Summer Reading with Contributing Editor Derrick Austin

Summer’s not over yet–there’s still time for summer reading! We asked a few of our contributing editors what they’ve been reading this summer, and  here’s what we heard from Derrick Austin, whose first book of poems, Trouble the Water, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2016.

I must confess, I feel as if I haven’t read very much this summer. Plenty of writers have been through this, the first post-MFA reorientation summer where one tries to discover what’s best for themselves and their work—while attempting to find a roof over their head and a job to pay for said roof and the bills and a cocktail or two. Traveling defined the first half of my summer and that strange feeling of being unmoored has dominated late summer. Funnily enough, the books I devoured have are often about wanderers, people in transition, folks in those in-between spaces, simply looking for home be it in another country, another person, or in themselves.

  1. James Merrill: Life and Art by Langdon Hammerbook-merrill

To say I’d been waiting for this book for centuries would be an understatement. Merrill is a touchstone for me; his “chronicles of love and loss” as he called his poems taught me invaluable lessons about poetry. Hammer’s book is a fabulous excavation of Merrill’s life, all the more stunning for the potential biographical pitfalls. Wealthy and cosmopolitan, Merrill’s life could easily be reduced to a gossip column; and his poems, often autobiographical, could be analyzed solely in relation to the life. Hammer avoids these traps and shows us Merrill in all his ambition, kindness, folly, and sorrow. One thing I’m most thankful for in regards to this book is how Hammer opens up Merrill’s more hermetic poems. Illuminated by the life, I entered those poems anew.

  1. 51BKfYK8RHL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

I’ve barely cracked the surface of these endlessly varied and rich stories, but I’m fascinated by her work. They’re explosively intimate. She writes the inner lives of her characters—particularly the women—like no one else. There are moments when the world encroaches deeply and sharply in her character’s lives, and then the epiphany, that short story convention of absolute clarity and revelation—except in Lispector’s stories I’m not sure one could call them epiphanies. They are often so quickly swept away, like the tide, a sudden rush and then a drifting out, before their lives continue.

  1. servicesWe The Animals by Justin Torres

Four years late to the party, but better late than never—I finally got around to reading this brilliant, slim novel. It’s one of the best coming of age novels I’ve read in a long time in language both chastened and lyrical. Truly a poet’s novel.


  1. 51NhMAL9cTL._UY250_Other books I’m enjoying: Martha Serpas’s third collection of poetry The Diener is absolutely stunning. An evocative exploration of life and death through the eyes of a hospital chaplain as well as a Louisiana native watching her native wetlands dissolve the place she calls home, this book stuns me every time I read it. I’ve carried it with me all season. Robert Hayden has been on my mind a lot lately. His Collected Poems are endlessly rich. I’m always finding new gems to treasure among his masterpieces. Lastly, I’m about halfway through Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Boy, Snow, Bird. At times darkly comical and others deeply vulnerable, I’ve been charmed by the novel’s wit and truly invested in its engagement with race and class.

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