By Richard Hoffman | Friends ask me, “How was your trip to Prague?” and I tell them that Prague is as beautiful as everyone says. I’m thinking, as I say this, that sometimes, in a world with Instagram, Pinterest, Wikimedia, it becomes harder to experience a place, to have an unmediated encounter with it. I had been worried about that. In the weeks preceding the trip, I avoided the travel books my wife brought home from the library, resisted the temptation to let Rick Steves, via YouTube, walk me through the cobbled squares under towers and domes and historic statuary, and deliberately zoned out when friends who had been there enthused about it. I need not have worried. Prague “in person” is so richly layered and textured, no camera or travelogue could possibly have spoiled it for me.
By Helene Atwan | Like most Americans who care about poetry and literature, I was saddened to learn that Donald Hall died this weekend. We were privileged to publish two of his books of prose: Life Work and Principle Products of Portugal. When I first took over as director of the press in 1995, a poster for Life Work was proudly displayed in our offices, and it made me even happier to be a part of the press. Later, I was fortunate to meet Don and to chat with him about projects, on and off, though never quite lucky enough to publish any new work. His work is a gift to us all. I think often about one line of his, often quoted by a mutual friend, that resonates especially now: Work, love, build a house, and die. But build a house. The house that Donald Hall built is a mansion with room to embrace all readers. He will be missed.
By Richard Blanco: Here, sit at my kitchen table, we need to write this together. Take a sip of café con leche, breathe in the steam and our courage to face this page, bare as our pain. Curl your fingers around mine, curled around my pen, hold it like a talisman in our hands shaking, eyes swollen.
By Helene Atwan: Is it only in April that we’re supposed to appreciate poetry? After all, as this April in New England is proving beyond a doubt, it is the cruelest month. But maybe that’s why we need poetry . . . Now, more than ever, we’ve discovered that we need poetry not just to delight and uplift us, but to teach us, to show us.
National Poetry Month celebrates the power of the word in verse. Condensing language to its most vivid and lyrical effect, poetry speaks straight to the heart, and in verse, poets unveil to us the unseen beauty and terror of our world. There is so much out there to enjoy, but where to start? We reached out to some of our beloved poets to ask them about their favorite poets and poetry collections.
By Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader: All three of us are poets and professors. We all also write prose. Our jobs rely on and live in words. And yet, there are no real words to describe our complicated emotions about this anthology. On the one hand, we are grateful that it exists. On the other, we are mortified that it exists. We are pleased these amazing poems and responses are out there in the world; we are horrified there are increased reasons for them to be in this book.
2017 has been ragged and turbulent, charged with a fraught political climate spawned by a divisive presidential election. 2017 witnessed assaults on progress in racial justice, backlashes against environmental protections, and more. When we needed perspective and lucid social critique on the latest attacks on our civil liberties, our authors were there. We couldn’t be more thankful for them. They make the Broadside, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, the treasure trove of thought-provoking commentary we can turn to in our troubling and uncertain times. As our director Helene Atwan wrote in our first ever blog post, “It’s our hope that Beacon Broadside will be entertaining, challenging, provocative, unexpected, and—maybe above all—a good appetizer.” We certainly hope that’s the case for the year to come. Before 2017 comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the highlights of the Broadside. Happy New Year!
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.
By Colum McCann: “If you speak, you die. If you keep quiet, you die. So, speak and die.” Shortly after the Algerian poet and journalist Tahar Djaout wrote these words in the summer of 1993 he was gunned down in the streets of Algiers. Djaout spoke in favor of progress, secularism, decency, a broader world where intellectual and moral narrowness would be defeated. But the bullets did their work: after a week in a coma, Djaout died. His killers, a fundamentalist group, later admitted that they feared him because he wielded the mighty weapon of language.
By Rashod Ollison: When I first read James Baldwin at about age sixteen, I didn’t quite understand everything in Notes of a Native Son. But I knew the powerful prose was important and that I would return to it. Baldwin at that point had been dead for close to a decade. I’d come across a dog-eared paperback of Notes of a Native Son in the public library, where I worked after school. I imagined Baldwin a robust man whose presence was as commanding as his work. When I saw pictures of him as I began to explore more of his writing in college, his pronounced features—his intense globular eyes, his ingratiating gap-toothed grin—clarified something about his work for me. He always saw well beyond the surface unlike any other writer of his generation or any other writer since.
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 Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page: In June 2015 a surprising number of Americans stopped to gawk at a thirty-seven-year-old “African American” woman named Rachel Dolezal who, after an almost decade-long act, was outed by her parents as a white woman who chose to pass as black. The national response, culminating in a Today show appearance, was extreme. Some were outraged by her deception, while others drew parallels between her right to live her “truth” the same way Caitlyn Jenner embodies hers. Rachel—or “#BlackRachel” as she trended online—never once “broke character.”
By Sasha Pimentel: I didn’t know that my poetry collection For Want of Water had been selected as winner for the National Poetry Series for a good week or two after Gregory Pardlo had chosen it, but that was my fault. I’d spent the summer with my family in Sonora and had turned my phone off. When we returned to the United States, I was walking through the airport when the caller ID from “Princeton, NJ” flashed on my phone, and I answered it because I was curious what sort of telemarketing came from Princeton. It was Beth Dial from the National Poetry Series. I remember plugging my unphoned ear with my finger to hear her through the terminal’s noise. I couldn’t believe it.
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.
By Michael Bérubé | In 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.
By Christian Coleman: There was one story Octavia E. Butler wouldn’t write. Reveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Butler gave us gene-trading extraterrestrials, psionically powered mutants, a genetically engineered vampire, a reluctant time traveler forced to visit the brutal past of American slavery. But during her three-decades-long career as a novelist and short story writer, she never gave us a ghost story. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Raised as a born-again Baptist, Butler stopped believing in the afterlife and a celestial caretaker by age twelve. “Somehow you’re supposed to believe and have faith but not worry about having any evidence to support that belief and faith,” she said in a 1988 interview. “That just doesn’t work for me, and I never went back.” Coincidentally, at age twelve she began trying her hand at science fiction.
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.
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.