Category Archives: Literature

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Why Black Voices are Essential to the Publishing Industry 

The publishing industry is important; there is no doubt about it. It provides an outlet for writers’ voices. However, as protests for Black Lives Matter sweep the nation and the world, there is no ignoring the industry’s blatant lack of diversity. 

Lee & Low Books (one of the very few minority-owned, multicultural children’s book publishers) recently conducted a study on this prevalent issue, revealing that 76 percent of the industry itself is white. This is a 3 percent difference from Lee &Low’s’ study in 2015, in which 79 percent of the industry consisted of white staff. These statistics alone negate the purpose of the publishing industry: to amplify the voices of others. Black voices deserve to be deemed as essential as white voices; according to Lee & Low’s statistics, the industry does not seem to fully align itself with that belief. Now, more than ever, black voices are more than necessary, considering their stories and voices have often been disrespected and silenced in the past. 

Nonetheless, there are many influential people tackling these statistics. Writer and poet Kima Jones started her own literary publicity firm, Jack Jones Literary Arts, in 2015. According to their website, the firm’s roster is 98 percent black women and women of color. Jones’s firm specializes in “projects to audiences who seek literary art that is unorthodox, underappreciated, and unparalleled.” Jones has worked on the publicity team for multiple bestsellers, including Angie Thomas’s novel, The Hate U Give, and Tyehimba Jess’s poetry collection Olio. Jones and her firm emphasize the importance of broadening the publishing industry in all departments, including the executive, editorial, and sales levels. 

As the Black Lives Matter movement brings more awareness to this diversity gap and magnifies the need for black voices in the publishing industry, many are looking to purchase books from black-owned businesses, such as Mahogany Books in Washington D.C., Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Black Pearl Books in Austin, Texas. 

Exposure of black artists and authors is fundamental to our perception of the world and ourselves; there is no industry without them. As Lee & Low Books states on their website, “The people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out.” 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

The Daydream of Violent Social Upheaval in 1914 and 2020

In 1918, the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and a world power that had existed since 1867 ceased to exist. However, the fall had begun much earlier, and indeed the most potent wedge that would split the nation was the Great War. In his little-known memoir, The Burning of the World, only-first published in 2014, Bela Zombory-Moldovan describes his time on the Russian front in the early confused stages of the war. Though he has been dead since 1967, Bela’s words read with a strange, daydream-like quality of confused violence and the subsequent social changes against the established norm.

Bela himself was a well-to-do young artist at the beginning of the war. While on holiday at ancient Croatian village of Bribirk, he finds out about the war from the bathing attendant who suddenly leaves his post and informs an unaware Bela of the news in broken Hungarian. However, the laconic nature of his parlance due to the language barrier adds to the feeling of quiet unease. “Leaving? I must go to the army. There is going to be war… Please. The notice is there on the wall of the bathing station”

This strange half life in the twilight years of the old empire is further developed by Bela’s experience of confused combat against the Russians. In Bella’s first and only combat, his unit is destroyed, and he is wounded, limping back to his own lines with no surviving chain of command to direct him. While he recovers back in civilian life, he suffers a sort of emotional block, as he cannot go back to the normalcy of his dying way of life. He writes, “I bought a newspaper. I had not read one for weeks. Bellicose guff about final victory. The big German offensive towards Paris had ‘stopped’ at the Marne. No decisive developments anywhere. Slow dusk. Budapest.”

The Burning of the World is a title that would work for a book today as well as it did back during the turmoil at the beginning of the 20th century. The lack of decisive action in todays politics and current events maddening, yet there is some solace to be had in the narratives of others who came before. People like Bela Zombory-Moldovan are proof that turmoil and upheaval are the natural progression of history, and though it may at times feel surreal to be caught up in the middle of it, eventually there will be decisive action. It is only a matter of time.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

E-books and Online Libraries during COVID-19

The debate between digital media and print media is an argument as old as time itself and one that has often divided the reading community. In 2019, 37 percent of people read only print books while 7 percent read only digital books. However, the onset of the pandemic certainly changed this landscape. At a time when public libraries and independent bookstores are facing huge losses, e-books have proven to be a silver lining, especially for those on a tight budget. On Libby, the e-book reading platform that provides access to local libraries, there was an incredible upswing of 247,000 downloads and 10.1 million e-book borrows in just one week.

From turning physical pages to swiping across the screen of a smartphone or tablet, the very structure of reading during COVID-19 has been transformed. Although it is disheartening to no longer interact with beloved booksellers for that perfect next read, online databases of various libraries have gathered and compiled reading lists based entirely on the books borrowed and downloaded by users—a move that opened up a new avenue of discovering our next read. It even goes a step further by cataloging the books with relevant tags for better assistance. As a staunch print book reader and avid library frequenter, access to these resources indeed manifested as a surprise and made for an enriching reading experience!

In the case of audiobooks, Audible recently made thousands of titles available for free for children and adults alike, and people have adapted to new routines, such as listening to a cookbook recipe and following the instructions (without worrying about burning–or worse–staining the pages) or listening to Marie Kondo’s Joy at Work while actually cleaning up their  shelves. This is not to say that people no longer continue to purchase print books. In fact, people have requested curbside deliveries by local bookstores. While it is definitely encouraging to see the rise of digital books, it begs the question: has the pandemic changed the way we perceive digital media forever? Or will the prejudice against e-books prevail once life returns to normal?

Amala Reddie

 

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19, Literature

Authors Discuss Escapism in Literature

In her recent article Fairy Tales and Facts: How We Read in a Pandemic for Lit Hub, Siri Hustvedt posed the question: “if you are well and at home and have enough to eat and can concentrate on a book, do you read toward or away from your fear?” Along with reading Hustvedt, I spoke with novelist Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection and My Ex-Life, among several other acclaimed best-sellers, to gain an understanding of how different authors are processing the desire to escape into literature during these tumultuous times. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a total immersion in fear. As Hustvedt states, one can, “consume every factual tidbit available about the virus and its spread, the best mask to wear, or how to clean your groceries to avoid contamination.” She goes on to ask, “what could fiction with its imaginary ramblings possibly give anyone at such a time, except an escape into the unreal?” Hustvedt’s answer is an escape to the fantastic. In fairy tales, she explains, “the hero or heroine is tested sorely, but in the end, he or she is rewarded with happiness.” And to the magic in fairy tales, “the laws of nature are overturned and replaced by human desires.” 

However, magic is not the only way to find a respite from the fear and facts of the news. As McCauley explained, a piece of fiction can be utterly immersive and calming without the use of witches and evil stepmothers. “I find I’m not interested in reading anything either too grim or too suspenseful. [My] nerves [are] frayed enough as is,” he said, referring to the Covid-19 virus. “Since this leaves out much of contemporary fiction, I’m sticking with classics.” Having not read any Dickens in many years, McCauley has now immersed himself in Little Dorrit. “I’d forgotten what a singular pleasure it is to read Dickens,” said McCauley. “His sentences are lavishly embellished, his plots border on incomprehensibly complicated, and the cast of characters is immense. But once you ease into his style and accept his pacing, it’s spectacularly enjoyable. ‘Oh, good, here comes Flora,’ you think and then settle down for ten pages of the character behaving exactly as you know she will. It’s a thoroughly immersive experience.”

What are you reading under lockdown? Let us know in the comments, or write to us on our Facebook or Twitter.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19, Literature

Where Should We Buy Books During the Pandemic?  

COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on American industry. In the literary world, one of the great victims is the independent bookstore. Independent bookstores already operate on thin profit margins and compared to giants of media, like television production or tech companies, the brick-and-mortar world of publishing is at the mercy of the market. According to Publisher’s Weekly and The New York Times, independent bookstores in NYC, like the famous Strand, have laid off almost all of their staff. Additionally, Powell’s World of Books in Portland Oregon has furloughed its workforce with the exception of a select few filling out online orders. 

However, it is not due to lack of need. In fact, many of us have more time on our hands than ever before to finally finish that 800-page tome on our nightstands. But unfortunately, as bookstores are hemorrhaging rent money and unable to operate, sales are going to Amazon. The giant of e-commerce is perfectly poised to pick up the slack in book sales. Though the company has stated that they are prioritizing the shipment of essential supplies to its customers, its subsidiary AbeBooks can take on some of the overflow. Additionally, many people will likely accept the increased shipping times to purchase their favorite books at Amazon’s usual low prices.

Now more than ever independent bookstores need our help to maintain diversity in the bookselling world. While COVID-19 threatens our health, it is an opportunity for the most well insulated businesses to strengthen monopolistic practices. Though it is a luxury to spend a little extra at a bookstore’s online shop, and you will have to pay shipping (something anyone with a Prime account may have forgotten about), COVID-19 is nothing if not a watershed moment for small businesses across the country. Instead of using an Amazon account, consider placing an order with your favorite bookstore’s online storefront. Or if they don’t have one, try Bookshop.org or another used book retailer like Thriftbooks or eBay. What we do with our wallets in this global health and economic crisis is critical in deciding who is still left doing business when all is said and done. 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under COVID-19, Literature

Writers Resists’ Call to Action

writers_resist

writersresist2020.org

“The alarm, the disquiet, writers raise is instructive because it is open and vulnerable, because if unpoliced it is threatening. Therefore the historical suppression of writers is the earliest harbinger of the steady peeling away of additional rights and liberties that will follow. The history of persecuted writers is as long as the history of literature itself. And the efforts to censure, starve, regulate, and annihilate us are clear signs that something important has taken place” –Toni Morrison

Every year, Writers Resist facilitates several events across the nation, bringing together, “writers, readers, citizens, and community members to celebrate, reflect on, and find inspiration in the life and work of Toni Morrison,” (writersresisit2020.org). On March 29th, Writers Resist, in conjunction with HeadCount, a voting advocacy organization, will put on their “Write The Vote 2020” event. 

Writers Resist and HeadCount are using this event both to memorialize Morrison and to turn that loss into a force for positive change. This year, Writers Resist is focused especially on voter turnout. Citing the 2016 presidential election’s 60% national turnout, Writers Resist strives to empower writers and voters alike for the upcoming 2020 elections.

Writers Resist is using the hashtags #writethevote and #writethevote2020 to foster an online dialogue about voter advocacy and diversity. There’s already buzz building on the Internet about the upcoming events, and you can click on the hashtag to see what people have said about Writers Resist in years past. The Melrose Poetry Bureau (@MPoetryBureau) tweeted,

@PoetryPotty We invite you to & hope you will tweet a 3 line poem about voting or this election & tag it #WriteToVote

Meg Day (@themegdaystory), poet and professor, tweeted,

“Proud to be a part of the #WritersResist #WRITEtheVOTE2020 crew, but especially proud of this reminder: “Please keep this commitment to diversity in mind as you plan your event, & make sure that the ways in which you answer this call to action are inclusive & [#AccessibleAF].”

 To join the conversation, tweet with the hashtag #writetheovote2020, or visit their website, writersresist2020.org, to learn about the events and get engaged.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

How Slam Poetry Can Be Used As A Form of Protest

In today’s political climate where politicians sputter hasty tweets, ramble in convoluted circles without coming to a concrete answer, and strip away the voices of disenfranchised groups of people, slam poetry seeks to reclaim the voice as a tool for power. Though in the media, both politician’s and civilian’s words are often misconstrued or misinterpreted, slam poems seek to tell the poet’s truth about whatever topic they choose to recite. Slam poems are poetry spoken aloud to an audience, often with intense emotion conveyed through pointed word choice, syntax, rhythmic considerations, and a heartfelt, zealous voice.

In order to write a slam poem that delivers its intended meaning successfully, the poet must consider each individual word and syllable within it to deliver their intended meaning. Unlike typical poetry, which is not often read aloud, the writing of slam poems must consider both the written word and spoken delivery. Each word must have a determined, concrete meaning and be spoken through impassioned, dynamic dialogue. When done successfully, these poems are meant to incite emotion within the poet’s audience and can inspire change, or call to action. The meanings of these poems are meant to be understood universally, as opposed to much of the noninclusive language used in political rhetoric that often gatekeeps against those without higher levels of education and English language comprehension. While some politicians avoid giving concrete answers to pressing questions by beating around the bush, each word in a slam poem must be carefully chosen and articulated. Slam poetry allows for the speaker to thoughtfully deliver a message of what is important to them, and can serve as a form of protest and a platform- for everyone

Check out some of these slam poems below:

  1. Neil Hillborn “OCD” 
  2. Javon Johnson “Cuz he’s black”
  3. Savannah Brown “Moles don’t think about space or small talk”
  4. Sukhjit Khalsa- Slam Poem
  5. Savannah Brown “I wrote this happy”
  6. Jillian Rabideau “Rated R”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Transcendentalism in Boston

Trans

Emerson lecturing in Concord. Bettmann / Getty Images

“But in New England, the ideas entertained by the foreign thinkers took root in the native soil and blossomed out in every form of social life. The philosophy assumed full proportions, produced fruit according to its kind, created a new social order for itself, or rather showed what sort of social order it would create under favoring conditions. Its new heavens and new earth were made visible, if but for a moment, and in a wintry season. Hence, when we speak of Transcendentalism, we mean New England Transcendentalism. New England furnished the only plot of ground on the planet, where the transcendental philosophy had a chance to show what it was and what it proposed” -Octavius Brooks Frothingham, second wave transcendentalist writer and author of New England Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was a literary, philosophical, and religious movement that began in the 19th century, based in New England. Followers of this movement believed that independent, self-reliant human’s coexistence with nature is the utmost state of existence. Transcendentalists thought that society and institutions had corrupted individual’s purity and that only through cohabitation with oneself in nature can equilibrium be restored. The natural, glorious landscape of New England- specifically in Massachusetts, inspired transcendentalist writings.

The head of the transcendentalist movement came to a head in Boston. The prevalence of literacy, sense of individualism, and tenacious Protestant beliefs held in New England at the time made this area the perfect breeding group for transcendentalism to flourish. Frothingham describes how the character of New Englanders were the perfect practitioners of transcendentalism’s ideas. “The Unitarians of New England, good scholars, careful reasoners, clear and exact thinkers, accomplished men of letters, humane in sentiment, sincere in moral intention, belonged, of course with individual exceptions, to the class which looked without for knowledge, rather than within for inspiration.”

The transcendentalists were so cemented in their belief of coexistence with nature that they collectively bought and temporarily lived at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Boston, though most of their correspondences otherwise happened in the city. Commonly the transcendentalist club held meetings in Boston’s Beacon Hill at the Boston Athenaeum where the writers would engage in research at the Athenaeum’s library. Close by is the Parker House, located at 60 School Street in Beacon Hill. The transcendentalists would gather at the Parker House and host lively round table discussions, completely with freely flowing discussion, spirits, and food.

Further, the Old Corner Bookstore located on School Street in Boston allowed for transcendentalists to meet and publish their works. Between 1845 and 1865, The Old Corner Bookstore revolutionized the American book publishing industry by winning “worldwide renown as a well-stocked shop, a prominent publishing house, and a magnet for the literary world.”

Finally, one of Boston’s most well-known landmarks, The Common, was where it was rumored Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman strolled, as Emerson tried to convince Whitman to tone down the sexual language in his works. Whitman wrote:

“Each point of Emerson’s statement was unanswerable, no judge’s charge ever more complete or convincing, I could never hear the point better put – and then I felt down in my soul the clear and unmistakable conviction to disobey all and pursue my own way.”

As Whitman aspired to do in his own works, the writings of the transcendentalists radicalized American writing by introducing a new, less inhibited way of thinking about one’s relation to the world. The transcendentalist movement created a more secular, skeptical generation of American writers and intellectuals.

Sources: http://atweb.tatecommunications.com/boston.htm

Post written by Emily Bunn

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

The Beat Generation: Members, Ideology, and Influences

Movie Ginsberg

Neal Cassady (and the love of that year) photographed by Allen Ginsberg

“Nobody knows whether we were just catalysts or invented something, or just the froth riding on a wave of its own. We were all three, I suppose,” writes Allen Ginsberg, who along with William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, was one of the core founders of the Beat Generation, a literary movement inspired by politics and culture of the post-WWII American society. Coming to fruition in the 1950s, the movement coalesced around poets and polemicists in San Francisco and Berkley, California, and in New York City. The members of this movement were considered counterculture and rejected standard poetic and societal norms.

The shared values of Beat Generation authors include rejection of materialism, exploitation of Eastern religions, psychedelic experimentation, explicit and raw illustrations of the human condition, and sexual liberation. To reach a heightened state of sensory awareness, the Beat Generation advocated for Zen Buddism, drugs, sex, and jazz and bebop music. Common themes within Beat Generation writings include the demystification/decriminalization of marijuana, opposition to the military-industrial ‘machine civilization,’ and sexual freedom. 

Though the movement faded by the 1960s, the effects of these great writers continue to be longstanding. The openness and raw emotion of the Beat writers helped break down barriers in the artistic and literary worlds. Great later writers who were influenced by the Beat Generation include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Similarly, the Beat Generation influenced the notable Andy Warhol, an abstract pop artist who also went against artistic norms to create his paintings. After the world was introduced to Beat Generation writing, poetry become more free-form and unconventional. Overall, the Beat Generation created a more abstract and unapologetic generation of writers and artists.

Ginsberg 1

William Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg

The greatest works of the Beat Generation, which still influence writing today, have changed my perspective on the medium itself. My favorite Beat Generation works include “Howl” and “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg; “Old Angel Midnight” and On The Road by Jack Kerouac, The Soft Machine and And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks by William Burroughs; “An Exercise in Love” by Diane Di Prima; and the crowning piece of the entire Beat Generation- “America” by Allen Ginsberg. 

Allen Ginsberg’s “America” is a heart-wrenching, angry, and enigmatic poem about the infrastructure and operations of the mechanized, militaristic, capitalist society of America in the 1950s. In the wake of WWII, Ginsburg discusses the political unrest that has stained the American soil. He discusses the Cold War foreign policy positions the United States embroils itself in and his contempt with the nation’s handling of these situations at stake. Within “America” Ginsberg discusses themes such as the creation and threat of nuclear bombs, organized religion, drug use, and the fight against communism. Ginsberg is ranting to the omniscient America so as much as he is rambling to himself, and his ebullient, frustrated, radical declarations are both political and vulgar. Ginsberg’s impenetrable tenacity and fierce argumentation raise skepticism about the world around us; especially within such the highly advanced and praised democracy that America broadcasts. To exemplify this, below is the first stanza of Allen Ginsberg’s “America.”

 

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

 

Ginsberg2

William Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg

 

To read the rest of “America”, please visit: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49305/america-56d22b41f119f

Post written by Emily Bunn

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature