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Book News: Remembering Nelson Mandela, The Author

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Nelson Mandela, pictured at a concert at London's Hyde Park in 2008. Mandela died Thursday in South Africa. He was 95.
Gareth Davies / Getty Images
Getty Images
Nelson Mandela, pictured at a concert at London's Hyde Park in 2008. Mandela died Thursday in South Africa. He was 95.

  • Nelson Mandela, political leader and international icon of liberation, was also a wordsmith, an orator and writer whose eloquence was one of his most valuable tools in the fight for freedom in South Africa. In his elegant autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he wrote,"I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise." A second book, Conversations with Myself,is a quieter, more intimate look at the leader through his journals, letters and speeches. It delves into his personal life, tastes and daily routines. In a conversation with the journalist Richard Stengel, Mandela said, "I was being groomed for the position of chieftaincy ... but then ran away, you know, from a forced marriage. ... That changed my whole career. But if I had stayed at home I would have been a respected chief today, you know? And I would have had a big stomach, you know, and a lot of cattle and sheep."
  • Ursula K. Le Guin reacts to being called a "sci-fi writer": "I'm not. I'm a novelist and poet. Don't shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don't fit, because I'm all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions."
  • Richard Brody considers Hannah Arendt's most controversial work: "There's a word for what's missing in Eichmann in Jerusalem: emotion."
  • The American Reader features new poems by John Ashbery. The third poem, "Listening Tour," ends:
  • And in another era the revolutions
    were put down by the farmers,
    working together with the peasants
    and the enlightened classes. All
    benefited in some way. That was
    all I had to hear.

  • In The Paris Review, Susannah Jacob tells the story of Rose Williams, Tennessee Williams' schizophrenic sister and the inspiration for The Glass Menagerie's Laura Wingfield: "In 1943, Rose's fitful, hysterical fantasies grew worse. In one of the first surgeries of its kind, doctors performed a frontal lobotomy. 'I'm trying not to die, making every effort possible not to do so,' Rose wrote to Williams from the hospital bed after her lobotomy. 'If I die you will know that I miss you twenty-four hours a day.' She added, 'I want some black coffee, ice-cream on a chocolate bar, a good picture of you, Your devoted sister, Xxx Rose. P.S. Send me one 1 dollar for ice cream.' "
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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