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Archive by tag: Claire ArmitsteadReturn
Jun 22, 2022

After 50 years, the prize has been scrapped. How did it change Britain’s literary landscape? And what happened at the awards when Margaret Drabble was seated next to Theresa May?

Margaret Drabble was a bright young star with five novels to her name in 1971, when she was talked into joining her old friend JB Priestley on the judging panel for a new book prize. “Jack told me that I should spend the fee (which came in wine) by choosing some very nice half-bottles to drink by myself, which I did,” she recalls.

Drabble argued for a biography of the playwright Henrik Ibsen, Priestley was keen on a novel by Gerda Charles, and their fellow judge, the critic Anthony Thwaite, championed a poetry collection by Geoffrey Hill. The glory of the new, brewery-sponsored awards was that all three could have prizes, so it all went swimmingly, with none of the squabbles that had already begun to bedevil the Booker, launched two years earlier. These arguments had included one over the literary quality of a certain Margaret Drabble, who (according to Booker judge Dame Rebecca West) would insist on lowering the tone by writing about the washing-up.

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May 30, 2022

As a child star, the actor suffered trauma and neglect. Now an acclaimed director, she is confronting the ghosts of her past with a frank new book

When Sarah Polley was four years old she entertained her Christian kindergarten class with a rendition of the Monty Python song Sit on My Face. “I love to hear you oralise / When you’re between my thighs … ” she chirruped, to the delight of her libertarian parents, who denied all responsibility when they were called to account by the school.

At the age of eight, egged on by her superfan dad, she auditioned for a new fantasy adventure movie by the Pythons’ Terry Gilliam. She was already the veteran of a handful of horror films she was too young to watch, but The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was something else: an absurdist riot of special effects, the filming of which often left her sobbing in her parents’ arms after being forced to run across battlefields, with explosions all around her and nothing but a couple of cotton wool balls to protect her little ears. Gilliam has always maintained that he has kept a safe set, but the experience is one of the reasons why she is so determined not to allow her own three children to become child actors, although two are already keen, and she relented during the filming of her latest movie, because casting them as extras was the only way she could get them on set under the stringent Covid regulations.

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Apr 27, 2022

Eight years after her vision of a mythical beast, the author is about to publish the first novel in the Skandar Smith trilogy. She talks about childhood and taking a chance on a dream career

Annabel Steadman was a 22-year-old trainee solicitor commuting between London and Oxford when she had a vision of a unicorn. “I wasn’t thinking about writing a book at all. It just kind of came into my head as I was walking along,” she says. “I saw this image of a unicorn, with a boy riding it. And I immediately knew that it wasn’t the fluffy kind that were starting to come into the shops at that time.”

Eight years later, she is about to launch a series of novels, the first three of which secured an eye-watering seven-figure advance believed to be the largest ever paid to a debut children’s writer. The first in the series is already being translated into 38 languages, and a film script is in development.

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Mar 21, 2022

From Art Spiegelman to Margaret Atwood, books are disappearing from the shelves of American schools. What’s behind the rise in censorship?

When the owners of a Tennessee comics shop learned that a local school board had voted to remove Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust classic Maus from its curriculum, they sprang into action with an appeal calling for donations to fund free copies for schoolchildren. Within hours, money started pouring in from all over the world. “We had donations from Israel, the UK and Canada as well as from the US,” says Richard Davis, co-owner of Nirvana Comics.

Ten days later, they closed the appeal, after raising $110,000 (£84,000) from 3,500 donors. “We bought up all the copies the publisher had in its warehouse and we’re now in the process of shipping 3,000 copies of Maus to students all over the country, along with a study guide written by a local schoolteacher,” says Davis, who has relied on volunteers to help with the distribution.

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Jan 21, 2022

The London writer on the success of his first book, Open Water, the limitations of masculinity and why his writing shouldn’t be compared to Sally Rooney’s

One day, during the first Covid lockdown, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s father offered to cut his hair. “He’s not great with his words, but that’s a very specific way of saying: ‘Can I care for you?’” explains the 28-year-old writer and photographer, who spent the pandemic back in his family home in south-east London with his parents and his younger twin siblings. It’s just such moments that illuminate his debut novel, Open Water: tender, carefully observed and reported, casting a gentle light on the limitations of masculinity.

A lot has happened since the book was published: he’s toured Germany, Austria and Switzerland; won the American accolade of a listing among the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” for exciting young writers; and this month he scooped his first big prize, the Costa first novel award, which brings with it the chance of being chosen as the overall book of the year, next month. He was standing in the street when the news came through: “I yelled with joy. It absolutely hadn’t been on my radar. I’ve been too busy trying to write the next one.”

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Jan 09, 2022

To Paradise, the new novel from the writer of A Little Life, has been widely hailed as a masterpiece. But where did she get the unflinching eye she turns on America’s idea of itself?

Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel taught her not to give up her day job as a travel writer and editor. The People in the Trees was the story of a scientist jailed for sexually abusing children he adopted during his Nobel-winning research on a Pacific island. It impressed reviewers with its exhaustive inventiveness and its refusal to offer redemption or solace, but sold only a few thousand copies when it was published in 2013.

Two years later, the Manhattan-based writer released a novel that was twice as long and even less forgiving. It was about the fallout, among four college friends, from the appalling childhood sexual abuse of one of their group, and it hit the jackpot, becoming one of those vanishingly rare literary break-outs. Victoria Beckham and Dua Lipa declared themselves fans, while an equally passionate group of readers condemned it as gratuitous, even “evil”. A Little Life sold a quarter of a million print copies in the UK alone, where it was shortlisted for the Booker and the Women’s prize for fiction. But far from giving up her day job, Yanagihara took on a bigger one, as editor-in-chief of T, the New York Times style magazine.

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Jul 29, 2021

Seeking out the best new Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, this year’s finalists range across continents to show ‘the best of what stories can do’

The fallout from civil war invades the London home of a high-flying Sri Lankan couple. An elderly Jamaican woman faces up bravely to the inhumanity of deportation. And a young black man struggles to own his sexuality, in an English commuter town where he finds himself continually objectified.

“Cadaver” by teacher Sulaxana Hippisley, “Home Is Not Here” by Birmingham-based writer Laura Blake, and “Hopscotch” by Bedford-born poet and essayist Inigo Laguda are among six short stories shortlisted from a record number of entries to the 2021 4thWrite prize. Now in its fifth year, and run jointly by the Guardian and publisher 4th Estate, the award aims to seek out the stars of tomorrow from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK and Ireland.

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Jul 25, 2021

The writer’s new essay collection covers 200 years of women and science, from Mary Shelley to AI. She discusses burning books and the ensuing Twitter storm, the end of her marriage, and why a move into politics could be next

There’s a disconcerting silence outside Jeanette Winterson’s London pied-a-terre. It’s the morning after the night before, when she travelled across London after dinner with her publisher to scenes of football fans setting the city alight with their cup final fervour. “It was uproar,” she says, “We saw cars on fire.” Her flat is in the East End district of Spitalfields in a Georgian house, which she bought 25 years ago, complete with a little shop that she ran for years as an organic grocer and tea room until the rates got too high, and she let it out to an upmarket chocolatier.

It’s as if a scene from Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop has been dropped into a satire about prosperity Britain: the quaint old shopfront is still intact, while outside it a lifesize sculpture of a rowing boat full of people sits surreally in the middle of the street, and a little further along, a herd of large bronze elephants frolics. These public artworks only arrived a few weeks ago, Winterson explains, as part of a grand plan to pedestrianise the area, and make it more buzzy, just at the moment that the sort of well-heeled office workers who bought upmarket chocolates are abandoning it owing to the Covid pandemic.

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Jul 12, 2021

As England mourns Sunday’s Euro 2020 result, International Booker winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has written Substitution applause, about the upside of going down

At primary school Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was allowed to stay in the gym playing football with the boys, when the girls were sent off to shower after PE. “I was good at it. I can still hear the schoolmaster shouting: ‘Rijneveld is on the ball, Rijneveld is scoring!’” says the author, whose parents disapproved of their daughter playing such a boyish sport.

It wasn’t until, as a rising star of the Dutch literary scene, they were asked to write some poems for a football magazine, that it all came flooding back. The poems never happened “because I thought: how do you write a good poem about football without it getting ugly?” says Rijneveld, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. “But then I delved into football terms and found out that those terms actually refer to life. I wanted to write down my own football memories, and soon it became more about life than football itself.”

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Jun 26, 2021

Now more than ever, novelists are facing up to the unthinkable: the climate crisis. Claire Armitstead talks to Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh and more about the new cli-fi

In September 2017, David Simon, creator of The Wire, tweeted a photograph of golfers calmly lining up their putts on a Florida course as wildfires raged in the background. “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for America today, this is the money shot,” he wrote of the picture, which was taken by an amateur photographer who spotted the photo-op as she was about to skydive out of a plane. Everything about this story – the image, the circumstances – seems stranger than fiction.

A year before Simon’s tweet, in a landmark polemic, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh had questioned why so few writers – himself included – were tackling the world’s most pressing issue in their fiction. But now, as extreme weather swirls around the globe, melting glaciers, burning forests, flooding districts and annihilating species, the climate emergency has brought the unimaginable into our daily lives and literature. A survivor in Jessie Greengrass’s haunting new novel The High House sums it up: “The whole complicated system of modernity which had held us up, away from the earth, was crumbling … and we were becoming again what we had used to be: cold, and frightened of the weather, and frightened of the dark. Somehow while we had all been busy, while we had been doing those small things which added up to living, the future had slipped into the present.”

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Jun 06, 2021

As she joins the family business, the author tells how her career in healthcare and her own early life informed her debut novel, The Day I Fell Off My Island

It’s not often that a mother follows her children into a family business but, with the publication of her debut novel, that is what Yvonne Bailey-Smith is about to do. Her daughter, Zadie, and sons Ben and Luc are all successful writers of various sorts. Her sitting-room bookshelves, in the area of London immortalised by Zadie Smith as NW, contain multiple copies of her daughter’s works, while the coffee table is piled with Ben Bailey Smith’s colourful picture books. Luc, who is mainly known for his rap lyrics under the name Luc Skyz, is upstairs beavering away on a screenplay.

Ben, who is also a rapper and actor, just happens to be launching his first children’s novel at the same time, so – barring a sudden return to lockdown – they will be making a joint appearance at the Edinburgh book festival, she says, happily. Her own novel is called The Day I Fell Off My Island and, without being purely autobiographical, it gives some idea of how it all began. It’s the story of a young girl of a similar age to herself who travelled to England at the age of 14 – as she did – to be reunited with her mother and younger siblings, after spending her early childhood in Jamaica, being brought up by her grandparents.

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Mar 10, 2021

The Lost Soul, by Olga Tokarczuk and illustrator Joanna Concejo, is a quiet meditation on happiness, following a busy man who loses his soul

Ever since Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel prize, her growing legions of English language fans have been eagerly awaiting the translation of her 1,100 page historical epic The Books of Jacob. So it’s both surprising and amusing to find it gazumped by a slender picture book, meditating on the value of patience.

The Lost Soul is the Polish author’s first venture into picture books, and it pours a childlike sense of wonder into a once-upon-a-time tale that is already resonating with adults around the world. “I adore the picture book,” she says. “It’s a unique form of communication that sets off a sort of proto-cinema in our minds. The language has to be limited to what’s absolutely essential. It’s the picture that carries the story. For me it’s a powerful, primeval way of telling a story that’s able to get through to anyone, regardless of age, cultural differences or level of education.”

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Feb 23, 2021

Lockdown has triggered a boom in the exchange of intimate shots – and now a new book called Sending Nudes is celebrating the pleasures and perils of baring all to the camera

Have you ever sent a nude selfie? The question draws a thick red line between generations, throwing one side into a panic while the other just laughs. And yet, as far back as 2009, that fount of moral wisdom, Kanye West, was advising how to stay safe. “When you take the picture cut off your face / And cover up the tattoo by the waist,” he rapped in Jamie Foxx’s song Digital Girl.

As the pandemic forces relationships to be conducted remotely, more people than ever are resorting to the virtual exchange of intimacies. Last autumn, a poll of 7,000 UK schoolchildren by the youth sexual health charity Brook put the figure at nearly one in five who said they would send a naked selfie to a partner during a lockdown.

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Jan 27, 2021

The Mermaid of Black Conch’s author explains why she expected ‘a quiet life’ for the formally daring, magical realist novel that has been declared book of the year

After two decades of splashing around in the shallows of success, Monique Roffey was taking no chances with The Mermaid of Black Conch. The novel, which won the Costa book of the year award on Tuesday, is written in a Creole English and uses a patchwork of forms, from poetry to journal entries and an omniscient narrator, and “employs magical realism to the max”. Even its title was against it, she realised. “You’re either going to read a novel about a mermaid or you aren’t.”

Any one of these, she says, would scare away most publishers. So when one, the independent Peepal Tree Press, did bite, she launched a crowdfunder to enable her to hire her own publicist. It’s a mark of the esteem in which the 55-year-old author and university lecturer is held by those familiar with her work that 116 people chipped in, raising £4,500 within a month. Then, two weeks before the novel was due to be published, the UK went into lockdown, shutting bookshops and forcing the cancellation of a tour that was particularly important for a writer who has always swum between two continents and two cultures.

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Jan 09, 2021

From a childhood in care to dazzling readers with her debut The Panopticon, Fagan talks about writing her third novel, channelling rage, and why now is a pivotal moment for us all

For all that she was laid low early in the pandemic, and then spent months as a single parent trying to home-school her nine-year-old son, the last year has been far from a write-off for Jenni Fagan. Her third novel is about to be published, she completed her PhD. And on the day she speaks to me from her Edinburgh home, she is hours away from finishing a memoir of her life up until the age of 16.

For most people, that would amount to a very thin book, but not for Fagan. As a child growing up in the Scottish care system, those first 16 years involved 29 different placements, under four different names. The only thing she knows about her birth was that it took place in a Victorian psychiatric hospital in 1977. Perhaps, she muses, it has helped her to cope better than most with the events of the last months. “You know, I kind of understand crisis. I grew up in a very, very extreme way, and the idea that bad things happen to other people was never my reality. I always knew they happen to you. And sometimes they happen over and over.”

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Dec 27, 2020

The novelist’s hit debut, a witty spin on race, feminism and sex based on her time as a nanny in New York, has even won fans among her former employers…

This time last year, Kiley Reid was a tantalising rumour, the truth of which was known only to her publishers and to the film company that had optioned her debut novel two years before it was ready to see the light of day. When Such a Fun Age was published – on New Year’s Eve in the US and a week later in the UK – the rumour checked out: here was a smart comedy of manners, which treated interracial relationships of the early 21st century with the sort of needling wit that Jane Austen had applied to class 200 years earlier.

It was the start of a year in which Reid seems to have been travelling in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. By the time the Covid pandemic shut everything down, she had introduced the novel to 19 cities, including London. Reese Witherspoon had picked it for her book club; in July, it was longlisted for the Booker prize.

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Dec 27, 2020

Looking for a more positive new year resolution? From a Shirley Jackson short story to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 30-minute Ted talk, nourish your mind with our one-a-day selection of literary treats

Our revels now are ended and January looms, with its exhortations to get fit, lose weight, dry out. So here’s a radical alternative diet: instead of depriving yourself, how about making it a month of treats – but feeding your brain instead of your face? Our one-a-day calendar will take you into magical realms of poetry and prose, argument and imagination. It will transport you to some places you always wanted to explore, but couldn’t find the time, and to others you never knew existed, where you will find strange and wonderful things.

In fact, this calendar very nearly didn’t happen because I kept disappearing down rabbit-holes so deep and fascinating that, had I been the white rabbit himself, someone would have had to drag me out by the ears. Some entries – such as John Huston’s film of Malcolm Lowry’s mescal-fuelled modernist masterpiece Under the Volcano (20 January) – come with the authority of a full year’s leisurely burrowing (it is among the BFI’s list of 100 great films to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime, which was a comfort and joy through lockdown, and is handily still being updated).

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Oct 30, 2020

The poet, film-maker, photographer and former young people’s laureate for London talks about growing up on the North Peckham estate and his debut collection, Poor

Every Monday when Caleb Femi was a young boy in the 1990s, the walkways in the housing estate where he lived with his parents and four siblings were swabbed down with a detergent that smelled of bubblegum. Home was “one bedroom and seven bodies making do” on the 13th floor of a tower block: “But all of a sudden that space was transformed by my eight-year-old imagination into a wonderland where everything felt shiny and bouncy,” he says. “Mondays were my favourite days.”

London’s North Peckham estate takes centre-stage in his debut poetry collection, Poor, which has been hailed as “stunning” and “revelatory”, gathering advance praise from a stream of fans including British screenwriter and actor Michaela Coel and the American political sonneteer Terrance Hayes.

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Sep 12, 2020

The Women’s prize for fiction winner discusses plague and avenging Anne Hathaway

In the run-up to publication of her novel Hamnet at the end of March, Maggie O’Farrell bought herself a vintage dress. “There was going to be a party and a book tour and I thought I’d wear it to the launch,” she says. “I remember waking up that morning and seeing that Covid had reached Italy. I took it to the dry-cleaners and, five days later when I went to collect it, everything had been cancelled. It was a very weird and rapid turnaround.”

There were no party frocks this week either, when O’Farrell overtook five other writers – including Booker laureates Hilary Mantel and Bernardine Evaristo – to become the 25th winner of the Women’s prize for fiction. “I was totally gobsmacked. There wasn’t an atom of me that wasn’t surprised,” says the 48-year-old author from her home in Edinburgh, where she has spent much of the year locked down with her novelist husband William Sutcliffe and their three children.

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Sep 05, 2020

The acclaimed young author of The Water Cure talks about her latest dystopian novel, Blue Ticket, and how listening to music and speaking Welsh helps her writing

“Something has changed, but we don’t know what,” says Sophie Mackintosh. She’s explaining the scenario of her second novel, Blue Ticket, but she could just as easily be describing the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s days before the Covid-19 lockdown, and as we talk in the Guardian office a sense of impending doom swirls around us.

By the time of our second encounter, on Zoom four months later, office life is a distant memory and her book is one of many to have been postponed. She’s talking from the spare room of her east London home where she has been spinning a whole new world out of the disintegration of the old one.

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Aug 14, 2020

Four days after the Zimbabwean writer and film-maker made the Booker longlist, she was arrested. She talks about protest, Africa’s film industry and her hopes for her country

Four days after learning that her novel, This Mournable Body, had been longlisted for the Booker prize, Tsitsi Dangarembga found herself sitting on the concrete floor of a police cell. The 61-year-old author and film-maker had been arrested with a friend in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare for protesting about government corruption.

“There had been a call out for a demonstration on social media for weeks, and people were excited. You could feel the energy,” she says. “I had expected there would be protesters with placards lining the streets but there was absolutely nobody, because a couple of weeks earlier the government had declared it an insurrection, and by the time the announcement was made the army had been deployed.”

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Aug 09, 2020

The Ghost Wall writer on how her darkly comic new novel was inspired by climate emergency and her Brexit dismay

Sarah Moss’s seventh novel hits the ground running: it’s early morning in the Scottish Highlands and the runner is Justine, middle-aged mother of two boys. “There won’t be a plane this summer, or next. Who could afford to travel, now?” she wonders, as she struggles into her sports bra and sets off at a lick along the rain-lashed shores of a loch.

Justine’s voice sucks you in, instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever found themselves in a close holiday confinement with their nearest and dearest: she’s peevish about the proximity of other people’s bodily functions, rueful about the exotic places she never visited, and determined to colonise the one part of the day that is hers alone, regardless of the weather.

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Apr 22, 2020

This series of beautifully illustrated stories about a brave rabbit made Matthew Parris a Tory, he says. They made me a socialist

‘Please,” asks Pookie in his very first outing into the world of children’s literature, “what does a fortune look like?” “Now, that is awkward!” replies a conceited green elf. “Any other question in the world I could have answered easily but just that particular one? No! A pity! … but I know this. ‘For’ sometimes means ‘because’, and ‘Tune’ is a music tiddleypom, so if you put the two together would that help?” Such sophistry is no help at all to the little white rabbit, who has just nearly drowned trying to share the watery fortune of a frog.

Pookie has left home, with his worldly wealth tied up on the end of a stick in a red spotty hankie, because he isn’t a normal brown bunny like his brothers and sisters and he has a secret sorrow: a pair of wispy wings. It takes a chance encounter with another elf, Nommy-Nee, who will go on to become his second-best friend, to convince him that “a fortune doesn’t look like anything … it just is something, something different for every person. For some it is Health, for some it is Money and for some it’s Love.” It must be love, concludes Pookie, since he’s perfectly well and has no need of cash.

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Apr 20, 2020

In 2009, the UN climate summit in Copenhagen ended in failure when governments around the world failed to reach an agreement on how to tackle the climate crisis. Then along came Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who spearheaded international talks and brought the world together to reach the historic Paris Agreement, where, just six years after “Brokenhagen”, 195 countries came to a consensus.

Now she has teamed up with her former strategy adviser, the environmental economist Tom Rivett-Carnac, to examine what the next 30 years will bring in their book, The Future We Choose. Richard sat down with Christiana and Tom in an interview recorded before the coronavirus outbreak.

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Apr 14, 2020

As a historical consultant on the BBC’s award-winning Horrible Histories, Greg Jenner’s enthusiasm for the past has made him a familiar figure on radio and television, with appearances on chatshows, documentaries, and as presenter of the You’re Dead to Me podcast. His latest book, Dead Famous is a joyous romp through the history of celebrity, from Edmund Kean to Gertrude Stein, from Grace Darling to WG Grace. But is a celebrity anything more than someone who is famous for being famous?

And we share what some of you have been reading during the coronavirus outbreak and talk to Adam Douglas, rare bookseller at Peter Harrington, about how some of the greatest philosophical and literary works have been created in isolation.

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