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.
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.
1. Under a sexual sky you coughed swords
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!
Partly like the sun and partly like the air, the earth—just like a body if it had no bones. As if by veins it is held together so it does not crumble.
No, I don’t feel death coming. I feel death going: having thrown up his hands, for the moment. I feel like I know him better than I did.
1 Picture a woman riding thunder on the legs of slavery ...
By Stephanie L. Pinder-Amaker and Lauren P. Wadsworth | On February 5, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue announced a bold plan to “kick off Black History Month” by giving “twelve classic young adult novels new covers, known as Diverse Editions.” The reimagined classics would include Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, Romeo and Juliet, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, Emma . . . well, you get the idea.
Announcing the Oscars nominee lineup for best director with John Cho, Issa Rae threw the best shade at the Academy. “Congratulations to those men.” We feel you, Issa! In all the Oscars’ ninety-two years, only five women have ever been nominated for the award, Katheryn Bigelow being the only one to win it for The Hurt Locker. Yet Bigelow’s win was in 2009. Why were no women nominated for best director this year? Or perhaps the better question is how. How does this keep happening? Because it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue.
Two years ago, award-winning sportswriter and culture critic Howard Bryant explored the rise, fall, and resurgence of Black activism in the sports arena in The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism. He’s back with a new book, and this time, he gets deeply personal. Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field, a collection of ten essays, is an impassioned reflection on how Black citizens must always navigate the sharp edges of whiteness in America—as citizens who are often at risk of being told, especially during times of increasing authoritarianism, to go back where they came from. And in each essay, Bryant does not hold back.
A Q&A with Howard Axelrod | “The Stars in Our Pockets” considers the questions I’ve wrestled with since returning from the Vermont woods: How do environments, both natural and digital, change our orientation in the world? And if adapting to the digital environment means losing traits that you value, how do you determine which trades are worth making?
A Q&A with Patricia Powell | I was initially an economics major but when I took my first creative writing class, everything changed. All my bottled-up feelings of loss came undone. I was twenty at the time and had only been in the States for four years. Writing had already stirred up so many feelings about home and the people I had left behind, those I had loved with all my heart and would never see again—my great aunt who raised me, for example, and who died shortly after I left.
By Leah Vernon | The identity battle with my hijab continued well into adulthood. As I started to come to terms with it, that it was in fact my choice to wear it or not, others’ disdain for it mounted. I was hyperaware of my surroundings when I wore it, especially around white folks—they were the ones doing the most when it came to assaults and verbal attacks.
By Maya Fernandez | To know Ntozake Shange was a privilege. Like many Black women, I was first introduced to her brilliance in college when I read her choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and found myself in her words. As I immersed myself in her other written work, I learned that she wrote boldly with a heartbreaking and beautiful honesty that centers the stories and lives of Black people across the diaspora, and particularly, Black women and girls. She never dulled her experience or language for the sake of making a mainstream white audience feel comfortable, and instead, wrote plays, poetry, novels, and essays that affirmed Black lives, culture, and being.
By Ruth Behar | If I had to choose one aspect of my life that had the greatest impact on me as a thinker and a writer, it would be that I was born a Jew in Cuba. And after that, it would be that I came to the United States as an immigrant child, carrying this doubled sense of identity which would eventually be articulated in an American context in the English language, but always with a longing for the native Spanish that was spoken in my family. As a girl and a young woman growing up in New York, I struggled to find a way to give voice to the experience of being a Cuban immigrant, while always yearning to know the island that my family remembered nostalgically, but to which I was told we would never again return to live.
It’s a clear-cut case of PTSD: Post-Traumatic Societal Disorder. The centuries-long trauma wrought by our nation’s history of slavery requires intensive therapy, because everybody is affected. Even our author, Daina Berry, said, “We are still living in the aftermath of slavery. It’s the stain on our flag and the sin of our country. Once we recognize this, face it, study it, and acknowledge the impact it has on all Americans, then we will be in a position to determine how we can move forward.” One of the ways to come to terms with it and move forward is to take in the full history, unabridged—free of sugar-coating, mythmaking, and claims of “American exceptionalism.”
By Helene Atwan | Like so many thousands, hundreds of thousands of others, I was deeply saddened by the news of Toni Morrison’s death. Like others, I had been moved and changed by reading her work over many years. And like hundreds of others, I was fortunate to have worked with her oh so briefly over the years, once as a publicist at Knopf, when Song of Solomon was coming out. She still worked at Random House as an editor in those days and would take the elevator up to visit us at Knopf.
By Helene Atwan | Like most of us living in the US, I was sickened by this weekend’s news of shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Coming into work, feeling so stricken by these events, I was heartened by the fact that I could turn to a group of colleagues and immediately begin talking about what kind of resources we could offer in the wake of these senseless tragedies. I feel, as I often do, heartened to be working in an environment where it is our job to try to create these resources.