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 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.
By Christian ColemanReveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Octavia E. 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. There was no subject matter she wouldn’t tackle, no story she wouldn’t write during her three-decades-long career—except for one. The 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.”1 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.
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.
By Angela Maria SpringSometimes it takes a cataclysmic event to unearth who we are. Even though I’ve been a bookseller of color for sixteen years, I didn’t fully realize until last year how great the need was for an inclusive bookstore curated and shaped by a majority of people of color. I started Duende District Bookstore this past January to celebrate the power of a diverse community expressed through the bookstore’s space for books, learning and discussion for all voices. But even this began somewhere. So I want to share how the cracks in my foundation formed nearly years prior, when I read a book by Daisy Hernández.
A Q&A with Marianne LeoneMy mother was a singular, irrepressible individual. Her wake, held in the working class area of Newton where I grew up called “The Lake,” was like a celebrity’s, with people from all walks of life telling stories about her. I wanted to tell her story, too, and the idea for this memoir, like my first book, grew out of an essay I had written called “The Official Story.” My mother was an immigrant who had come to the States to escape fascism under Mussolini and an arranged marriage. With my mother, there was the “official story” of her emigration, and the real story that I didn’t learn until years later, which I told in the book.
By Louis RoePoetry collections are a bit of a fantasy cover project for me. They’re an opportunity to think in a different visual language from Beacon’s usual nonfiction catalogue, inviting a relationship between image and text built on reflection and, hopefully, subtlety. Sasha Pimentel’s poems in her forthcoming collection For Want of Water carry this poise on their own particularly well: they reveal only as much as you’re ready to see, but they also ignite a desire to pursue and peel.
By Helene AtwanAh, April. No, it’s not the cruelest month at all; in fact, it’s the month when we celebrate poetry, and given all the other things that are going on in our country at the moment, it’s a gift to be able to turn to the comforts and joys that poetry offers. For Beacon, though, poetry isn’t just about offering those gifts. We view poetry as an important and effective voice for addressing issues of social justice, for underlining the importance of a community devoted to equity and building a just society. Another way, a very compelling way, of speaking truth to power.
By Laura WinnickTeaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred is one of the most important projects I embark on with my students. I’ve taught it for the past two years, and have seen my students, previously bored by texts, evolve into voracious readers, horrified by the grim depictions of slavery and transfixed by the possibility of time travel. This year, we paired John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s newly published graphic novel with the dense fictional text, and students arrived every day begging to read the graphic novel, utterly obsessed with the artistic rendering. In this unit, our essential questions are extremely difficult. We examine: How do race and gender affect our identities? What are the lingering effects of slavery? How are people impacted by their ancestral histories?
Today is International Women’s Day, a global day to honor and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Observed since the early 1900s, it marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year’s campaign theme, #BeBoldForChange, implores us to help build a more inclusive, gender-equal world. It also coincides with the “Day Without a Woman” general strike, organized to bring attention to the inequalities women still face, including lower wages, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. Women in thirty-five countries are participating in the strike.
By Martin MoranA few years ago I had the privilege of serving as a French-speaking interpreter for a group of refugees, many of them survivors of torture, who were seeking asylum in the United States. Most of the immigrants I worked with were from war-torn regions of Africa. They all happened to be Muslim. In recent weeks, with the issuing of a travel ban against seven predominately Muslim countries and news of many immigrants being deported, I have been thinking constantly about the men and women I worked with, especially one young man whom I’ve called Siba in my recent book All the Rage: A Quest.
By Lisa KotinI will never understand how lovers can buy one another chocolate for Valentine’s Day. If I eat chocolate, the last thing I want to do is to get romantic. I just want to hole up in the bathroom with my box of sea salt caramels and my nuts and chews. Door locked. Lights off. So not even I can see myself going down on the goods.
A Q&A with Damian DuffyIt was an honor and a privilege for John and me to be the first to adapt Octavia Butler’s work to a visual medium. It was also, in equal measure, nerve wracking, exhausting, terrifying, and humbling. It was easily the most difficult comics work either of us have done up to this point, in no small part because we felt the need to do justice to the story, honor Butler’s legacy, and produce a work that would be enjoyable to both fans of the novel and new readers.