What We Read and Loved in 2018

Not surprisingly, we’re a staff of book lovers and voracious readers. We asked around our office for the best book our staff and interns read this year. While this list doesn’t always include books published in 2018, we hope you’ll find something new to pick up, or to re-read, as we dive headfirst into the new year.

 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

This was a year of reading nonfiction and re-reading beloved novels. However, Leila Slimani’s brilliant, fast-paced The Perfect Nanny is a standout of tight narrative writing, controlled point-of-view shifts, and an emotional undercurrent that veers from horrified to empathetic and back again. The novel, which won France’s Prix Goncourt, is set in contemporary Paris, where the dynamics of class, feminism, and immigration come together around the character of Louise, a thin, doll-like nanny notable for her racial identity (she’s a white, French citizen) and her uncanny devotion to the family for whom she works. Louise’s maniacal perfection in all things domestic and childrearing comes under increasing strain as her financial desperation and decades of subservience to many masters—her late husband, landlord, and the creditors among them—escalate to a devastating climax. Slimani successfully weaves together expectations of womanhood and motherhood with dynamics of class, all set against whispers of terrorism, immigration, and a changing society in this forceful novel that I consumed in one sitting. – Lacey N. Dunham, Writers in Schools  

 

My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki

Ozeki’s novel is the captivating tale of Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American trying to make it in the TV industry as a producer of a new show, My American Wife!. The catch? The show she is directing is centered around “perfect” American families and the meat industry. As Jane maneuvers her way around her misogynist bosses, she is constantly finding herself making difficult decisions involving the meat industry and the not-so-perfect families. Jane’s commitment to transforming the show makes an impact on someone she would never have suspected, ultimately leaving her to decide between her career and her heart.

The voice of the protagonist is witty, sarcastic, yet lovable. Readers will be completely invested in what is going to happen not only to Jane, but to all of the people that she inspires along the way. It’s the first book I’ve read that manages to combine both American and Japanese voices and to expose the meat industry, combined with a deeper narrative about love, betrayal, brutality, and inspiration. – Caroline Evashavik, Media and Development

 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

As a creative writing student, I read a lot of books over the course of the school year. While many of these book are written by revered authors, it’s contemporary writer Carmen Maria Machado who wrote the best book I read in 2018, Her Body and Other Parties. This collection of short stories tells of the woes, hardships, and celebrations that women (and their bodies) face in their daily lives.

What makes Her Body and Other Parties different from any other short story collection? First, they aren’t set in one genre. Machado flawlessly flips from fantasy to sci-fi to comedy to horror. You truly don’t know what you’ll get with each turn of the page, which makes you want to read on if only to find out what else is in store. These stories aren’t of the typical “women’s” genre of fiction. That’s to say: they aren’t stuck in the heteronormative cycle so many women’s stories seem to be in. There’s a raw sexual quality to how Machado writes about womenno demure sugarcoating here. It’s a book that I believe all lovers of fictionor writing in generalshould read for craft’s sake, and one that everyone should read for their own good. –  Elizabeth Phan, Literary Events

                                                                                      

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Originally published in 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of the greatest novels ever written. A bit dramatic of claim, but I can’t say this of any other novel that I’ve read. Written in Czech and translated into English, the novel moves between characters and geographical locations with ease, highlighting the intricacies of human relationships. Centered on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Kundera portrays the impact of war within Czech society.

Kundera’s prose skillfully incorporates dialogue and character interactions with philosophical reflections. He begins with a discussion of Nietzsche’s idea of “eternal return,” which prepares the reader for the later events of the novel. He details the opposing sides of the argument: whether everything we experience happens an infinite number of times, or, if our lives happen only once, our experiences are deemed insignificant, carrying no weight. The narrator ponders which perspective is better, raising the question of lightness or weight. As you might have guessed from the title, each of the characters reach a decision on this argument by the time the story concludes.

While some writers might become bogged down by such a heavy topic, Kundera’s eloquent prose makes for an easy read. Give The Unbearable Lightness of Being a try on your next lazy Sunday, and it might just become one of your all-time favorite novels too. – Mary Berset, Literary Events

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a typical romantic comedy. It’s a captivating love story that also provides an intriguing insight into the world of “crazy rich” Asians.  Nicholas Young was born into a world of wealth, secrecy, and deep familial values; Rachel Chu is the daughter of a single mother who immigrated from China years ago. The two fall in love, but when Rachel is thrown into the world of rampant gossip and guarded secretsall with the trappings of truly opulent wealthshe begins to feel brutally rejected by Nick’s friends and family. Kevin Kwan uses more sarcasm and wit than expected from a traditional romantic comedy to portray both what it’s like to fall in love with someone from a different class and the personal lives of the super rich.  –Yevette Smith, Writers in Schools

 

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I started reading this book after I binge-watched the TV series and learned that there’s a lot more to story than is shown in the HBO series. After putting it off for close to a year, I picked up the books back in June and have been hooked ever since. For the first time since reading the Harry Potter series I fell into the excitement of a new mythical world. Reading the books has developed my understanding of each character on a deeper level, and I appreciate even my least favorite characters a little bit more. Martin provides captivating details that are easy to look past in the show. I found myself unable to put it down! – Laura Sincage, Writers in Schools

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

After reading Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, I was interested to explore his other works. A thought-provoking dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go appeals to a broad range of age groups. I have always been interested in dystopian fiction, but this novel explored the dystopian in a new way. The novel’s melancholy tone builds the slow reveal of this dystopian universe in a way that feels eerie. The absurdity of this universe is buffered by its supposed focus on humanity, innocence, and mortality, and allows the story to transcend the boundaries of genre to create a timeless coming-of-age novel with a moral imperative.

Given our current state of social and political chaos, this not-so-distant world offers readers a mental exercise in perspective and a reminder of the most basic principles of humanity. Never Let Me Go’s foundation in the dignity of life makes it relatable and a necessary read, and adolescent love and passion is considered seriously as a basis of human connection. – Emily Herman, Development and Media

 

Happy Holiday Reading! 

 

20 Book-ish Halloween Costume Ideas

1. Handmaids from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Forced to live as obedient servants in a dystopian world of totalitarian theocratic rule, the handmaids fight back to regain female agency. The government mandates that each handmaid wear a long red dress, hooded cape, and a white bonnet. This uniform becomes a symbol for the resistance in the novel–and in present society as well–and would make a simple, fun Halloween costume! Dust off your favorite old white bonnet and red cape (or just red winter coat if you’re short on time) and you’re officially a handmaid. – Mary Berset, Literary Events Intern

 

2. Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Known for her daunting presence and wild demeanor, Bertha Mason acts as the “ghost” who haunts the titular character of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. She’s the forgotten wife of Mr. Rochester who, in attempts to conceal her madness, locks her away in the attic of his estate – thus creating her nickname “The Madwoman in the Attic.” This costume won’t require much, just a couple of items and willingness to DIY. Throw on an old, raggedy white nightgown, dark makeup, and tease your hair into a rat’s nest and you’re all set. -Elizabeth Phan, Literary Events Intern

3. Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

For the most over-the-top Halloween costume enthusiasts, the full Effie Trinket look is perfect. The posh escort of District 12, Effie over-enthusiastically leads Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark to the capital for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Effie’s grandiose personality is mirrored by her appearance as she flaunts towering wigs and cartoonish makeup. To get her look, pile on the costume jewelry, powdery makeup, a huge hairpiece, and the most comically extravagant dress you can find. May the odds be ever in your favor! -Emily Herman, Literary Events Intern

4. Anne Boleyn from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Accused of witchcraft and high treason and the most infamous of Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn lost her head in 1536, but her aura and mystique lives on in Mantel’s first book of a trilogy narrated by Thomas Cromwell, who plays a prominent role in her downfall. This costume is all in the accessories: part your hair down the middle, glue gold studs onto a black headband, wrap strings of pearls around your neck, and add a gold-plated letter “B” for that authentic Boleyn touch. With a long black gown and a dusting of white powder (baby powder works well), you’ve transformed into the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I. – Lacey N. Dunham, Writers in Schools Director

5. Nancy Drew from the Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene

Teenage sleuth Nancy Drew stars in a series of novels created by publisher Edward Stretemeyer and ghost-written by numerous authors. Often described as “Supergirl,” Nancy Drew has become a cultural icon through her work as a detective. Always impeccably dressed, a Nancy Drew halloween costume should entail a collared blouse, sweater, pencil skirt, tights, and flats. Add a headband and carry a flashlight or magnifying glass, and you’re ready to solve any mystery that may come your way this Halloween. – Mary Berset, Literary Events Intern

6. Joe Hardy from the Hardy Boys Series by Franklin W. Dixon

As a precursor and partner to Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys Series was created by publisher Edward Stretemeyer and written by ghostwriters under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. Joe Hardy, alongside his brother Frank, solve mysteries together, and put a stop to crimes such as murder, drug peddling, race horse kidnapping, diamond smuggling, and much more. Dress up as Joe Hardy with a collared button-down, red sweater, khaki pants, and a magnifying glass or flashlight! This costume also works for couples, as the iconic Joe Hardy and Nancy Drew team. – Mary Berset, Literary Events Intern

7. Madeline from Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

A series of stories surrounding the exciting adventures of a seven-year-old girl in a Parisian boarding school, Madeline’s sweet yet sneaky attitude has charmed readers since it was published in 1956. From scheming ways save her school from closing to finding her way around Miss Clavel’s strict rules, Madeline is a a simple yet recognizable literary costume. All you need is a camel colored straw hat with a black bow around the brim, a blue dress with a long red neck tie, white stockings, and black ballet flats. – Caroline Evashavik, Writers in Schools Intern

8. Klaus Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

As the middle child and only boy, Klaus is described as the intelligent sibling. He’s an avid reader and loves to research everything and anything during his free time. He is known for standing by his older sister’s side and using big words and phrases that no one but him understands. Just one of the three beloved characters in Lemony Snicket’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Klaus’s school uniform is easy to replicate. All you need is grey slacks, a black vest and dress shoes, white button up, red tie with white stripes, and a maroon dress jacket. To make the costume more authentic, you can print out his schools emblem and pin it on the left side of the dress jacket. –Laura Sincage, Writers in Schools Intern. 

9. Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

As the eldest in the family, Violet is an intelligent and charming character with an endless streak of bad luck. She is the inventor in the family, and throughout the series her inventions have helped save her and her siblings. As the leader of the Baudelaire clan, her school uniform is perfect for a last minute costume. You’ll need a mid-length grey skirt, grey V-neck sweater, black tights and flats, white button up, maroon dress jacket, and a red tie with white stripes. To complete the full look, add the school emblem to the maroon dress jacket and tie your hair back with a bow. -Laura Sincage, Writers in Schools Intern.

10. Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

After a mysterious fire kills Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire, Count Olaf becomes the cunning adoptive father of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in order to obtain their fortune. Although Count Olaf has plenty of aliases, his most identifiable look consists of black pinstriped pants, a matching blazer with long tails, and a silver necktie. Wear a wig or tease your own hair to match his frizzy, nearly vertical hairstyle. Bonus points for a fuzzy gray unibrow. -Emily Herman, Literary Events Intern

11. Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Being accused of adultery back in the 1800s was no laughing matter; Hester Prynne was forced to sew a giant scarlet “A” onto all of her clothes as punishment for having a child out of wedlock. Even after enduring endless harassment and humiliation, she was never permitted to remove the “A.” and when she died even her grave bore this marking. As if it isn’t obvious, this costume is all about the “A.” All you need is a long black dress, a white apron on top, and a blood-red “A” sewn right down the middle. –Caroline Evashavik, Writers in Schools Intern

12. Amelia Bedelia from Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

Amelia is a housekeeper who takes directions from her employers too literally in this silly series. She means well but somehow she can never seem to get anything right. Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia has been a favorite for young children since 1963. Bring her to life by creating your own Amelia Bedelia with the use of a black dress, white apron, black hat with flowers on it, black stockings, and black shoes. – Yevette Smith, Writers in Schools Intern

13. Characters from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

For those looking for a group costume, look no further than Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel. Alice finds herself encountering characters of the unique variety. There’s the Queen of Hearts, whose costume requires a red and black dress, a crown, and a heart emblem. She also meets the Mad Hatter, who wears purple pants, a colorful blazer, a big bow tie, and a giant hat. And who could forget the Cheshire Cat, with his big, toothy grin. He’s shown in the 1951 Disney adaptation as pink and purple, and all you’d need to add is a pair of cat ears. -Elizabeth Phan, Literary Events Intern

14. Amma Crellin from Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (SPOILER ALERT)

Filled with dysfunctional families, secrets from the past, repressed memories, and a rising death toll of little girls, the HBO adaptation of this novel inspires eerie, yet subtle Halloween costumes. Amma Crellin is the ringleader of the “cool girls” (who are unphased by their classmates’ killings). A “good girl” in the daytime, Amma changes into someone else as night falls. Become daytime Amma by adorning your perfectly brushed hair with ribbons and slip into a floral-print knee-length dress with lace-lined socks and flats. Put on a devilish grin and carry a doll. For nighttime Amma, switch into a pair of roller skates, pink crop top, jean shorts, and be sure to carry pliers and a reckless attitude. Can’t decide? Be two-faced Amma: Roller skate on one foot, ballet flat on the other. Ribbons on one side, none on the other. Brush up on your sewing skills and sew up half of a dress atop a shirt and jean shorts. – Tessa Houstoun, Writers in Schools Senior Associate

 

15. Pippi Longstocking from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi is more than the strongest girl in the world: she is adventurous, fun, and extremely caring. With no parents to tell her what to do, this red haired, freckled face, nine-year-old girl with upside down braids goes on many adventures. This costume is all about having fun with the clothing: a denim jumper, knee high socks, and either a turtleneck or a red-and-white striped top. Finish it off with side braids. Add in an adventurous spirit, and you’ve transformed into Pippi Longstocking. – Yevette Smith, Writers in Schools intern

16. Eloise from Eloise by Kay Thompson, Illustrated by Hilary Knight

Living on the “tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Eloise is a force to be reckoned with for everyone she meets. An energetic character with crazy antics, you can’t help but fall in love with her. This costume is an easy ensemble with a simple short black flowy skirt, black flats, suspenders, a short sleeve white button up, and high socks, with a pink bow tied in unruly hair. –Laura Sincage, Writer in Schools Intern

17. Coraline from Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s young protagonist Coraline works relentlessly to rid herself of boredom and the mundaneness of her daily life. In doing so, she encounters strange characters far beyond her imagination which lead her into some tricky situations. In 2009, the book was adapted into a widely beloved animated movie that shows Coraline in all her colorful glory. For this costume, you’ll need a yellow rain jacket, yellow rain boots, blue jeans, and a blue wig. You’ll be easily recognizable and ready for adventure on Halloween night! -Elizabeth Phan, Literary Events Intern

18. Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

As the brattiest winner of the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, Veruca Salt demanda her father give her anything she wants inside the secret candy fantasy world. Veruca’s entitlement gets her deep into trouble when she tries to steal a squirrel from the nut room and ends up being ambushed by all hundred squirrels. This Halloween, borrow Veruca’s sassy attitude and throw a red dress over a white collared shirt to get her iconic look. To accessorize, add on white stockings, a black belt, and shiny black flats. -Emily Herman, Literary Events Intern

19. Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda, a five-year-old girl and avid reader who enjoys playing pranks on family and friends, is often mistreated by her parents, older brother, and the evil Miss Trunchbull, but she finds a friend in her teacher Ms. Honey. In an attempt to get revenge, Matilda uses her powers of telekinesis to drive Miss Trunchbull away and give Ms. Honey what she deserves. Matilda’s parents decide to pack up and leave and Matilda ends up living with Ms. Honey. Wear a white t-shirt with a blue dress (bonus if the dress has flowers!), tall socks, red shoes, and a blue headband.  – Nina Arroyo Santiago, Nuestra Voz Program Associate

 

20. Count Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker

Thanks to Irishman Bram Stoker, the lasting stereotype of the vampire was born: pale with pointy ears and canine teeth, blood-red lips, bushy eyebrows, and the classic widow’s peaks on a head of black hair. For this costume all you need is white face paint, red lipstick, and a black eyebrow pencil. Stoker’s undead character wore all black, so find your inner-goth for a perfect and easy costume. But why wear it just once? Head to Dublin for the annual Bram Stoker festival. – Lacey N. Dunham, Writers in Schools Director

Happy Halloween from the PEN/Faulkner Staff!

Winter and Spring 2019 Internship Postings

Love literature, the arts, and education? Want to learn how a nonprofit operates from the ground up? If you answered yes, The PEN/Faulkner Internship program is perfect for you. We are currently looking to fill four positions for Winter and Spring 2019.

  • Writers in Schools Spring Internship
  • Literary Events Spring Internship

Writers in Schools Internship (Multiple positions available)

The Writers in Schools Internship will focus on our Writers in Schools literary arts K-12 school outreach program, which brings contemporary literature into DC public and public charter schools. We provide free books for students and coordinate class visits with the authors, fostering conversation about their works and their careers as writers.

Tasks include:

  • Helping coordinate author visits and attending visits, where needed, as an author ambassador.
  • Support with information management of book lists, author database, website organization, volunteer database, and DC public and charter school demographics and needs.
  • Assist and support evaluation of WinS programming.
  • Assist with and develop reading packets and materials as well as support material development.
  • Update WinS materials in print and on the web, including writing and editing copy, selecting images, and marketing the program.
  • Work closely with the Writers in Schools Program Director to analyze program data and draw meaningful conclusions on the strength and vitality of the program.

Literary Events Internship (Multiple positions available)

The Literary Events Internship will focus on marketing, program development, and research, centered around our public literary events and projects. These include our “Literary Conversations” author series, the annual PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony, the annual PEN/Faulkner Gala, and many more exciting events featuring today’s most popular and talented authors!

Tasks include:

  • Research on contemporary authors for upcoming literary events
  • Assisting with the logistics of upcoming author visits, such as scheduling, travel bookings, and accommodations
  • Crafting book synopses and author bios for upcoming programs
  • Attending our literary events and assisting with audience management
  • Generating content  for multiple social media platforms
  • Organization and categorization of PEN/Faulkner archival materials
  • General copywriting and administrative tasks                         

REQUIREMENTS (ALL POSITIONS)

Hours: Minimum 10 hours/week. Candidates must be able to work shifts of at least 4-hours.

  • Compensation: Unpaid
  • Who can apply: Undergrad students, graduate students, and recent graduates.
  • Deadline to apply: January 18. Interviews and hirings are done on a rolling basis, and positions may fill prior to this date.
  • Start date: Mandatory orientation on Saturday, January 26
  • End date: Week of April 29

TO APPLY

Send an email (noting the position you are applying for in the subject line) with a current resume and cover letter to applications@penfaulkner.org. In your cover letter, please explain what you will bring to the position, as well as what you hope to gain from the experience.

Our office is located in the WeWork Wonder Bread building 1 block from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

COMPENSATION

This is an unpaid internship. Academic credit can be provided. Travel within the work day for internship duties are paid for by PEN/Faulkner. Upon completion of the internship, PEN/Faulkner will provide a travel stipend for interns.

If your school has a Winter Term or January Term, please apply accordingly to applications@penfaulkner.org 

No phone calls, please.