Lynn Neary

When writer Téa Obreht's first book came out in 2011, it got the kind of reaction that most debut novelists only dream of: The Tiger's Wife was both critically acclaimed and a best seller. It was nominated for the National Book Award and won the Orange Prize.

Writers, like all artists, are willing to give up a lot to keep doing what they love best. But sometimes, reality bites, and dreams have to be put aside in order to put food on the table. That's what happened to Adrian McKinty — but then, with a little help from some friends, he found a way to keep going. The result is his new book, The Chain.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Poet, writer and musician Joy Harjo — a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation — often draws on Native American stories, languages and myths. But she says that she's not self-consciously trying to bring that material into her work. If anything, it's the other way around.

Four years ago the unthinkable happened to Jayson Greene. His 2-year-old daughter, Greta, was visiting her grandmother. The two were sitting on a bench on New York's Upper West Side when a brick came loose from a nearby building. It struck Greta in the head, and she died three days later. Greene began keeping a journal, which turned into his new memoir, Once More We Saw Stars.

Cathy Guisewite, the creator of the "Cathy" comic strip, didn't really want the character to be named after her. People would think that "Cathy" was based on her own life, she reasoned, and ... they would be right. Or, at least, they wouldn't be wrong.

"Cathy was kind of my heart," Guisewite says. "Other stronger characters in the strip like Andrea were more my brain. But Cathy was kind of my heart, that was me."

Ann Beattie has been hailed as the voice of her generation, but she's never taken that distinction too seriously. Beattie's short stories began appearing in The New Yorker in the 1970s. In her latest book, A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, the voice of the boomer generation focuses on a new generation — the Millennials.

Beattie has published more than 20 books over the course of her career, both novels and short story collections. She says short stories come more easily to her. Novels, she admits, are "endlessly fascinating," but more of a struggle.

Every year, when it's time to give out the Nobel Prize for Literature, British bookies lay odds on who might win. Every year, Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is viewed as a contender.

His body of works includes novels, plays and essays. But the first thing he ever wrote was a short story, which is included in a new collection of stories that range from the 1960s to the present. It's called Minutes of Glory, and he thinks of it as a kind of "literary autobiography."

Sandra Newman freely admits that her new novel, The Heavens, is almost impossible to describe. "I found that you can give about five different descriptions of it," she says, and all of them will be "equally true." She's essentially written five novels in one.

Editor's note: This story contains offensive language.

A photo and a confession, both widely condemned as racist: The first, a page in the medical school yearbook of Virginia governor Ralph Northam, showing a picture of two men in blackface and KKK garb. The second, actor Liam Neeson's confession that he once went looking to kill an innocent black man after a friend was raped. Both men expressed regret, both denied they were racist. But how can there be racism without racists?

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