It’s a kneejerk reaction to imagine what James Baldwin would say about the state of things in the US when the anniversary of his death comes every December 1. Especially now. Much like how the issues that folk legend Odetta sang about are still, sadly, relevant today, so it goes for the issues Baldwin wrote about in “Notes of a Native Son.” Which is why our director, Helene Atwan, says it remains so potent a text to go back to.
By Eileen Truax | “Good afternoon, Senator Sanders. My name is Odilia Romero, Indigenous Bene Xhon.” Standing onstage at the Casa del Mexicano in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles, Odilia holds a microphone in one hand and in the other her speech for Bernie Sanders, then a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. It was May 4, 2016, and in the auditorium beneath the fifty-foot-high domed ceiling, four hundred people had gathered, a mix of pro-immigrant organizations, young activists, and members of the Latina community.
By Gustavus Stadler | I knew that when my book came out, I would inevitably be asked questions like, “What would Woody Guthrie do today? Where would he stand on this issue? What would he think of this candidate or that elected official?” I’m mostly accustomed to writing about topics at least several decades distant from the present, and I try hard to honor the otherness of the past, rather than portray it as a simpler version of the now. Plus, responses to such questions so often depend more on the projections of the answerer than on historical evidence.
By Judith Ortiz Cofer | On a bus trip to London from Oxford University where I was earning some graduate credits one summer, a young man, obviously fresh from a pub, spotted me and as if struck by inspiration went down on his knees in the aisle. With both hands over his heart he broke into an Irish tenor’s rendition of “Maria” from West Side Story. My politely amused fellow passengers gave his lovely voice the round of gentle applause it deserved. Though I was not quite as amused, I managed my version of an English smile: no show of teeth, no extreme contortions of the facial muscles—I was at this time of my life practicing reserve and cool. Oh, that British control, how I coveted it.
Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future. That’s this year’s theme for Hispanic Heritage Month. In times like these, the theme is a manifesto to live by. The books in our catalog about the lives and contributions of Hispanic/Latinx communities attest to it.
A Q&A with Vicki Mayk | What really drew me to the story was Owen Thomas, the young man who is at the center of my book. When he died by suicide in April 2010, I was invited to join a private memorial page that friends set up for him on Facebook. The way that everyone talked about him—from his teammates at his high school near Allentown, PA, and at the University of Pennsylvania to friends, former teachers, casual acquaintances—was mesmerizing. They told stories about him being a warrior on the field and one of the kindest humans off the field.
By Pamela D. Toler | The Chinese heroine Hua Mulan is one of the oldest and most enduring examples of a woman who becomes a warrior because of her role as a daughter. Scholars have argued for centuries over whether or not Mulan was a historical figure. At some level, it doesn’t matter as far as piecing together her story is concerned. The available information about her life is scarce to nonexistent, even by the often-shaky standard of what we know about other women warriors of the ancient world.
President Ronald Reagan won over voters with his Midwest wholesomeness, his rehearsed charisma forged from years as a B-movie actor, and more importantly, his “old-fashioned” American pride. His sense of American pride appealed massively to white conservatives, as well as converts to Republicanism, and threw obstacles in the path of civil rights legislation. His racist policies were devastating for Black and Brown Americans during his presidency, and the effects still resonate today.
This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a thirtieth candle to blow out on its birthday cake. The ADA is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark in disability history and on the ongoing fight for disability rights. We share their statements with you below.
By Cornel West | Ida B. Wells is not only unique, but she is the exemplary figure full of prophetic fire in the face of American terrorism, which is American Jim Crow and Jane Crow, when lynching occurred every two and a half days for over fifty years in America. And this is very important, because Black people in the New World, in the Diaspora, Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, were all enslaved, but no group of Black people were Jim Crowed other than US Negroes.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.
By Imani Perry | I turned eight the year Stevie Wonder’s album Hotter Than July was released. My favorite song from that album was “Master Blaster.” Like most people, I imagine, I called it “Jammin,’” from its refrain, “Nobody ever told you that you / would be jammin’ until the break of dawn.” A reggae-influenced jubilant song, it makes you want to dance and laugh. And I was listening to it, nostalgically, the day before I heard that the former and first Zimbabwean prime minister, Robert Mugabe, had died.
Can you taste it? The taste of joy when quarantine ends, the panic shopping eases up, and we can get on with the new reality of civilian life. The coronavirus pandemic will change the way we live. However the new reality takes shape, we’ll be ready and eager to get back outside. Not to mention delirious with relief. Until then, safety first. But at least we have plenty of books to turn to as resources and for escape during quarantine!
By Melanie Brooks | In the last couple of weeks, as the story of novel coronavirus has continued to shroud the globe and taken central stage in the news, I’ve uncharacteristically turned to Twitter for the latest headlines. Bite-sized pieces of information concerning the climbing numbers of cases and deaths, the state of the curve, the plummeting economy, the revised lockdown stats, and the conflicts in management at the state and federal levels are all I can digest amidst the restless charge of uncertainty lighting up my nerves.
If you’re jamming and head-bobbing to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Jewel, Rihannon Giddens, and Miley Cyrus, you’re listening to the one and only Odetta. These folk roads lead back to her. She’s one of the most important singers of the last hundred years who’s influenced a huge number of artists over many decades, like the ones listed here. Where’s her Grammy?
It’ll be a while before we can go back to bookshops in person to browse the shelves, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t get excited about the next book to dive into! Our editors came together to assemble a list of titles they’ve worked on that have been released this season and ones lined up later this year. Biography, history, criminal justice reform, queer equality . . . take your pick! We can’t wait for you to read them!
Once upon a Gilded Age, Americans once treated Islam and Muslims with both fascination and respect. Hard to believe in our post-9/11 timeline, but it’s true. Swept by romanticized images of Muslims found in most popular entertainment at the time and Arabian Nights, thousands of Americans were enthralled by the Islamic Orient. Some, in fact, saw Islam as a global antiracist movement uniquely suited to people of African descent living in an era of European imperialism, Jim Crow segregation, and officially sanctioned racism. Some, like enigmatic circus performer John Walter Brister.
She led a sit-in to ensure protections for people with disabilities and laid the groundwork for the Americans with Disabilities Act. She’s calling on all of us to act radically to build a different kind of future for cinema—not only for the women being actively hurt inside the industry but for those outside it, whose lives, purchasing decisions, and sense of selves are shaped by the stories told. She’s proving how a groundswell of activism, led by everyday women, could create the incentives our political leaders need to change course and make affordable healthcare accessible for everybody.
By Kristen Joiner | Judy Heumann isn’t nice. Let me be clear. Judy Heumann, one of the most transformative disability rights leaders of our time, is very friendly. Just take a walk around her Washington, DC, block. You’ll see that she’s on a first-name basis with everyone, from the doorman to the bus driver. But she is not nice. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of waking up and imagining myself into Judy Heumann’s shoes.
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor | Howard Zinn wrote one of the most popular books on American history ever. A People’s History of the United States has sold an astonishing two million copies since its first publication in 1980. The success of the book can also be measured by the way that it spawned a new genre of “people-centered” renditions of history. Zinn’s approach to history essentially inverted the traditional approach that placed the rich and powerful, along with the institutions they governed, as the central motors in the development of society. It was history told from above. Alternatively, Zinn championed an approach to history from the bottom up or from the perspective of “the people.”