Feldman (The Angel of Losses, 2014) and Popkin (Everything Is Borrowed, 2018, etc.) gather a medley of diverse voices to reflect on politics, society, and culture in contemporary America.
Essays, poems, fiction, photographs, and cartoons bristle with emotion from contributors responding to issues they consider most urgent: racism, sexism, poverty, and injustice. Nancy Hightower, who grew up in the evangelical South, captures the tenor of the collection when she urges the church, academia, and publishing—which she sees as being largely white—to break down racial boundaries and become “filled with, and overflowing with diversity.” She suggests that “if those in the literary arts want to transform the landscape of America, they need to be better evangelicals.” By that, she means that they must “write and publish work that speaks to students in the Bronx and LGBTQ teenagers in Oklahoma.” Inclusivity, she asserts, would produce a “glorious rhetorical army” to resist the president “and his corrupt administration.” Not surprisingly, many contributors rail against Donald Trump. Fiction writer Carmen Maria Machado cites her observations of racism and homophobia as reasons she should have known that Trump would be elected president. Poet, novelist, and creative nonfiction writer Samira Ahmed, who was born in India, takes on racism, reporting that she has been called terrorist, rag head, and sand nigger. “You realize, too young, that racists fail geography,” she writes, “but that their epithets and perverted patriotism can still shatter moments of your childhood.” Keeping silent is no adequate response, she warns: “in this land of the free and home of the brave, you plant yourself. / Like a flag.” Cartoonist Liana Finck depicts a map of America with U.S. crossed out, substituted by T. H. E. M. Novelist Diane McKinney-Whetstone celebrates the “hopeful vibe” she felt when she participated in the Women’s March. Hope counters an undercurrent of despair for many contributors: “I don’t want to give up the struggle,” says a despondent individual drawn by Finck. “I want to win and move on.”
A heartfelt and thoughtful collection.