Heartfelt stories bear eloquent witness to hopes, dreams, and triumphs.
Storytelling—in theaters, on a podcast, and on a weekly public radio show—is the mission of the nonprofit organization The Moth. From the thousands of stories shared since its founding in 1997, editor Burns (The Moth Presents All These Wonders, 2017, etc.), the organization’s artistic director, offers selections from an international roster of presenters. Some storytellers may be familiar to readers: Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash reflects on feeling anxious and disoriented after moving to New York with her children after her divorce. On a similar theme, New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik considers how his daughter’s imaginary friend taught him what he really wanted from living in Manhattan. Psychologist and memoirist Andrew Solomon writes about starting his own “post-nuclear family” with his husband despite “complicated and difficult and elaborate circumstances.” Emmy-winning performer Faith Salie relates her obsessive search for the perfect dress to wear to divorce court. Most voices are new, imparting intimate, moving anecdotes about life, love, friendship, parenthood, and identity. Several presenters disclose the tensions over coming out as gay, dealing with poverty and homelessness, or confronting others’ perceptions of oneself as different. Undergraduate Aleeza Kazmi, of Afghan and Pakistani heritage, proclaims that she has “worked so hard to love the skin I’m in, and nothing anyone says can take that away from me.” Activist Barbara Collins Bowie recalls growing up in Mississippi during Jim Crow, when her mother’s health crisis made her realize that the civil rights movement was “a fight for life and death.” Mary Theresa Archbold, who stealthily hid her prosthetic arm from friends and roommates, writes of the challenges of being a one-armed mother of an infant. British polar explorer Ann Daniels, mother of triplets, risked her life in defiantly trekking to the North and South Poles. Vietnamese engineer Jason Trieu tells the wrenching story of escaping from South Vietnam two weeks before the region fell to the North, one of several tales of resilience and determination in the face of terror.
Two journalists present their conversations with people of color about approaches to resisting white supremacy, which “defines our current reality.”
Solomon (co-editor: Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts, 2005) and Rankin (editor: Bet on Black: African-American Women Celebrate Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama, 2013), colleagues at Colorlines, present “a curated, multidisciplinary collection that serves as a showcase for some of our most powerful thinkers and doers.” At the opening of each chapter, which covers grassroots organizing and the necessity of gallows humor in the face of discrimination, among many other topics, the authors give their views on why that topic relates to the resistance. At the end of each chapter, Solomon and Rankin offer deeply personal, uncompromising reflections. For example, at the end of “Laugh to Keep from Crying,” Solomon writes, “laughing is an underground railroad for those of us lucky to ride its tracks, the vehicle through which we have mushed you in your savage face for murdering us because you are a land-thieving lazy ass who believed that something called God told you to kidnap, dehumanize, and torture other people into doing your fucking farming, child care, and nation-building.” Though the book was composed with “Black folks in mind,” the lessons for any reader are apparent and highly useful. Some of the contributors will be familiar to readers who pay attention to contemporary literature and race-related issues—e.g., Ta-Nehisi Coates, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Imani Perry, and Kiese Laymon—and any reader who believes strongly in their own progressivism will still learn from various passages about how people of color deal with certain realities every day. As these pieces demonstrate, white supremacy does not always take obvious forms such as violence; Solomon, Rankin, and the other contributors show that it can take subtler forms.
A powerful anthology that might indeed fulfill the wish of the co-authors that readers craft potent strategies to resist white supremacy.
An incisive study of one of the past year’s most significant mass shootings, with publication tied to the one-year anniversary.
Cullen spent 10 years researching and writing his book Columbine (2009), which meticulously documented the Colorado high school massacre, with an emphasis on the two students who planned it. This time, in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, committed by a former student on Feb. 14, 2018, the author has produced an impressively deep account in just 10 months. Never naming the murderer of 14 students and three staff members, the author focuses on surviving students who coalesced to promote gun control by spreading their message, encouraging voter registration, and seeking to influence legislatures at the local, state, and national levels. Starting with his initial coverage of the story for Vanity Fair just after the shooting, Cullen immersed himself with the students, many of whom left classes to tour the nation. Throughout the book, the author demonstrates his rapport with the students as well as Parkland parents, teachers, and community leaders. When he deems it appropriate and relevant, Cullen effectively compares and contrasts the Columbine and Parkland experiences. As he notes, his years of immersion in the Columbine tragedy left him with secondary PTSD, so diving in to the Parkland aftermath felt personally risky. However, he persisted, believing that the hopeful messages of the students would outweigh the darkness. Chronicling how the mostly middle- or upper-class Parkland students eventually expanded their crusade to address other issues related to guns, Cullen memorably captures many of the interests they share with often stereotyped inner-city teenagers from violent neighborhoods. In nearly 60 pages of detailed endnotes, the author expands on the revelations in the main narrative, discusses his information-gathering methods, and discloses potential conflicts of interests due to the close relationships he has formed with survivors.
In both Columbine and this up-to-the minute portrait of the Parkland tragedy, Cullen has produced masterpieces that are simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful about a saner future.
In her poignant debut memoir, entrepreneur and social activist Patterson unfolds her familial lineage of women who wrestled with marriage either through divorces or in their rejection of the institution altogether, often opting for “partnership without laws.”
As a slight-framed African-American girl who attended mostly white private schools, the author’s own coming-of-age in 1970s Manhattan was fraught with challenges. The virtual opposite of her turbulent sister Ramona, Patterson searched for her identity while navigating the 1980s world of music and style at nightclubs and in college, continually encouraged by her father to be courageous and resilient and to embrace her blackness. Adulthood forced her to choose between a career in publishing and a temporary gig at a strip club. “As sexist as stripping for money sounds,” she writes, “I was dictating my own worth.” Yet her greatest trial as a woman and a mother would arrive with the birth of her third child, Penelope, and the ensuing challenge of “living with a reality that has turned me upside down.” As a toddler, Penelope experienced a radical, unconventional “declaration of self,” telling her mother, “I am a boy.” Patterson openly shares details from those early years, which were fraught with so many strong emotions, including guilt, confusion, and fear that Penelope would be robbed of the “uncomplicated freedom” of so-called normalcy. After months of soul-searching and discussions with her extended family, who were unconditionally accepting, the author came to terms with the reality that Penelope would now be known as Penel, her son. These revelations and developments did not occur, however, without bearing the brunt of societal intolerance, cruelty, and questioning of Patterson as a mother. “The world is unkind to people it doesn’t understand—to those who don’t live by its rules,” she writes. The author’s journey of familial love and fearless motherhood will particularly resonate with parents of transgender children and anyone who has struggled to be loved or accepted.
An emotionally saturated memoir: dynamic, moving, and colorful.
A public health visionary gets personal with a powerful exploration of “the beguiling possibilities of gender beyond the conventional bipolarity of male and female, and the mysterious, limitless permutations of sexual desire.”
World Policy Institute senior fellow Dube (Sex, Lies, and AIDS, 2001, etc.) was born in Calcutta and is known for his work on poverty and AIDS. In this memoir, published in India in 2015, he recounts his journey to come out as a young gay man in India and America and his efforts to find a loving relationship in midlife. Much of the book, which begins when the author was 10 in 1971, reads like a novel, and he delivers many moving descriptions of various gay coming-of-age moments—e.g., the first time he was tested for HIV and his encounter with a Keith Haring mural, which “hit me with the force that Picasso’s Guernica had.” Equally affecting is Dube’s inquiry into the ways in which his personal and professional lives have intersected. For example, he undertook research into the unfolding HIV crisis in India at a time when female sex workers were in the bull’s-eye of HIV discourse in India. They had, Dube writes, “spared us blame and persecution for carrying the ‘gay plague,’ ” and the author had a kinship with them—like him, they knew what it was like to feel like an outcast. Yet in his policy writing, he “deliberately chose to keep silent about what I knew for a fact, that a significant proportion of Indian men were having unprotected sex with other men, thus putting themselves at risk of contracting HIV.” Dube also offers insights into the trials of love and of middle age. His account of the end of a long-term relationship—with its pitch-perfect description of two people who still love each other who can’t admit they are breaking up—will resonate with many readers.
A gripping memoir about a gay man with feet in India and the U.S. as well as a book about how to put together a life.