By Christian Coleman | It’s another fest of firsts for Octavia E. Butler! The multi-award-winning author and MacArthur fellow is having a moment, or rather a series of rolling moments that’s been gaining speed over the last few years, and we hope it keeps going!
By Julian Bond | The next songs are traditional songs from the standard hymnal and church repertoire that have been altered to become Freedom Songs, this one from the height of the Birmingham movement in 1963. It is based on the parable of the lost sheep. The singers are Carleton Reese and the Alabama Christian Movement Choir, and the song is a traditional gospel song with new words. As you listen, you’ll hear the leader, Carleton Reese, open with the call, “Oh Lord, I’m running,” and the choir will respond, “Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred.”
Black history isn’t just about the history-makers and big social movements. They begin as everyday people whose day-to-day experiences, inner Black life, and Black joy—this especially!—are just as much a part of Black history. Without daily life and joy, the picture narrows solely on struggle and trauma, and comes off as incomplete. We need it all.
By Julian Bond | We are going to listen today to several Freedom Songs, all of them taken from a three-record set “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960–1966”—all of them should blow your mind. The set was compiled by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Director of the Smithsonian’s Program in Black American Culture. You will hear her voice on some of these songs and will remember her from the movement in Albany, Georgia. She is best known as the Founder and Director of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. In the liner notes, she says the “music culture of the civil rights movement was shaped by its central participants: black, Southern, and steeped in oral tradition.”
It was not so long ago when we said goodbye to renowned poet, novelist, playwright, and performer Ntozake Shange. Two years ago, we received news that she had passed while working with her on what is now her first posthumous book, “Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance,” her tribute to those who taught her and to her passion for rhythm, movement, and dance. It’s also a personal history and celebration of Black dance, featuring stunning photos along with personal interviews with Mickey Davidson, Halifu Osumare, Camille Brown, and Dianne McIntyre.
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 Linda Hogan | The story of this land is ancient. The red earth, crags, and canyons were once an inland sea. I imagine the currents when this mountain basin was ocean, water swaying as the moon became full or as wind moved it, swaying. Within the water, a shining circle of fish, many lives all thinking and moving as one. Sea animals hid inside stone caves and indentations that now, so many years later, shelter canyon wrens and swallow nests, once protecting numbers of indwelling bats.
By Angela Chen | I distrust narratives, always have. The child too shy to open her mouth and captivate others with story became the science journalist who fetishized data instead, fond of talking about how stories can stand in the way of justice—just look at how a blond girl suddenly kidnapped can receive so much more attention and care than all the less photogenic children who live every day in difficult conditions.
A Q&A with Michael Torres | Larry Levis has been the biggest influence. Though, I don’t think I intentionally went to his work for metaphors. I just loved the way another, surreal world could blossom from within the real world of the poem. I’m always fascinated at the point in which an image or description sinks into a deeper space.
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.
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.