“So I just think about all the children who have been separated from their parents, and there’s a lot of us, past and present, and some under more traumatic circumstances than other – like those who are in internment camps right now – and I just imagine us as an army of mutants. We’ve been touched by this monster, and our brains are forever changed, and we all have trees without branches in there, and what will happen to us? Who will we become? Who will take care of us?”
The Undocumented Americans is a tremendous book, maybe the most important book of the year. The best part about the book is hat it’s not for white liberals like me, but for other members of her community.
Cornejo Villavicencio created a great, impactful blend of memoir and reporting, productively angry in a way that reminded me of Audre Lorde. This combination enables her to write so clearly about the systematic trauma and PTSD of the undocumented experience, the impact it has on kids and adults, on families. She makes it so obvious that the problem is so much bigger than Trump, more systemic. These issues depicted in this book will not magically disappear when Biden and Harris are elected, but their victory might set the country’s car back on its wheels, and writers and activists like Cornejo Villavicencio might be able to then influence the administration, and the US might inch forward instead of racing further back.
If you’re still reading this and are a US citizen, I sincerely hope you already cast your ballot. If not, what are you waiting for? It’s almost too late.
I highly recommend the debut novel by Olivia Wenzel.
“Etwas, das damit einhergeht, eine neue, gesunde Angst in dein Leben zu lassen – eine Angst, tief, wärmer und zerreißender als jede Angst um dich selbst, dein Leben, deine identitären Beffindlichkeiten es je sein könnten: eine Angst, gebunden an eine Liebe, so stark wie alles, was du bisher kanntest, mal 1000.”
“Something that goes hand in hand with a new, healthy fear in your life – a fear that is deep, warmer and more tearing than any fear of yourself, your life, your identity sensitivities could ever be: a fear bound to a love, as strong as anything you knew before, times 1000.”
1000 Serpentinen Angst is the great first novel by Olivia Wenzel. While browsing a bookshop recently, a friend recommended the book to me, especially referring to the book’s treatment of racism experiences of a Black person in Germany. And the novel is about that – in part. It’s also about (Black) life, (Black) joy, (Black) insecurities and (Black) fear in Germany. I was most impressed by the passages on the main character’s struggle with anxiety and the impact the disorder had on her normal life, her friendships and love. I recognized some of it, but the experience of being a Black queer woman in Germany adds extra layers of fear and complexity to the illness.
The story is told through constant dialogues between the main protagonist and a constantly shifting counterpart. The narrative form is fantastic, slightly experimental and really successful in transporting these complexities, more so than an omniscient narrator or inner monologues could. This narration of the protagonists life and her complex relationships, particularly to her loving yet racist grandmother and her ill and mostly absent mother, creates a tremendous pull. Fantastic.
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.
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
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
A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll and the connected article results in what they call a “warning for Democrats: Americans are largely against the country becoming more politically correct.” The question in the poll, like the framing of the article, is.. odd.The full question is:
“In general, are you in favor of the United States becoming more politically correct and like when people are being more sensitive in their comments about others, or are you against the country becoming more politically correct and upset that there are too many things people can’t say anymore?”
Asma Khalid called this a good definition of politcal correctness in the most recent episode of the NPR Politics podcast. I don’t think so. The question is neitehr a fitting definition of politcal correctness nor a neutral one, but rather a definition that at the very least leans towards the use of the term “political correctness” as a right-wing fighting word. It connects “politcal correctness” to censorship.
Not using certain words and supporting certain concepts isn’t about censorship, it’s about not continuing to hurt people.
So far the most surprising, beautiful sentence in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power. It’s about his wife and part of one of the meta-essays that introduce his previously published essays in this collection. Some have aged better than others, but the meta-essays alone are worth the read alone. Man, that guy can write.