By Mark TreckaWhen Postcommodity documents the installation, the materials list will read: the Earth, cinderblock, parachute cord, PVC spheres, helium. But that list will be incomplete. The Mexican Consulate was a material. The local cafe owners in Douglas who spearheaded a corresponding art walk, the teenagers of Agua Prieta who danced in celebration of the launch, they were materials.
By Bill McKibbenThoreau posed the two practical questions that must come dominate this age if we’re to make those changes: How much is enough? and How do I know what I want? For him, I repeat, those were not environmental questions; they were not even practical questions, exactly. If you could answer them you might improve your own life, but that was the extent of his concern. He could not guess about the greenhouse gas effect. Instead, he was the American avatar in a long line that stretches back at least to Buddha, the line that runs straight through Jesus and St. Francis and a hundred other cranks and gurus.
By Mark TreckaSaturday has been a long day of logistical maneuvering. Even the seemingly simple task of keeping count of the balloons, on such a scale, can prove to be complicated. And in order to see to it that all twenty-six balloons fly at an even height, anchored at intervals across very uneven terrain, each length of cord has been measured and cut precisely and specifically for each site. With twenty-five balloons aligned in the air, turning slowly, and the twenty-sixth securely anchored, those on the ground see an opportunity to slow down and seize a moment. The wind has cooperated. It breathes calmly.
By Atef Abu SaifToday is Eid. After a month of fasting, Eid is like a long sigh of relief. The kids get up early, woken by the hymns and chanting from the minarets of all the surrounding mosques, whilst the sun is still struggling to get out of bed in the east. Normally at Eid, the kids play in the streets, excited by the pocket money they’ve just received from their parents. This is always the single largest amount of money they’ll receive all year. They rush out and buy toys, go to the fairground, fly between the heaven and earth. Eid is what every child waits for all the year. It was always a favorite moment for me when I was growing up. It’s exactly the same for my kids.
By Ashlyn EdwardsAs a publicity intern with Beacon Press this summer, the first new book I was given the opportunity to read was Entwined: Sisters and Secrets in the Silent World of Judith Scott, in which author Joyce Scott tells the story of her fraternal twin sister, Judith, an acclaimed fiber artist who was deaf and born with Down syndrome. I was repeatedly struck by how Joyce beautifully captured resonant images from her life and her bond with her sister, despite the many hardships they faced. Joyce recounts their separation at age seven when Judy was institutionalized, their reunion thirty-five years later, and afterwards, Judy’s success as an internationally-known artist.
By Mark TreckaPostcommodity first began discussing the logistics of the Repellent Fence project with the Tucson-Pima Arts Council eight years ago. At several points throughout the weekend, the artists joke that Roberto Bedoya, the head of the council, thought they were crazy in the early stages of their talks. The projected site was moved several times over the years, responding to local political issues, safety concerns, and practical realities. Eventually, the border towns of Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora emerged as an an ideal location for the work because they are “two communities really interested in binational cooperation,” Cristóbal Martínez explains.
By Rashod OllisonFresh-cut watermelon smelling like rain and ribs sizzling on a grill bring the music back. The songs complement the food and the weather and Technicolor the memories of when we were all just kids with nothing in our pockets but waxy penny candy. We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing. All that mattered was that my cousins and I in Arkansas—with our Jheri curls and short sets, scarred knees and Tabasco tongues—were all together and that Cousin Rodney’s boom box had fresh batteries.
By Mark TreckaInside the Saddle and Spur Tavern in Douglas, Arizona, it is easy to forget that about a mile south down G Street, just past the Douglas Meat Warehouse, the United States ends and Mexico begins. It is easy to forget that the U.S.-Mexico border is a mile away even though the Saddle and Spur doubles as the Gadsden Hotel’s bar. Opened in 1907, the hotel is named for the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, in which John Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico, negotiated the $10 million purchase of 30,000 square miles of Mexico. The deal determined the line of 1,945 miles that is the present-day border
By Haley StaffordThis year, my class took part in National History Day, a program for middle-school students to put together a project on a historical topic of interest. I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to research. All I knew was that the theme was “Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History.” My teacher noticed my struggle and recommended I read Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. This biographical novel instantly had me hooked on Polly Bemis, born Lalu Nathoy, a Chinese-American Pioneer woman who encountered great hardships, explored new ideas and roles on the American frontier, and exchanged her hardships for generosity.
“Nice is OK. But let’s admit it: anger is awesome.” That’s what playwright and actor Martin Moran says in his one-man play All the Rage during a scene in which he recounts the time he watched a well-dressed woman on a Manhattan corner scream murderously at an aggressive Humvee driver. “That woman is full of poison,” he goes on to say, “and I need to drink some of that.”
By José OrduñaA large bearded man named Tommy rolls a shopping cart full of wooden crosses into a small square off the Pan American Avenue. Someone has painted them all white. One block south of where we stand, the United States ends abruptly. Between a double wall made of iron, a concrete trench is filled with loose coils of concertina wire. The metal teeth glint under the red sun. To our west sits an air-conditioned McDonald’s and just past that a Wal-Mart sprawls into the horizon.
According to the Center for Disease Control and RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), one in five women have experienced completed or attempted rape, and about three percent of American men—or one in thirty-three—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Most victims first experienced sexual violence before age twenty-five. Statistics, however, only paint part of the picture, as most victims do not share or report these crimes to their family, friends, or the police.
By Jay PariniMy old mentor Alastair Reid died only two years ago at eighty-eight. He was a Scottish poet and translator, and we met in 1970 in Scotland, where I lived for seven years. He was an astonishing fellow: wry, witty, learned, and lavishly gifted as a poet and critic. My sense of what a poem should “sound like” came from reading him carefully. There was a deep musicality in his work, an accessibility as well, that struck me then and has remained with me throughout my life.
A Q&A with Erika JanikHappy publication day to Erika Janik and her new book Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction! Pistols and Petticoats is a lively exploration of the struggles women have faced in law enforcement and in mystery fiction since the late nineteenth century. Working in a profession considered to be strictly a man’s domain, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. These sleuths and detectives refused to let that stop them, and paved the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture. We caught up with Janik to ask her about the social implications of women joining the police force, “murder as entertainment,” and how the reality of policewomen compares with the stories told in the crime genre.
A Q&A with José OrduñaHappy Publication day to José Orduña and his memoir, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement! The Weight of Shadows chronicles the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States. It is a searing meditation on the nature of political, linguistic, and cultural borders, and the meaning of “America.” Our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik spoke with Orduña to discuss James Baldwin’s influence, Orduña’s hopes for the book, and how he crafted the narrative.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Adele BarkerIt was time to go home. I left Pakistan on February 5 only hours before my visa had expired and winged my way to Paris to see friends for five days before heading back to the U.S. I had mixed feelings about leaving. The pull of family, friends, and the deeply familiar drew me home. But I was leaving a country that has, on an almost daily basis, never failed over the past year to astonish me.
By Rashod OllisonOut of the thirteen events on my eleven-city tour in support of Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, I was most nervous about the one that would take me back to where it all started. On Feb. 9, I returned to Little Rock, Ark., where I grew up, and to Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing, among the first places where I performed spoken word poetry as a teenager. Back then, in the early ’90s, the old location was downtown on Main Street. The new one, a sleeker, brighter and more expansive place, is over on Wright Avenue, in the heart of a historically black section of the city.
By Christian ColemanRenowned author and MacArthur fellow Octavia E. Butler would have been sixty-nine this year, and maybe two or three books deep into writing a new series. Ten years have passed since her death, and in that time, the Huntington Library became the resting place for her archives. Her archives contain, among many things, drafts of an abandoned third entry in her Parables epic and the sketch of a sequel to Fledgling, the story of a genetically engineered vampire. Poring over the notes for novels that could have been and rereading her bio, in which she wrote that she remembers being “a ten-year-old writer who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer,” I feel the ten years she has been gone.
By Gayle F. WaldMore than forty years after her burial in an unmarked Philadelphia grave, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel’s first superstar and its most celebrated crossover figure, is enjoying a burst of Internet celebrity. A video of her playing one of her signature tunes, “Didn’t It Rain,” from a 1964 TV special filmed for British television has been racking up more than ten million views on YouTube and Facebook. Old and new fans the world over, dazzled by Tharpe’s powerful singing and wildly charismatic guitar playing—all while wearing a proper church lady coat—are proclaiming Tharpe the “godmother” of rock and grumbling over her absence from rock canons like as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.