“The white boys bruised differently than the black boys and called it the Ice Cream Factory because you came out with bruises of every color. The black boys called it the White House because that was its official name and it fit and didn’t need to be embellished. The White House delivered the law and everybody obeyed.”
Colson Whitehead’s book after Underground Railroad tells the story of a reform school, the Black boys in the school, the devastating impact of the school and the system that enables it.
This novel has similar strengths (based on a true story, the concept, the research and historical truth behind the concept, the heft of the prose in the best parts) and weaknesses (underdeveloped secondary characters, the sometimes less inspired prose in transitional plot phases) as Underground Railroad. It’s still a great book that is important and deserving of its success and accolades.
But it also made me realize how the important, successful, critically acclaimed, powerful ™ books by and about Black people too often focus on (historical) hurt and pain. I could use some recommendations for important, successful, powerful ™ books about Black joy. Not because books like Nickel Boys or Underground Railroad make white people like me uncomfortable – that’s the best part about Whitehead’s work – but because stories of joy and success need to be celebrated and supported, too. Especially in these times.
I’m just going to go out on a limb here: You or Someone You Know by Worriers is my favorite record of the year. Such a perfect punk/power pop record – I listen to it when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m sitting in the sun on my balcony, when I have to work too long once again. Headphones, speakers, smartphone – it always sounds great. The production is flawless. So warm, so smart, so great. The opening track, “End of the World” is the song of 2020:
Set my sights on the life that you get when you put the hard work in. Only to be told, keep your fingers crossed that they vote you a person. I apologize; you’ve been trying to go with the safer bet. It’s true I didn’t think that far, but how do you plan for the death of a safety net?
What can I possibly say, is it me or the end of the world? Cover your eyes and ears and hope I don’t notice and nothing hurts. It must weigh on you a bit, but it’s not me that has to fix it. Could you just hold on to me for now?
And their account is one of my favorites on Instagram, too.
“A Hero’s Death” is the new single by Fontaines D.C. The video is a great downward spiral with a Birdman-vibe, starring Aiden Gillen. The song is really terrific, and it soundtracked my end of the workweek yesterday. Sometimes hearing a postpunk reminder that
Life ain’t always empty Life ain’t always empty Life ain’t always empty Life ain’t always empty Life ain’t always empty Life ain’t always empty
Muff Potter released a new single and I’m so excited, I even reactivated my blog.
Last year, when I stood in the crowd of a frenetic, fantastic reunion show in Munich, I realized just how much I missed Muff Potter. I swiped away a tear or two and desperately hoped this wouldn’t be a one time thing, and there would be new literary, angry pop music by my favorite band.
A bit more than a year later, here is a new great single “Was willst du” and I’m so excited, I even reactivated my blog.
Punk is really at its best when its angry and abrasive – and Deutsche Laichen, a decidedly queer feminist punk band from Göttingen, Germany, are really, really abrasive. Their self-titled debut LP is almost physical in its rejection of toxic masculinity, homophobia and (cis)sexism. Case in point: “Du bist so schön, wenn du hasst”, the standout song from the album:
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.”
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.
The above quote is from her 1993 Nobel Lecture, which I can only recommend. Of all her novels and essays, the lecture is perhaps my favorite piece of writing of hers, the one I return to most often, and not just because I quoted it in my master’s thesis.
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.”
“Think long thoughts in short sentences.”
“Don’t ever believe poetry is irrelevant in dark times.”
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: