JOY IS THE JUSTICE WE GIVE OURSELVES

Lanham memorably, vibrantly shows how choosing joy is an act of resilience, courage, and power.

Another luminous mixture of prose and poetry from Lanham.

“Miracles occur by evolutionary adaptation and seasonal migration,” writes Lanham, author of Sparrow Envy and The Home Place. On the same page, the author acknowledges that “people die by the police because their Black lives don’t matter.” The power of this book is in how well it holds the duality of these truths. We see that the pain created by humanity does not necessarily negate the beauty. Early on, he writes, “Be advised, every poem isn’t an ode to joy, and yes, sometimes there is sadness, or anger within the words.” Lanham is masterful at showing how, despite the struggles of climate change, war, and racism, among other societal ills, joy is present, and choosing to pursue delight in the face of injustice is a brave act. Throughout the book, the author excavates and elevates that joy. “Joy is the justice / we give ourselves. It is Maya’s caged bird / sung free past the prison bars,” he proclaims in the titular poem, demonstrating how the expression of that joy becomes a radical, even subversive act. In lush, sensuous prose, Lanham pursues joy in the backyard, with blackbirds “murmurating in an orange evening sky,” and in witnessing seasonal change. The author is both a naturalist and an agent of social justice, and this book is at its most poignant when these two meet, as in “Nine New Revelations for the Black Bird-Watcher”: “No one denies the eye-bending beauty of a painted bunting by saying, ‘I don’t see color’”; “Why are some immigrants accepted and others not? Asking for a European starling.” With his consistently engaging writing, keen eye, and generosity of spirit, Lanham is a writer to whom we should all listen closely.

Lanham memorably, vibrantly shows how choosing joy is an act of resilience, courage, and power.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9798885740302

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

BLACK LOVE LETTERS

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Black Americans declare their love.

This anthology brings together dozens of love letters by prominent Black Americans. The entries, interspersed with illustrations, address an eclectic mix of topics arranged under five categories: Care, Awe, Loss, Ambivalence, and Transformation. In their introduction, editors Brown and Johnson note the book’s inspiration in the witnessing of violence directed at Black America. Reckonings with outrage and grief, they explain, remain an urgent task and a precondition of creating and sustaining loving bonds. The editors seek to create “a site for our people to come together on the deepest, strongest emotion we share” and thus open “the possibility for shared deliverance” and “carve out a space for healing, together.” This aim is powerfully realized in many of the letters, which offer often poignant portrayals of where redemptive love has and might yet be found. Among the most memorable are Joy Reid’s “A Love Letter to My Hair,” a sensitive articulation of a hard-won sense of self-love; Morgan Jerkins’ “Dear Egypt,” an exploration of a lifelong passion for an ancient world; and VJ Jenkins’ “Pops and Dad,” an affirmation that it “is beautiful to be Black, to be a man, and to be gay.” Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Home: A Reckoning” is particularly thoughtful and incisive in its examination of a profound attachment, “in the best and worst ways,” to Louisville, Kentucky. Most of the pieces pair personal recollections with incisive cultural commentary. The cumulative effect of these letters is to set forth a panorama of opportunities for maintaining the ties that matter most, especially in the face of a cultural milieu that continues to produce virulent forms of love’s opposite. Other contributors include Nadia Owusu, Jamila Woods, Ben Crump, Eric Michael Dyson, Kwame Dawes, Jenna Wortham, and Imani Perry.

A wide-ranging collection of testaments to what moves the heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781638931201

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Get Lifted Books/Zando

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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