“But perhaps the most striking and frightening aspect of the German flight from reality is the habit of treating facts as though they were mere opinions.”

Hannah Arendt The Aftermath of Nazi Rule – Report from Germany. (1950)

Hannah Arendt was born today in 1906. These days, her theories and commentary feels all too relevant.

“To Give a Being Like Me Language” – Akwaeke Emezi on Toni Morrison

After Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison died just a few days ago, I thought a lot about what her work meant to me, and I read a lot of tributes to her. The piece of writing that struck me most is this letter by nonbinary writer/ogbanje Akwaeke Emezi:

The elderspirit of you leapt into my head the day Professor Mayes played a VHS tape from her archive of an interview you gave after you won the Nobel Prize.
‘I stood at the border, stood at the edge, and claimed it as central. Claimed it as central, and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.’
Your words reached like an arm of fire out of that television screen, and I swear they were just for me. This is the you I know. It is no small thing to give a being like me language.”

Their letter was published by Them.

The letter may be the most beautiful, center-challenging – and in that combination most Morrison-like – piece I read these days. Morrison’s writing meant a lot to me, but I can barely start to understand what she meant to people who live closer to the edges than I do.

Happy 100th Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, painter, activist, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers turned 100 years old today.

Ferlinghetti is maybe best known for “A Coney Island of the Mind” and as publisher of the beat poets, which included being arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the ensuing First Ammendment trial.

My favorite work of his is the little book Poetry As Insurgent Art which a good friend gifted me a few years ago.
A few of my favorite quotes:

  • “The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.”
  • “Haunt bookstores.”
  • “Think long thoughts in short sentences.”
  • “Don’t ever believe poetry is irrelevant in dark times.”

Image: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0

Wole Soyinka in Conversation With Henry Louis Gates

The New York Review of Books published a long, wide-ranging interview of Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature, by Henry Louis Gates. The conversation touches on Trump and why Soyinka cut up his green card, the African diaspora, desegregating motel swimming pools, Obama and burdening a leader with a Peace Prize, federalism in Nigeria, classism in South Africa, women’s rights and fundamentalism, and Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. I can only recommend reading it in full:

There’s One Humanity or There Isn’t’

Image: Frankie Fouganthin (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Trust Love All the Way”: Go See If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk, the Barry Jenkins movie based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, is a fantastic, beautiful, political, loving movie. Trish Rivers and Fonny Hunt are a young Black couple in love and expecting a baby when Fonny is arrested for a rape he didn’t commit.

Barry Jenkins and James Baldwin have one thing in common. An image/prose language that is both realistic and, at the same time, incredibly poetic. Compared to Moonlight, the outstanding 2017 Academy Award winner, Beale Street is comparatively conventional in parts, but similarly terrific. The beauty of the love between Trish and Fonny, the support of Trish’s family is in contrast to the ugliness of the racist system.

The acting of the entire cast is exceptional, Regina King as Sharon Rivers deserves winning all the awards this season, including the Oscar for best actress in a suporting role. The two young lead roles, Kiki Layne as Tish and Stephan James as Fonny are great, particularly their close ups were tremendously heavy or heavenly light, depending on the scene. The breathtaking dialogues at the window in prison reminded me of the intensity of the prison dialogues in Steven McQueen’s Hunger.

Once again, Glenn Weldon of NPR’s Popculture Happy Hour podcast also sums up this movie together perfectly: “If Beale Street Could Talk has a gorgeous urgency.” 

I saw it as a Valentine’s Day preview at Zebra Kino Konstanz. The movie will be released more widely in Germany on March 7th, 2019. Go see it if you have a chance.

The Oscars Love Racial Reconciliation Movies.

Wesley Morris sums up the problem with Oscar-winning movies like The Green Book for the New York Times:

The money is ostensibly for legitimate assistance, but it also seems to paper over all that’s potentially fraught about race. The relationship is entirely conscripted as service and bound by capitalism and the fantastically presumptive leap is, The money doesn’t matter because I like working for you. And if you’re the racist in the relationship: I can’t be horrible because we’re friends now. That’s why the hug Sandra Bullock gives Yomi Perry, the actor playing her maid, Maria, at the end of “Crash,” remains the single most disturbing gesture of its kind. It’s not friendship. Friendship is mutual. That hug is cannibalism.

Toni Morrison on Embracing Failure as Information

It’s as though you’re in a laboratory and you’re working on an experiment with chemicals or with rats, and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t mix. You don’t throw up your hands and run out of the lab. What you do is you identify the procedure and what went wrong and then correct it. If you think of [writing] simply as information, you can get closer to success.

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison turns 88 on Monday.

Her new essay collection, The Source of Self-Regard, was released last week in Germany and I can’t wait to delve in.

Image: Angela Radulescu, cc-by-sa 2.0

Kaveh Akbar on Poetry

We have to say it in a way that will delight the ear or the tongue or the mind of a reader who will never know us. It’s the only way in. And to do that, we have to be capable of imagining that reader, imagining them wholly, gassy and distracted by their phone and worried about the news and late to pick up their son from ballet.

Kaveh Akbar in conversation with Danez Smith for Granta. Both poets are shortlisted for the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2018.

Photo: Birbiglebug/CC BY-SA 4.0