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Editors’ Picks: Reading About Race

June 14, 2013

Guernica's staff brings you their favorite writing on race, in America and beyond.

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Image from Flickr via Zach Bonnell

Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road

I picked up Spit and Passion, Cristy C. Road’s graphic memoir about growing up as a queer woman in Miami, only after I’d left Miami myself, but a few pages in and it was as if I’d never left (which, I suspect, means it was a success). Road brings the fundamental weirdness of being a queer Latina punk in a very Catholic Cuban-American community to life, and addresses the intersections of race, gender and sexuality as flawlessly as she balances her illustrations and prose. Among my favorite aspects of Spit and Passion is that Road doesn’t pathologize the proverbial closet; on the contrary, she sheds light on the experience of foregoing the traditional coming-out narrative in an effort to avoid compromising her ethnicity along the way.
—Amanda Gomez, Editorial Intern

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

In supremely elegant prose Mathis’s novel examines the Great Migration through the interlocking stories of its protagonist’s “twelve tribes”: her nine children, her grandchild, and two twins lost to poverty and pneumonia. The title also hints at the biblical figure of Hagar, the archetypal slave mother in the Book of Genesis. With a light touch Mathis reveals the day-to-day hardships of life for Hattie and her family, but also their capacity to find beauty in small-scale, everyday moments. A lovely, important novel.
—Jonathan Lee, Editor, Interviews

The Progress of Love edited by Kristina Van Dyke and Bisi Silva

In an effort to express contemporary dialogue about love in Africa and the African diaspora, the Menil Collection in Houston Texas, the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts have cataloged thirty contemporary artists creations that deal with the various aspects of love. One of the most compelling works of art is “The Swing” by Yinka Shonibare, a sculpture after Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s iconic painting. By paralleling the eighteenth-century artist, Shonibare reminds the audience that the idea of love is not all that different across space, time, and humanity.
—Haniya Rae, Assistant Art Editor

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam

Aslam’s characters are even more lost than most, given that they are Pakistani immigrants living in a cold, grey English town they call Dasht-e-Tanhaii, “the Desert of Loneliness.” But the story is neither cold nor grey. Aslam’s flair for metaphor throws every sentence and image through a prism and multiplies their meaning, significance and effect: they remind the reader of how many acts of comparison each character undertakes, and how the towns, communities and relationships being described are reflected and refracted in a world thousands of miles away. A train winds through tunnels like a needle through rosary beads; typewriters keys pose in straight-ish lines like an old group photograph. Characters are inherently complex because of the many ways Aslam describes them. One character’s thoughts spread like tea seeping out of tea leaves; a mother and daughter in the kitchen work together like the many-armed goddess Lakshmi. The language is jarring (a pair of upside-down scissors resembling a dead bird) and nostalgic (soft music sounding like “the faint whiff from a long empty scent bottle”), which is precisely how people straddle a past and a present. As Murakami writes in Kafka on the Shore, “Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they’re also what tear you apart.” In Maps for Lost Lovers, race and love do exactly the same thing.
—Aditi Sriram, Editorial Intern

Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

The first essay of this collection begins with a story that would make a good miniseries—the 1889 “War on Telephone Poles” (as The New York Times called it). Companies would erect utility poles, and townsfolk would tear them down. It’s a lively, albeit destructive, representation of American resistance to change. Of course, we all know the ending; it took fewer than five years for wires to crisscross the country. Perhaps less well-known, the poles quickly become sites for hanging black men. Biss writes, “Lynching, the first scholar of the subject determined, is an American invention.” This first essay, “Time and Distance Overcome,” introduces the subject of race that the author chases through landscapes as diverse as La Salina, Mexico; Chicago, Illinois; and Buxton, Iowa. Biss moves through history, current events, and memoir with fluidity on par with Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
—Erica Wright, Senior Editor, Poetry

In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming

At the end of Lamming’s novel, Trumper returns to Barbados after a brief time in America. With him he brings a new consciousness, a new understanding of his race. He scorns the narrator’s innocence while characterizing America as a place of both wealth and unimaginable suffering. But Lamming locates Trumper’s epiphany at the end of the novel deliberately—his point is not to echo Trumper’s disenchantment, but to sketch the twisting path by which the protagonists find—or lose—their sense of home on an island slowly emerging from imperial domination. They are disoriented and uncertain, vulnerable yet wise beyond their years. They express a struggle at once international, local, and eminently personal.
—Lewis West, Intern, Guernica Daily

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