his career output is greater than all of the other finalists combined. This makes for an uneven playing field. Fortunately, there’s much to discuss in the four other books on the shortlist. Here I’ll consider two.
Thursday, November 09, 2017
My grandmother wore long Mexican dresses every day, had nine children in thirteen years, and could smoke cigarettes with her toes. I love telling people about her, though less so the end of the story: she died of lung cancer. Does the fact of her death make her party trick morbid? Probably, but it still makes me smile, and, for reasons I cannot fully explain, it makes her more real to me. If she sounded like a character in a story at first, she might now sound like something more. In fiction as in life, there’s something to be said for embracing the shock value of the terribly funny cracks in our lives. Few writers dig into the decrepit, comical folds of human experience quite like Lucia Berlin, whose most influential story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was published in 2015.
Monday, October 30, 2017
In the wake of Charlottesville, I felt like my uncle’s role in The Civil War was something I shouldn’t mention, as if advertising my indirect connection to Lee potentially allied me with ignorant, hateful, and dangerous people. But reluctance to discuss our complicated past contributes in its own way to the hate that leads people to violence, doesn’t it? That reluctance is precisely what Ken Burns’ films strive to overcome.
Monday, October 30, 2017
It’d be easy for a poet to be pigeonholed by subject matter as readily sensationalized as this, but Brewer avoids melodrama in these earnest, confessional poems. The best ones aren’t about drugs so much as they use the processes of abuse as figures for the frequent failures and small triumphs of being human.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Wilbur won every major award available to an American poet: the Ruth Lilly prize, a term as Poet Laureate, two Pulitzers, and Sewanee’s own Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, among many others. Wilbur’s insistence on form buttressed his confidence in the musical capability of language, producing a body of work that is deeply thought, deeply felt, and infinitely accessible. These qualities, coupled with his impact on the American stage as a lyricist and translator, made him the most significant public poet in the United States since Robert Frost.
Monday, October 02, 2017
Linear in its unfolding and hewing to a strict realism, Manhattan Beach begins in the middle of the Depression and ends near the close of World War II. Egan has also narrowed her focus, homing in on three protagonists: Anna Kerrigan, a Brooklyn naval yard’s first female diver; Eddie, her mysteriously absent father; and Dexter Styles, a mob boss that Eddie used to work for. The result is a more introspective, and perhaps more revealing novel than any Egan has previously written.
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Fall 2017 issue of the Sewanee Review, due out in October, is the magazine's five-hundredth, and marks the close of its 125th volume. The Review has had the privilege of publishing countless great writers since it was founded by William Peterfield Trent in 1892, but, as former editor George Core remarked, “Longevity alone does not guarantee a virtue.” With that in mind, in 2017 the Review underwent significant changes.
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