Reading Out

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Writing Desks, Service Women’s Lounge, Broad St. Station, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (LC-G612- 45865)

This is the first – the start of an effort to turn over this blog completely to the circulation of work by women and especially women of color. I’ve laid out the rationale here and here.

Here are four pieces of amazing writing (plus one 3 minute video) I’ve been thinking about and revisiting this week. They aren’t ranked, of course. Hopefully, people reading this will find something new and share it out.

Rinku Sen is a genius organizer. She is also a thoughtful, persuasive essayist. I remember when this piece first emerged – as a briefer Facebook post, it was very much written as a caution to those who were depicting the #MeToo movement as hopelessly bourgeois, white, and mainstream. True enough. But Sen offers a counter to what she sees as the endless quest for the perfect, politically pure position outside of complicity with “the mainstream.” And then, drawing on a lifetime of experience in community organizing and anti-racist work, she ticks off the reasons why cultivating a broader base isn’t a bad thing. “There should and will be many tactical experiments in this period of political, cultural, and spiritual churn,” she sums; “Critique is easy. Actually running such an experiment is hard.” It is all too easy to get caught up in the notion that outsiders are in the only legitimate radical position; Sen asks us to think harder about the consequences of that purist approach and to reject a zero-sum approach to activist tactics and strategies.

(Also, as an appendix, see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s acceptance speech).

Speculative fiction writer N.K. Jemisin is the most imaginative human on the planet. “World-building” is a big deal these days (as we try to imagine a better one), but Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy – about a continent that is destroyed at irregular intervals, and the layers of worlds built on top of destroyed worlds – deserves to be celebrated as perhaps the most ambitious and successful speculative fiction effort ever. And that doesn’t even get us to the racial and gender politics of the book, which are ever bit as revolutionary as the narrative itself. Here, on the Sci/Fantasy publisher Tor’s website, she gives away a free short story about the life – literally, or bio-mechanically – of New York City, and the midwife caught up in its birth. I was moved, reading it, to think that this was the same author of that aforementioned trilogy – that any one human could show such range as a writer and dreamer.

Since the election of 2016, I have been drawn to this piece by Sarah Kendzior over and over again. An internationally renowned expert on foreign policy globally – and on autocracy specifically – Kendzior’s writing on the Age of Trump is searing, smart, and moving all at once. Here, she invokes a specific literary practice – the art of writing a letter to oneself – as an antidote to the slow, grinding change that attends the arrival of fascism and autocracy. Kendzior writes to the present for the future, asking us to leave a singular, damning receipt for the dark days ahead. The sort of receipt that might make it possible to hold onto our humanity. Or that might reveal just how much has changed. “Write your biography,” she asks, “write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget. Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.”

Finally, Adrienne Keene is a colleague and a friend – and the force behind the blog Native Appropriations. She had a cancer scare last spring, and wrote about it right here. And she linked it up – artfully and passionately – to settler colonialism and its various genocides, to the everydayness of patriarchy, to the power of taking a deep breath, picking up a laptop, and writing it all down. “For two weeks a year,” she writes near the close, “I will hold my breath and hope it hasn’t come back. Another surgery would mean I have very little cervix left. It would mean probable infertility. It would mean that patriarchy brought by settler colonialism took my future children. But I won’t think that way.” It takes courage to write anything; it takes a lot of courage to write something like this piece.

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