A moving pictorial study of the meaning of home and an implicit critique of society’s conception of the good life.

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    Best Books Of 2016

The Success of Failure


From the American Street Philosophers series , Vol. 1

Material destitution coexists with spiritual exaltation in this poetic and photographic meditation on homelessness.

Wilson, a photographer and documentarian, shot and talked to people in homeless settlements in Oregon and Washington, sussing out the hard-won insights of these “American street philosophers.” Despite the tenuousness of their camps of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, and the odd tent hunkered beneath bridges and overpasses that constitute their only shelter against lowering skies, their poetic musings keep returning to a crucial theme: the importance of community. “If the universe aims at richness / then the uniqueness of individuals is prime,” notes Tom, a former philosophy teacher, but he also believes that the “evolution of friendship / is greater, more important / than anything I could own or collect.” It’s a poignant reminder that the loss of connection to other people, even more than the loss of a house, is the central tragedy of homelessness. The second half of the debut book therefore explores Dignity Village, a settlement situated in a Portland parking lot where some homeless people have regained permanent shelter in the form of 42 tiny houses built from castoff and recycled building materials and supported by donations and residents’ sweat equity. It’s a slightly preachy place—“solar and wind powered,” with composting toilets and organic gardens—and its ethos is one of austere self-sufficiency. Writes resident Paul C., “Welfare begets welfare… / strips dignity, self-esteem, self-worth, self-reliance,” while Ed G. counsels an almost Buddhist renunciation of the material world as the path to freedom: “The more you have the more you want / and you stay unhappy because / there’s always more to want.” But autonomy is as much a group as an individual enterprise to judge by Wilson’s appealing photos of Dignity Villagers cooperatively building houses, staging barbecues, and painting their brightly colored sheds with cat murals to beautify the neighborhood. Even more captivating are his portraits of people—old couples, grizzled loners, toddlers, young people busking on the accordion for change—which bring to life these often invisible Americans in all their vibrant humanity.

A moving pictorial study of the meaning of home and an implicit critique of society’s conception of the good life.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 136

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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A volume of poetry and prose that offers heroic visions of urban African Americans.


A debut multigenre collection of short pieces presents vignettes focusing on the lives of African Americans from a variety of perspectives, both real and fanciful.

This eclectic anthology begins with an autobiographical sketch, “P Is for Pride and Perseverance,” in which King traces his early years from his 1979 birth to a 16-year-old mother to his incarceration for attempted robbery and his subsequent determination to do something positive with his life. “Baby Girl” reprises the story of King’s birth from his mother’s point of view, a girl whose teen pregnancy seems predestined by both her grandmother’s clairvoyant dreams and her own limited expectations. Other narratives are linked by shared characters, such as “Posse Up, Ladies First!” and “Thug Angel,” which provide somewhat idealized portraits of street gangs as building blocks of the black community. “Battle Kats” is an SF work about a group of humanoid felines from another planet who work undercover to defend Earth and its alien allies. The central section of the book is occupied by a collection of 21 poems. Some, like “Hold on to Love” and “Away From Home,” focus on romance while others, such as “The Rent Is Too Damn High!” and “Blockstars,” illuminate the experiences of working-class African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods. “Remember Me?” calls up the spirit of LaTasha Harlins, a young black woman shot by a Los Angeles shop owner in the early ’90s, speculating “I wonder what you could have been LaTasha?” King’s efforts to describe his personal struggles and the vibrant characters who populate impoverished black communities are ambitious and dynamic. His prose narratives are too short to feel really complete, but they deliver glimpses into a world mainly familiar to the urban poor, where drug dealing is one of the few available career choices, incarceration is a rite of passage, and street gangs view themselves as community leaders. While the author does have a tendency to romanticize life on the street, as in “Posse Up,” in which a girl gang maintains a strict “code of principles,” his writing presents a vision of what could happen if people worked to “play a part in the improvement of the community.”

A volume of poetry and prose that offers heroic visions of urban African Americans.

Pub Date: March 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4568-8093-4

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A nihilistic poetic remembrance that will appeal most to older teens and 20-somethings.


Davis recounts the confounding pressures of his 1990s childhood in this debut memoir-in-verse.

When telling the story of your life, one might as well start at the very beginning. That’s exactly what the author does in this memoir, which he describes as “a thing like a very long lie to yourself.” Specifically, he tells of how “The White-Gloved Sheriff / kicked in the door / and / Pulled me” from his mother (whom he calls his “Supervisor”; he later calls her “the Computer Science Major,” “the Waitress,” and other occupational names). Unusually, he had horns and a lot of hair at birth, he says. He was immediately at odds with the people and other living things around him—his parents, his brothers, his family dog. As a toddler, he created an imaginary world for himself known as “FU,” which was “Filled with things that looked like me / And where things made sense / I was King.” His earliest years were characterized by horrible discoveries (school work, isolation, crushes, problems in his parents’ marriage), but his teen years proved to be an even greater series of highs and lows, involving confusion over geopolitical events, friends, computers, pornography, and marijuana. Like a novice who can’t quite figure out the rules of a game, Davis bumbles forward—all horns and fur and misunderstanding—inadvertently angering authority figures as he seeks an adequate method of self-expression. The poem is composed in short, direct lines, enjambed to emphasize particular words or phrases rather than establish a consistent overall rhythm. Davis’ idiolect is inventive in its names for things (siblings are “life partners,” pets are “prisoners,” teachers are “Part-Time Supervisors,” and so on), and his outsider’s observations of society are shrewd and often funny. However, the combination of snark and self-seriousness causes some poems to come off as petulant and cloying; as a result, it’s difficult to imagine anyone over the age of 22 finding the work emotionally affecting. Even so, the tone and style, coupled with debut artist Klimov’s truly engaging black-and-white illustrations should captivate readers of a certain anarchic mindset.

A nihilistic poetic remembrance that will appeal most to older teens and 20-somethings.

Pub Date: May 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-71806-449-2

Page Count: 143

Publisher: Nada Blank Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2018

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