By Helene Atwan | When Beacon was founded, in the mid-1850s, two burning issues of the day were abolition and women’s suffrage. Here, as we transition from Black History into Women’s History Month, I’m feeling so proud of our lasting tradition of publishing biographies that celebrate Black lives and women’s stories, and often both.
Is the coast clear? Any instances of blackface or diversity snafus on the horizon to mar Black History Month? Any of that nonsense to call out? Only last year and the year before did rashes of both spread in news headlines. But not this year. We’re conditioned to anticipate them like clockwork, but it’s a relief not to see them. Too soon to call it? Anyway, this year’s Black History Month is starting on a more auspicious note.
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.
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.
Imani Perry is having a moment in the limelight, and we hope she’s relishing every minute of it. When she first came to our offices to talk about her biography on Lorraine Hansberry, Looking for Lorraine, we knew it was going to be special. Fast forward to this year’s PEN/America Awards, and we delighted in seeing just how special her book is. She won the PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography!
By Imani Perry | Lorraine was frustrated by some critical evaluations of the play, even as she understood them. She was particularly frustrated that Walter Lee’s “ends” were read without complication. They were deliberate and clearly shaped by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, the WPA Negro in Illinois project’s publication Black Metropolis, and Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, which she considered an essential companion to the writings of Karl Marx. Walter Lee’s yearnings were a manifestation of Veblen’s theory of desire in a capitalist society, one that cut across class and caste. Her mastery of full characters, her sensitivity to speech and personality so that the characters never read as types, made the politics invisible to so many. But Lorraine intended to correct that.
Are you ready for the holiday season and on the hunt for gifts to inspire someone in your life? Our holiday sale is back! Save 30% on everything at beacon.org through December 31 using code HOLIDAY30. This year, Beacon Press is also donating 10% of our web sales in December to Unitarian Universalist Assocation Disaster Relief Fund to the help the communities in California recover from the wildfires. Here are our holiday picks for the year. Drum roll, please
By Emily Powers and Bella Sanchez | Imani Perry’s Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry is a watershed biography of the award-winning playwright, activist, and artist Lorraine Hansberry. If people know anything about Lorraine (Perry refers to her as Lorraine throughout the book, explaining why she does so), they’ll recall she was the author of A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning play about a family dealing with issues of race, class, education, and identity in Chicago. Lorraine’s extraordinary life has often been reduced to this one fact in classrooms—if she is taught at all.
Women’s History Month not only celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. It reminds us that history is in the making, at this very moment, as the fight for intersectional gender equity continues. We must engage with the struggle to make the just society we want a reality. To that end, we offer the following list of recommended reading from our catalog for your perusal.