What’s in a Word?

Words have the power to heal as much as they have to cut someone down. For instance, derogatory words targeted at certain individuals or communities often leave a long-lasting negative impact and lower their self-esteem. Today, however, more people are becoming aware of the negative effects of such terms. Recently, Twitter and JP Morgan made an announcement in light of the Black Lives Matter movement where they stated that the words, “master,” “slave,” and “blacklist” in the code would be replaced by “leader,” “follower,” and “denylist” respectively.

Though a simple move, it reveals how naturally everyone had adopted these pejorative terms into everyday language without thinking twice about the side-effects they had on the Black community. This is a classic example of systemic racism––something we must all work towards abolishing completely. 

However, it is not only these terms that need to be modified. Let’s take a look at few other terms that are biased and regressive in nature and their replacements: 

  • Blind/deaf person: terms that placed disabilities first were replaced with person-first emphasis. Instead, “a person with blindness/deafness” is considered more appropriate. This indicates that people are more than just their descriptors.
  •  Hey guys: the word “guys” is restricted to men and gives the impression that women are excluded. In place of this, “hey y’all,” or “hey everyone” is deemed more inclusive.
  • Mankind: similar to the one above, “mankind” is highly gender exclusive. A better replacement is “humanity” or “humankind”.
  • That’s so gay/queer: used earlier to denote something as “uncool,” this phrase is a homophobic slur. The best option is to avoid such phrases that appear to insult the LGBTQ community. Interestingly, the negative connotation of the word “queer” was removed and then reclaimed by the LGBTQ community as an umbrella term to cover diverse experiences.
  • Chinky: an ethnic slur that targets Chinese/people of Chinese descent. Often used to describe the shape of their eyes, i.e. chinky eyes, it should be replaced with “slanted eyes.” Unfortunately, during COVID-19, there has been an increase in usage as people expressed xenophobic sentiments against Chinese/people of Chinese origin. 

This list continues, and it is imperative to recognize these words as pejorative and alienating. In order to respect and properly represent all communities and cultures, it is essential we adopt inclusive language. People should feel accepted without exception. Though it is possible to make mistakes, one must learn from them and avoid using those words in the future. Only then can this world be a much more accepting and loving place to live in. 

In the field of writing and publishing, being accurate is not enough. It is an editor’s responsibility to ensure that the language is appropriate, inclusive, unbiased and culturally sensitive. Moreover, most style guides also include inclusive language sections and resources that are updated regularly. By researching and educating themselves with these resources, editors can then uphold their responsibility and that of the author.

Amala Reddie

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The Lack of Invisible Disabilities and Illness in Literature (And What You Can Read to Educate Yourself)

As book sales continue to rise with people having to stay inside, we must think about those who have already experienced quarantine. Dr. Julian Maha writes, “Unfortunately, for those living with sensory needs and invisible disabilities, this social isolation is a normal way of life. For them, there is no return to the way things were.” Despite people with disabilities being the world’s largest minority, there is little to no literature that represents them, and when it does, it is often done in a harmful way. 

We, as readers, must do more to understand those with invisible disabilities. To do so, we must find novels that accurately portray those with such conditions. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan discusses her experiences with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Cahalan goes into detail on being misdiagnosed multiple times and how she was confined to her hospital bed, barely able to walk. Because of her illness, Cahalan’s life was put on hold for months as she experienced multiple psychotic episodes. 

Another book that features an account of coping with an invisible disability is Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay. Manguso suffers an autoimmune disease that is so rare, it does not have a name. She underwent treatments in which her plasma was taken out of her body and replaced, along with steroid treatments. Her memoir serves as a portrait of what those with invisible disabilities and rare diseases go through, from forgetful nurses to complete alienation, all with an undertone of dark humor. More than anything, Manguso depicts the sheer loneliness that comes with having such a disease; she writes: “I tend to forget that my measurement of time is designed to distract me from what’s really happening.”

Now more than ever, these voices are essential to understanding our current world and how to survive in it. You can purchase Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness and The Two Kinds of Decay here

Kelsey Allen

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Comic Strips: A Recollection

Comic strips have always been an integral feature of American culture and first arrived in the United States during the late 19th century when newspapers were the best source of news and entertainment. As newspapers battled for readership, the most famous competition was the one between Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst, owner of New York Journal. In 1895, Pulitzer’s New York World launched a comic in color called “At the Circus in Hogan’s Alley” and introduced the Yellow Kid, designed by Richard Outcault. 

The comic featured a young boy dressed in a yellow nightshirt, and quite often, the boy’s thoughts and dialogues were printed on the nightshirt instead of a speech bubble. It went on to become the first comic strip of the United States. Such was the popularity of Yellow Kid that Hearst convinced Outcault to shift from World to the New York Journal. Despite this, Pulitzer retained the copyright of “Hogan’s Alley”, and soon both newspapers featured the same comic character, raising the stakes once more.

Another worthwhile comic strip is the Katzenjammer Kids, created by Rudolf Dirks and published in the New York Journal in 1897. Inspired by Max and Moritz, a children’s story by German author Wilhelm Busch; Katzenjammer Kids revolved around the lives of two German twins, Hans and Fritz, and their daily antics. Soon, other comic strips began arriving on the scene as other newspapers adopted them into their Sunday supplements.

Some of the most famous comic strip characters include “Phantom” (1936), “Peanuts” (1950), “Beetle Bailey” (1950), Dennis the Menace (1951), Garfield (1978), “Calvin and Hobbes” (1985), “Dilbert” (1989), and countless others. Each week, these beloved characters would appear in the newspaper and provided a sort of respite to readers from the usual news. Many readers also began cutting and pasting the strips together to make a complete book. One can say that comic books emerged from this comic strip collection. In fact, iconic comic book character Superman, conceptualized by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, was a result of a failed comic strip that was later compiled into a 13-page story and debuted in Action Comics #1

Comic strips have come a long way since then. It paved the way for comic books which opened a gateway to a whole new universe. As it continued to gain trajectory, so did the merchandise and commercial value of the characters. Today, store shelves are lined with video games, bottles, backpacks, and even plush toys of characters such as Garfield, Snoopy the Dog, Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes”, etc. It’s indeed staggering to imagine how a tiny panel with line drawings and thought bubbles expanded into full-length books, tv shows, and even landed on the silver screen!

Amala Reddie

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The Power of Palestinian Writer, Mohammed El-Kurd

Palestinian writer and poet Mohammed El-Kurd’s most recent piece, “My Grandmother, Icon of Palestinian Resilience,” beautifully details Palestine’s fight for power. In the article, El-Kurd writes of his Teta (grandmother), to whom he has dedicated numerous poems. He writes, “She is the axis to my actions, the orchestrator of my cadence. She cameoed my poetry and praxis.”

El-Kurd’s Teta, Rifqa el-Kurd, was a popular Palestinian activist whose home was invaded by Israeli settlers in 2009. The takeover of El-Kurd’s home was highly publicized in the media, leading to many activists visiting his family. Describing her as a “freedom fighter, an ambulance and a half,” Mohammed El-Kurd writes about his impressive and influential Teta while also giving readers a portrait of the Israeli takeover and Palestine’s resistance. Despite everything she went through—including suffering from dementia in the last year of her life—El-Kurd cites his Teta as his biggest influence, teaching him “how to launch my sentences like missiles.” 

El-Kurd’s piece about Teta’s recent death and activism is all too relevant right now; as Israel makes plans for annexation of Palestine, people are beginning to lose hope of ever seeing a solution. As El-Kurd notes, “We are yet to see the fruits of our seven-decades-old patience.”

El-Kurd is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Brooklyn College. He has been featured in a variety of outlets, such as Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, and Huffington Post. You can also read his articles on his Medium page

Kelsey Allen

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Book Clubs: A Literary Phenomenon

Book clubs have existed since ancient times. According to an article by Medium, the first book club is said to have been the Socratic Circle where disciples sought to examine and understand the deeper meaning of a particular text by engaging in dialogue instead of memorizing it. In 1727, The Junto Club was formed by Benjamin Franklin where he met with fellow artisans and tradesmen to discuss politics, philosophy, and other subjects. 

Another club worth mentioning is The First Woman’s Club started by Hannah Adams, an American historian from Medfield, Massachusetts and the first American woman to earn a living from writing. Not only did it bring literary lovers together, but it also propelled a need for women’s rights. In March 2020, the club celebrated its 125th anniversary since its official establishment in 1894. 

Book clubs became increasingly popular throughout the years, especially when Oprah’s Book Club was first televised in 1996 and made them a cultural phenomenon. Books featured on Oprah Winfrey’s list would hit the New York Times Bestsellers’ List the very next day and would sell over a million copies. By the time the show ended in 2011, people had formed their own book clubs via Facebook groups and from there, emerged the idea of virtual book clubs.

In 2015, however, Instagram established itself as one of the most influential and popular platforms. Enticed by the aesthetic layout and incredible reach, authors and celebrities alike began to launch book clubs on the platform. Today, some of the book clubs on Instagram boast a following of nearly a million and counting. 

There is a certain kind of joy in visiting these virtual clubs on Instagram, especially the visually appealing feed with the book covers that compel you to read more about the book. The real pleasure, however, is in interacting and engaging with other followers from all across the world with just a screen and a comment box. While it certainly does not match the warmth and interpersonal communication experienced in an in-person book club, these virtual book clubs proved— more than ever—to be a real source of comfort during the pandemic.

Some of the most popular book clubs run by celebrities on Instagram are Reese’s Book Club (by actress Reese Witherspoon), Our Shared Shelf (by actress Emma Watson), Between Two Books (by the band Florence + Machine’s Florence Welsh and Irish teenager Leah Moloney), and Subway Book Review (created by Uli Beutter Cohen, it discusses books that people read on the commute).

Are there any book clubs that you follow? Let us know in the comments which ones and why you like them!

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Judging A Book By Its Cover

Although the saying, “never judge a book by its cover”, rings true for every reader, the book cover is an important marketing and sales tool for every publisher. Every minute detail of the book cover matters—from the color palette to the photographs to the typography. Book designers also face the tough decision of balancing their creative license and vision with the expectations of what the reader will buy. 

Looking back, some of the most iconic books also featured some of the most iconic covers, such as A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby, Catch-22, and Catcher in the Rye. Even The Godfather cover designed by S. Neil Fujita is unforgettable with the puppeteer’s holding onto the strings attached to the words of “father”. The font too, is haunting with its powerful Gothic-looking typeface that aptly reflects the theme of power in the novel. 

Recently, the rise of Instagram—and more specifically—bookstagram, reinforced the importance of having an effective book cover design that would look good on not just our bookshelves but also on our social media feed. Book clubs on Instagram all began following the trend of uploading books with artistic elements like a strategically placed coffee mug and pens, or fairy lights, or posing with the book against an aesthetic background. 

In 2019, Vulture penned an article on the rise of book cover designs adapted for screens. The jackets, initially designed for bookshelves, must now also look great as a thumbnail or miniature and compel readers to click on them or even ‘like’ them. This led to trends like bold typography, hand-lettering, minimalistic backgrounds, botanical illustrations, and more so as to catch the reader’s eye as they scrolled past thousands of covers.

Now, as a result of the pandemic and social distancing, most people have resorted to purchasing or borrowing books online. Book covers have gained more importance than ever as readers first examine the cover on Amazon or Indiebound before diving into the synopsis. 

According to Literary Hub, New York Times, and Buzzfeed News, some of the best covers of 2019 include: 

Amala Reddie

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Why We Should All Read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

While incredible books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi are currently at the top of multiple best sellers’ lists, it would be remiss not to mention Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem and winner of the 2014 national Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric. In her book, Rankine describes the impact of microaggressions with the power only a poet possesses. The book is written in second person, forcing the reader to be in Rankine’s mind. From a white girl refusing to sit next to her on a plane to a heartbreaking list of names of the countless victims of police brutality, Claudia Rankine gives the reader a glimpse into her everyday life as a black woman. 

Along with her experiences as a black woman, Rankine analyzes multiple microaggressions we have seen on television (and most likely dismissed). Amid this analysis, Rankine goes into detail on the treatment of Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open. Rankine beautifully writes: “Serena in HD before your eyes becomes overcome by a rage you recognize and have been taught to hold at a distance for your own good” (28). In her recounting of the 2009 US Open, Rankine relates to Serena Williams’s anger and frustration, something she has been forced to hold onto her entire life. Citizen serves as Rankine’s attempt to communicate these seemingly perpetual annoyances that have not crossed many readers’ minds. 

Despite the fact that Citizen was published in 2014, Rankine’s poetry continues to be incredibly relevant. Rankine ends one of the most powerful sections of her book with a quote that horrifyingly rings true six years after writing it: 

because white men can’t

police their imagination

black men are dying

You can get Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine delivered to you from these bookstores now. 

Photo courtesy of Big Bang Poetry

Kelsey Allen

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Revisiting Pat Parker (1944–1989)

June 2020: 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Traditions. 

June 2020: America again fought racism and police brutality. 

In these turbulent times, being non-racist is not enough. The words of Angela Davis are being immortalized—whether it be on placards or on social media posts—with voices rallying and urging for global awareness on anti-racism. By turning to literary sources, people are educating themselves about the systemic racism and the white privilege and supremacy that continue to reign today. 

In the wake of this enlightenment, it is only befitting to shine a light on Pat Parker, one of America’s most prolific activists and poets, who was not only black but also a lesbian. 

Parker published a total of five works, Jonestown & other madness (1985), Movement in Black (1978), Woman Slaughter (1978), Pit Stop (1975), and Child of Myself (1972). In 2016, Sapphic Classics published The Complete Works of Pat Parker which was edited by Julie Enszer with an introduction by Judy Grahn. The poem, “My Lover is a Woman”, from Pit Stop explores the dynamics of being in an interracial relationship with sharp commentary on the ostracization of queer, black women in society. 

The opening lines of the poem: “my lover is a woman/& when I hold her/feel her warmth/I feel good/feel safe” gives the underlying tone of warmth and tender love. This tone especially stands out when juxtaposed against the lines “never think of the policemen/who kicked my body & said crawl/never think of Black bodies/hanging in trees or filled/with bullet holes/never hear my sisters say/white folks hair stinks/” (Parker). It is notable how in just these few lines, Parker packs the complex themes and events of oppression, discrimination, and prejudices that caused immense anguish in her life. 

There is also the extensive use of refrain in the poem which lends almost a musical quality, and one can very well imagine this being sung by a church choir. For instance, there is the repetition of the words “I feel good/feel safe” which reflect the solace sought by Parker while also encompassing the depth and understanding of their love. In contrast, the melancholic refrain of “never hear my mother cry/Lord, what kind of child is this?” (Parker) brings out the lack of acceptance from her family of her identity as a lesbian in a time when even being black was a struggle. 

Despite all this trouble and turmoil, Parker still accepts and chooses to be with her lover. It matters not whether her lover’s eyes are blue and hair is blonde, for love itself trumps all. And isn’t love and acceptance what we all crave and deserve in the end?

Pat Parker was born in Houston, Texas, and after high school, she moved to Los Angeles, California where she earned her bachelor’s from Los Angeles City College in 1962. In the late 1960s, after two divorces, she identified herself as a lesbian and was soon actively involved in civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements. At these events, she performed pieces of her poetry and soon, she joined the ranks of great poets like Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and more. 

Bibliography 

Parker, Pat. n.d. “My Lover Is a Woman by Pat Parker – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://poets.org/poem/my-lover-woman

 

Amala Reddie

 

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Feasting on Red, White and Royal Blue

In 2019, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue took the world by storm. The novel, which received praise and accolades across the globe, not only provided a perfect breezy rom-com by subverting tropes but also gave readers an endearing LGBTQ couple and highlighted several sociopolitical issues. 

The plot revolves around Alexander, son of the President of the United States, and Henry, the Prince of Wales,  who start off as nemeses and end up having to fake a friendship after a scandal at a Royal Wedding. The quintessential twist arrives when both start to fall for each other. Appearing at first as a run-of-the-mill romance, the story unfolds to be so much more. 

9781250316776_p0_v6_s1200x630Set in 2016, in an alternate reality where Ellen Claremont from Texas becomes the first female President of the United States, the story presents a “what could have been” setting that stands in stark contrast to the existing political climate. Through the pairing of the son of the “most powerful person in the world” with the son of the “most powerful Royal in the world”, McQuiston aptly delineates the power struggle and expectations from the two institutions (the White House and the Royal Establishment), the rigmarole of the press, and societal pressure that transcends all territorial boundaries. 

Even the romance doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of conforming to society standards and coming out on your own terms. This conflict is beautifully underlined in the email and text messages exchanged between Alex and Henry. In one such email, Alex remarks to Henry, “thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.” On the forefront, these emails have a humorous banter-like tone, but as the story progresses, they unearth the heartache and the emotional intensity of their feelings. 

While there are a few unrealistic elements, the earnest and poignant writing prevents it from becoming a saccharine read. And given the current climate, this book feels like a breath of fresh air and reminds us that love is indeed love. 

 

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Seeking Comfort in Sally Rooney’s Normal People

A common theme of quarantine is loneliness, whether it be physical or mental. We are living in an unprecedented time in which many of us are experiencing variations of the same feeling. Waking up to the same environment every day is deeply disheartening and has left a lot of us feeling unmotivated and uninspired. It is difficult feeling fulfilled when there is nowhere to go. Many people are relying on art to transport them or make them feel a semblance of community. 

An author that embodies this sense of loneliness while still managing to create a world so different from the one people are currently facing is Sally Rooney. The television adaptation of her most recent novel, Normal People, was released at the end of April. As the Hulu show gains more and more popularity, the novel does as well. Despite bookstores closing due to COVID-19, Nielsen BookScan reported the love story as the current highest selling novel. It remained on The New York Times Best Sellers list for eight weeks. 

imagesNormal People is a story that contains the best of both worlds; Sally Rooney takes the reader through multiple European countries, assigning each place with different tones. The story opens with the two main characters, Marianne and Connell, stuck in the bleakness of Sligo, only to transition to the energetic and youthful nature of Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney takes the reader to Marianne’s villa in Italy, eating strawberries in her backyard, to her snowy semester abroad in Sweden. Despite Rooney’s ability to transport the reader to multiple countries in the comfort of their own home, she layers the novel with a theme of loneliness, something that indeed resonates with those in quarantine. As Rooney states in her novel, “Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head”(208). 

Normal People by Sally Rooney is where adventure and culture intersect with the feeling of mental and physical isolation. The exploration of utter loneliness combined with the desolate portrait of Sligo will touch readers—especially in the current climate—in a way they never have before. 

 

Kelsey Allen

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