By Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma | Twenty-two years ago, when I first lived in Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, I went to visit the home of a student at the college where I was teaching. Meenakshi Sundram lived on a narrow lane not far from the Meenakshi Temple in this venerable and beautiful South Indian city. His home was only a few rooms, but they filled with family, friends, and neighbors, all eager to greet the teacher from abroad who could somehow speak a little Tamil.
President Biden sure is making up for lost time. At this year’s tribal nations summit, skipped over the previous four years by you know who, he signed an executive order for the US to take steps to protect tribal lands and address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native Americans. He proposed a ban on federal oil and gas leases on the sacred tribal site of Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. And in his official White House proclamation for Native American Heritage Month, he listed more commitments the country will make to Indian Country.
By Christian Coleman | You know who ranks supreme on our list of national treasures? Poet, educator, and activist Sonia Sanchez! Know this if you haven’t known it already. Ms. Sanchez has just won another lifetime achievement award, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. Two years ago, she won the Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Award. The Gish Prize is given each year to “a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change, and paved the way for the next generation.” This has Ms. Sanchez written all over it.
You’ve heard the news. Now’s the time to jump on your holiday book buying. Supply chain delays are affecting many industries, including the book industry. Some new books you’ve been waiting for may not make it to bookstores in time for the holiday, and hot sellers may be sold out by December and not reprinted in time. On top of that, what’s thrown a wrench into the works is—wait for it—the pandemic. Who saw that plot twist coming? (We’d probably be in less of this mess if everyone got vaccinated, but hey, let’s not digress.) So, gifts you would typically start buying in December may not be available.
A Q&A with W. J. Herbert | A woman meditates on her impending death and the crisis her species has created in the original version of this manuscript which contained only fossil and specimen poems. “Do these creatures ever answer your speaker’s questions?” asked friend and fellow poet Tim Carrier. They don’t, I told him. He said: “But your readers need a way in.” I wasn’t sure what he meant but, in my heart, I knew he was right: we need to care deeply about the speaker.
This year’s theme for Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope. It invites Hispanic and Latinx communities to reflect on how good our tomorrow can be by holding onto resilience and hope. The following books from our catalog wouldn’t be here without our authors’ sense of hope, be it the hope of a better future embodied in the text or the hope that the book will reach the reader who needs it. In each one, you will experience stories of resilience in the face of seeking justice, of crossing borders and carving out a space for one’s self in an uninviting country, adding to the complexities and contradictions of the United States’ narrative. One of these books is for you. Happy Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month!
By Christian Coleman | It was a long wait before Gayl Jones broke her years of silence. When Toni Morrison first discovered her, she said “no novel about any Black woman could ever be the same after this” upon reading the manuscript for “Corregidora.” It was published in 1975 when Jones was twenty-six. She followed up her debut novel with “Eva’s Man” and “The Healing.” But then after “Mosquito,” which came out in 1999, we wouldn’t hear from one of the greatest literary writers of the twentieth century for twenty-two years.
By Joan Murray | Last week, I got a call from a stranger. She was an elder at a church planning a remembrance ceremony for the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and asked if I’d read a poem. It was a poem I wrote on an Amtrak train four days after the attacks, and when I read it on NPR four days later, it became something of an anthem. Thousands of people from all over the world wanted copies: A factory owner in the Midwest wanted to read it to his workers; a Maryland police sergeant wanted to read it to her officers before they went on duty; a Canadian physician wanted to read it at a conference. People said they needed the poem.
Beacon Press is proud to announce the expansion of its poetry program, adding new voices to those of the press’s renowned poets—including James Baldwin, Mary Oliver, Sonia Sanchez, and Richard Blanco—who have been an essential part of the press’s catalog. The new series is called RAISED VOICES and will serve the overarching goal of representing marginalized voices and perspectives in poetry. The series authors will offer books that affirm progressive values, give voice to many identities, are accessible to a wide readership, and celebrate poetry’s ability to access truth in a way no other form can. Beacon plans to acquire about three new titles for the series each year.
By James Baldwin | I cannot guess what Alex Haley’s countrymen will make of this birthday present to us during this election and Bicentennial year. One is tempted to say that it could scarcely have come at a more awkward time—what with the conventions, the exhibition of candidates, the dubious state of this particular and perhaps increasingly dubious union, and the American attempt, hopelessly and predictably schizophrenic, of preventing total disaster, for white people and for the West, in South Africa.
By Marga Vicedo | A two-and-a-half year old girl sits on the floor. Her mother lays besides her, making random marks with a brush and paint on a piece of paper. She is hoping her little girl, Jessy, will imitate her. Unlike most children her age, Jessica has shown little interest in imitating her siblings or her parents. She seems content playing alone, placing some set of objects carefully in rows. Jessica did not start to use the brush and paint herself that day with her mom; but, remarkably, she did so three days later, on her own. From then on, her mother made sure Jessy always had paper, crayons, and paints. These tools would open up a new world of experiences and interests for Jessica.
What are you in the mood for? Some global history? Historical dark fantasy? Literary fiction? Graphic memoir? These books are what some of our staff have been reading this summer and they come highly recommended. If you need any ideas for what to read by the pool, on the beach, or by the breeze of the A/C, check out what we have to say about them.
This will be our second summer with our favorite global party-crasher, the pandemic. (Leave already, Pandy! We want to get on with our lives.) Seems like a lifetime ago when this started, huh? Except this season, the rollout of vaccines is making outdoor time under the sun a little freer and a little less fraught with worry. Although still nowhere near the comfort and safety level we need, some of us may make to the beach. Others may make it as far as their backyard. Wherever you set your beach blanket or beach chair, vaxxed and masked, we have some audiobook suggestions for the occasion.
Raise your hand if you’re going to Pride this year! 2020 has been voted off the island. More importantly, we missed Pride. As we strut our stuff under the sun, let’s not forget why we have the parades in the first place. The queers, drag queens, and trans women—especially the folx of color—who fought back against police violence. The fight for LGBTQ rights has never stopped since the Stonewall uprisings. Whether it’s the fight for self-acceptance and self-expression, for the right to marry, for the right to use the bathroom aligned with your gender identity, for affordable access to HIV medication, for the abolition of violent and oppressive systems, there’s always a fight.
This year’s theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service. Beacon Press views their writers as leaders, charting the way to a better future with uncovered histories, cultural commentary, and more. Which is why, as AAPI Heritage Month wraps up, we’re putting the spotlight on the work of our Asian American writers. The following list of recommended reads—by no means exhaustive—honors their work and contributions to our society and American history at large.
A Q&A with G’Ra Asim | Toni Morrison’s aphorism is definitely germane to the genesis of this book. As I write about in the chapter “Evidence of Things Unscene,” I started working on “Boyz” in a grad school MFA workshop. At first, I was trying to write essays on punk and straight edge in a less overtly personal way. The feedback I got from my instructors and classmates was that the “I-character” in my essays was difficult to fully imagine or believe. That led me to a larger idea: for the most part, we all walk around with our own IRL dramatis personae of what kind of people we think exist in the world.
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.”