The police killed another black man today. I am furious with emotion; I am burning up inside as if with fever. The doctor tells me to try Prozak, Zoloft, Celexa or any number of other serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but no prescription can put out this fire. The doctor, she tries to promise I will feel better. But I don’t want to feel better. I don’t want to sedate my grief, the loss of the American dream. At sixty-three years old, living in the South, black, queer, and female, with two adult children, two grandchildren, and countless others I care about at risk, I know the dream itself is on fire.
In West Virginia, a state where most everything comes at a cost, there are no simple solutions, and in his new story collection, Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null does not shy away from the contradictions and complexities that make this region both so troubled and so extraordinary.
Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story, the frustrating and fascinating new biography by Julia Beverly, is a bizarre document, and a necessary one: by the time of his death in 2007 at age thirty-three, Pimp C had become recognized as one of the most exciting and influential producers in rap, his drawling, raspy snarl one of the genre’s most iconic guttural expressions.
Even if you’ve already made a pilgrimage to the home of a famed Southern writer, South Toward Home: Travels In Southern Literature by Margaret Eby offers something that you can’t get on tours: biographies of authors mixed with textual support from their books, immersed within Eby's own engaging journey as a student of literature.
A recording of a 1989 Barry Hannah lecture belongs among the most revealing documents we have about the author. “Listening to the record is like being in a room with Barry Hannah,” David Swider said. “I think people will be blown away when they hear Barry’s voice. It’s unlike any other.”
Divided into four sections and set in Kentucky, Fanny Says by Nickole Brown weaves a double narrative that folds together both a granddaughter’s recollections and a grandmother’s persona. The imagery is blunt, the dialect true, and what unfolds is a metaphoric hope chest, a series of living flashbacks through which Brown creates a poetic treatise on memory’s workings.
On Chris Smither’s debut album, you can hear the twenty-five-year-old play those guitar figures with an old man’s casual grace, backed by the great jazz bassist Richard Davis. Smither’s guitar motifs are more sharply defined on the new album, and his old-man baritone matches up with the ancient guitar feel.
John Ehle's The Land Breakers, back in print: "In her introduction to the new edition, Linda Spalding calls The Land Breakers “a Chaucerian pageant.” So it is, but far, far sadder, with two particularly wrenching scenes that rise out of their dispassionate prose to draw tears from the unsuspecting reader."
In her first book, Alexis Coe ventured into a city of monumental history and unearthed a long forgotten tale. Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, which came out in October, is the vital combination of a sensational story and a remarkable treasure of historical research featuring lesbian lust, laudanum, and laceration.
The Philosophy of the Magical Octagon: "The details of each fight—especially the author’s own dispute with her academic advisors over her 'ongoing study of the phenomenological basis of ecstasy'—can get tedious, but Howley’s writing always stays sharp. She’s wry, observant, smart, and strangely revealing. Her devotion to MMA is practically religious, and she exuberantly shares her new faith with the reader. 'My theory about octagons is this,' Howley writes. 'There is really only one octagon.'"
We talk often about fearless writers. We use words like "brave" and "unflinching on book jackets and in glowing blurbs when the protagonists within enact dangerous behavior without moral-of-the-story appeals and sensationalized flourishes.
Everyone knows something about the power of things, how they remind us of our actions over time, how they have the power to delight or disappoint us. I’m referring here to what Katy Simpson Smith calls “oddments”—the items we don’t mean to collect, that we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw away, that we put on a desk in a spare room and forget.
Does liquor inspire and ignite the words of great alcoholic writers? Or do alcoholic scribes produce their work in spite of their addiction? Early in Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring, we learn that “four of the six Americans who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature were alcoholics [and] about half of our alcoholic writers eventually killed themselves."
Every so often there is a book of poetry that reminds us how well verse can speak history. The Forage House by Tess Taylor is one of those time capsules. Taylor, who is also the author of The Misremembered World, is a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson. When genetic testing confirmed that our third president fathered two families separated by color, she sensed that she would eventually sculpt a book from the scandal.