By Gayle Wald: Speculation is a risky but inevitably necessary business for biographers. When I was working on Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I made a decision not to stray too far from what I could verify from historical and contemporary sources (even while acknowledging that these, too, are imperfect). So when confronting the question of what motivated Tharpe, a musician embedded in the sonic culture of black Pentecostalism, to record secular songs and perform on secular stages beginning in her early twenties, I chose to tread carefully.
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington congregation, in the present and for the future. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
I started writing the book from a place of trauma, with a lot of anger toward her, and I ended it with so much love and admiration for her in my heart. It’s a gift I hadn’t anticipated, even though I knew writing about her would be the best way for me to try to make sense of her death (and her life.) I am grateful that writing about her helped me see what a remarkable, creative woman she truly was.
By Lynn Hall: Last month, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) released the results of their annual member survey, and the statistics regarding military sexual assault were, as always, alarming. Of the women who responded, thirty-five percent said they had been the victim of sexual assault while serving. Of those survivors, sixty percent did not report the crime. It’s easy to understand their reluctance when, of those who did report, seventy-one percent of the survivors said they experienced retaliation because of their accusations. I’m going to repeat that last figure: more than two thirds of the survivors who reported to their chain of command that they had been raped by a fellow soldier experienced retaliation.
A Q&A with Jennifer Browdy: Writing is one of the most powerful forms of activism, because it can live on into the future, rippling out in unpredictable ways and inspiring so many others. The writers included in Women Writing Resistance are actively reaching out to communicate their perspectives on a whole host of human rights and social justice issues. For them, writing is an act of resistance to all the mainstream forces that too often have silenced and ignored women’s voices. It’s a way of taking back their agency and insisting on being heard.
By José Orduña: When I was ten my dad gave me my first wallet—it was green, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the outside. Then he handed me my identification card, my first green card, which was actually pink. He said we’d gotten it when we’d gone to Juárez but that he didn’t think I was ready to carry it then. I remembered we’d gone very suddenly and that I missed my thirdgrade class trip to an amusement park, that a man I’d never seen showed up at our door in Chicago, and that my dad let him into our house. The next day we were on a Greyhound bus that took three days to get to El Paso, Texas, and then we immediately took a cab across a bridge into Juárez.
He sounds like a fascinating nonfiction character—too quirky to be true—but radical Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay truly lived, and historian Marcus Rediker has brought his virtually unknown story to life in The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Mocked as “the little hunchback” and written off by his contemporaries as “cracked in the head,” Benjamin Lay was uncompromising in his stance against slavery, and wholly committed himself to convince his fellow Quakers to denounce and abolish it. In many ways, he was prescient and ultra-modern for his time, the eighteenth century. Lay’s worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism. Until his death in 1759, he lived a life of resistance.
By Lynn Hall: Publishing Caged Eyes has changed the surface of my life as dramatically as the events of the actual memoir. When you stand in your authentic truth, powerful things happen—hard things, sad things—but ultimately all positive.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He left us an incredible gift, his book Man’s Search for Meaning, whose message of finding hope and greater meaning in the midst of suffering has touched the lives of many. Such celebrities as Jimmy Fallon, Michael Phelps, Chris Martin, Emma Watson, Jenny Slate, and Dan Rather have paid homage to the power the book has had on their lives. With the original version and a young readers’ edition available to the public, his influence will continue to live on across the generational divide. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of his passing, we’d like to make the occasion to commemorate his life and legacy.
By Michele Lent Hirsch. “What are these scars?” the female lead, Emily, asks the guy she’s just slept with, Kumail, in an early scene in The Big Sick. I perk up in my seat when I hear the line. When the film first came out, I avoided it for weeks, afraid to see yet another slick Hollywood version of what illness supposedly looks like. But one of the most indelible memories I have—one that features prominently in my forthcoming book, Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine—is a similar question posed to me on a first date. In my case, the scar was a bright slash across my throat: the kind of mark that makes people nervous.
By Michael BérubéIn disability studies, we tend to be skeptical of the so-called “supercrip” and allergic to any suggestion that people with disabilities can be inspiring. But it really is quite difficult to go to a Special Olympics meet, of whatever size, and not be inspired by the passion of the athletes and the dedication of the legions of volunteers. When you realize that only fifty years ago, almost no one believed that “the retarded” could participate in athletic events, you realize just how extraordinary Eunice Shriver’s vision was. And if you’re me, you thank her family—and all those volunteers.
A Q&A with Marcus EriksenPlastic can entangle wildlife, but much of the harm comes from ingesting micro plastics. Single-use products that leave our land are shredding in the oceans to form microplastics the size of grains of rice or smaller. These absorb other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial chemicals, in high concentrations. The literature is showing that these chemicals then migrate into the bodies of marine life when ingested. Plastic is proving to be a vector for pollutants to get into the food chain, which much of humanity harvests to feed itself.
By Lynn K. HallWhen you Google the name of the man who raped me when I was eighteen, the top hit says, “There are bad men. And then there are bad man. *** is one of the very worst men.” When I publicly accused this man of rape, I stood in a sizeable line of survivors. That there were five of us and the details of one of the cases—the girl was young, and disabled, and badly injured by the assault—left no doubt about the credibility of our stories. Our rapist was convicted, incarcerated, and served fourteen months. That may seem like a paltry sentence, and it is, but the point is that he saw the inside of a prison. He is now a registered sex offender with a past which follows him forevermore. The bigger point: I am believed.
By Haroon MoghulEver notice how, when a disturbed young Muslim commits an act of violence, it’s immediately blamed on his religion—but when a disturbed white and non-Muslim man commits an act of violence, it’s because he’s a “loner,” “disturbed,” or “troubled”—even when there are clear indications he is motivated by and sees himself as part of a transnational network of extremists? The way the media portrays Muslims, you’d think we are immune to any kind of mental trauma, or that our actions can only ever be motivated by religion. But Muslims are human beings (surprise!). Our minds work like everybody else’s. We are susceptible to the same weaknesses, and liable to go through the same pains and traumas.
By Perpetua CharlesThis year marks the fortieth anniversary of the court decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the United States. Thanks to this ruling, people across races could legally declare their love for each other through marriage. Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Loving: Interracial Relationships and the Threat to White Supremacy, offers a history of interracial relationships in the United States and looks at how present interracial relationships will shape the future of the country. As I read Loving, I was struck by a short section near the end of the book. Cashin writes that one doesn’t have to marry, date, or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love or to acquire what she calls cultural dexterity—an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s own tribe. An intimate friendship works just as well. Cashin doesn’t use the word friend lightly, and neither do I.
By Nicholas DiSabatinoToday marks the hundredth anniversary of legendary literary icon Gwendolyn Brooks. I’m so proud to be working on the new biography of her from award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist, Angela Jackson, who intimately knew Brooks and her family and had unprecedented access to her papers. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks is a welcome introduction to Brooks for both longtime fans and newbies like myself.
By Rashod OllisonWhen I realized I’d never jump in the sky and fly away like the mythical African slaves in that old folktale, which was also around the time I figured Michael Jackson would never come to the projects and take me away in a rocket limo, I begrudgingly accepted my sexuality. I was still a child, a precocious one, about eight or nine years old who lived inside his overactive and always vivid imagination. I didn’t know what “gay” really meant, but I gathered from the casual and mean-spirited homophobia at home and in the working-class neighborhoods we shuffled in and out of that being “that way” or a “faggot” was a sin and shame.
After twelve years of leading the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II has announced that he is stepping down as state chapter president. He’ll be joining activists and faith leaders across the nation to lead them in a new Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned to advocate economic justice for all across the racial spectrum.
By Rashod OllisonIt didn’t surprise me to see him in the news. Back home in central Arkansas where I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, Judge Wendell Griffen has long been a respected presence in the local press. But this week as he faces impeachment for a Good Friday protest against the death penalty, in which he lay strapped to a gurney in front of the Governor’s mansion, Griffen’s story has made national headlines. He was featured in a segment on Democracy Now! that aired on Monday, May 8.
By Bill AyersAnd then they arrived. Let the rumpus begin! Spirited greetings and introductions all around, laughter at the improbability of the whole thing, a ﬂurry of separate conversations as wine was poured and glasses lifted. I proposed a toast to Tucker, thanking him for his generous gift to the Public Square and reminding everyone that this was a dinner party, not an interview or a performance (of course, dinner is always a performance, and this one more than most). Then they were seated at the table, ﬁrst course served.