Meet the new Critics-at-Large for our books pages. These 10 writers have beautiful voices, brilliant minds, critical insights and strong opinions. We are delighted that they will share them with us.
We see books as being more than something that sits on a shelf (although they are that, enduringly). Books are the keystone in how we define and understand our contemporary moment, our world.
With these 10 writers, we will investigate our culture through the conversations that books anchor, in deep dives and in real time. We will explore the mysteries of reading and writing; consider the achievements, acknowledged and under-acknowledged, of the writers who have come before; question the roles of race, heritage, class and gender in what we read; take on the vagaries of the publishing industry, and more.
These writers have won dozens of prizes, from a lifetime achievement award to a prize for an unpublished first book. They hail from four different nations and have lived all over the world. Many have deep connections to Southern California, and their writing will help us to understand how Los Angeles fits into the literary landscape and the larger world.
Please welcome our Critics-at-Large.
James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” a fictionalized account of the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley. He received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for his prior novel, “The Book of Night Women,” a story of 19th century Jamaican slaves. Born in Jamaica in 1970, James now teaches at Macalester College and lives in Minneapolis.
Lalami’s 2014 novel “The Moor’s Account” won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was on the Man Booker Prize longlist. She is a columnist for “The Nation” and has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and a Lannan Foundation Residency fellowship. Born in Morocco, Lalami has a PhD in linguistics from USC and teaches at UC Riverside.
Straight is a recipient of the L.A. Times Book Prize’s Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement. Born and raised in Riverside, Straight has made the region the subject of her fiction and nonfiction, and is a teacher in UC Riverside’s creative writing program. Her 2001 novel “Highwire Moon” was a finalist for the National Book Award; her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and Lannan Literary Prize.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen is the author of the 2015 novel “The Sympathizer,” winner of the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. A writer and academic, Vietnamese-born Nguyen is also the author of the 2016 critical work, “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,” and 2002’s “Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America.” Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC.
Kipen is the former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Kipen opened the Boyle Heights bookstore and lending library Libros Schmibros in 2010. The former book editor/critic of the San Francisco Chronicle and contributor to multiple volumes of California cultural history, Kipen holds a degree in literature from Yale University. He teaches in the UCLA writing program.
Chee is author of the 2016 novel “The Queen of the Night,” which spent three weeks on the L.A. Times bestseller list, and the novel “Edinburgh.” Chee was a winner of the Whiting Award in 2003 and has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He has taught writing at Wesleyan University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Columbia University, and currently lives in New York City, where he curates the Dear Reader series at Ace Hotel New York.
Scalzi, author of the bestselling “Old Man’s War” series, is the former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His novel “Redshirts” won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. In addition to publishing more than a dozen books, Scalzi served as creative consultant on the television series “Stargate: Universe” and was writer for the video game Midnight Star. Raised in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, Scalzi now lives in Ohio.
Gonzalez’s four collections of poetry include “Unpeopled Eden,” which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He has penned 10 works of prose, including novels, memoir, and bilingual childrens books. He has been awarded Guggenheim and NEA fellowships. Born in Bakersfield and raised by farmworkers who migrated between Mexico and the US, he now lives in New York and is a professor of English at Rutgers-Newark.
Carroll is the author of five books, including “Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls” and “Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America.” The former editor of the Huffington Post’s Black Voices and managing editor of Paper Magazine, she is now a producer at WNYC Radio, producing a series of in-depth projects about race in New York City.
Adriana E. Ramírez
Ramírez was the recipient, in 2015, of the first PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize for the manuscript of “Dead Boys,” a nonfiction work-in-progress that examines how geopolitics manifests in the lives and deaths of young men from the three countries Ramírez calls her own: Mexico, Colombia, and the United States. Once an internationally-ranked slam poet, Ramirez has an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh, where she now teaches in its English department.