RIP Irina Ratushinskaya 1954-2017

Irina Ratushinskaya, the Soviet dissident poet and novelist, was a legendarily defiant figure. Sentenced in 1983, on her 29th birthday, to seven years in a labor camp for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,” she not only survived, but wrote poems on bars of soap with the burnt ends of matchsticks. She memorized and erased them before…

Teju Cole’s “Open City” – a new prophet stirs

I’m coming late to the work of Teju Cole. He’s one of the leaders of The Black Renaissance – a group of young-and-gifteds that includes Yaa Gyasi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Terrance Hayes, Julie Iromuanya, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chigozi Obioma, and Tracy K. Smith. Cole’s luminous novel Open City was published in 2012. In terms of traditional…

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” – Happy 50th Birthday

Gabriel García Márquez’s novel was published 50 years ago. It’s widely recognized as the masterpiece of 20th century Latin American literature – some would say all of 20th century literature. It’s the book that ushered in the Latino Boom, the ascension of Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Julio Cortázar to the world stage….

Still, small voices

The world is too damned noisy. Here are three books I’ve been reading about peace and quiet. Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Broadway Books, 2013) by Susan Cain. Cain was a big-shot Wall Street lawyer who, for years, had a nagging sense that her job wasn’t exactly her…

RIP Liu Xiaobo, 1955-2017

Chinese poet, essayist and activist Liu Xiaobo has died while in custody. Xiaobo was President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, and in this role he supported writers all over the world in their struggles against tyranny. His death from cancer, which he contracted while in prison, is a terrible indictment of China’s human rights…

“Damnificados” named finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

I’m thrilled to say … well, you’ve probably read the title of this blog post already. Here’s why I’m thrilled: “The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award recognizes the best books by Black writers from the United States and abroad, chosen in a juried competition by previous Legacy Award honorees. The Legacy Award was the first national award…

Criticism – the getting and the giving

Recently, I was in conversation with a friend of mine – also a writer. He said he’d got his first one-star review on Amazon. We then discussed the giving and getting of criticism, that bitter pill that goes down like a block of lead. Anyway, the conversation got me thinking … what if someone was…

The U.S. and Original Sin

What was the original sin of the United States? It was what the European settlers did to the Native American populations. They massacred them; enslaved them; removed them from ancestral lands either by force, coercion, or guile; gave them smallpox-infested blankets; and enclosed them in ‘reservations.’ “Ah, but …,” say the pedants, “that was before it…

“All They Will Call You” by Tim Z. Hernandez

In 1948 there was a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, California. In the plane were 28 undocumented Mexican workers who were being deported, and four Whites – the pilot, co-pilot, stewardess, and immigration agent. Nobody survived. The papers carried the names of the four Whites, but the Mexicans at first went nameless. The Whites…

“Apocalypse How? An Existential Bestiary” by Adrienne Celt

This book is about as offbeat as it gets. Apocalypse How? sits somewhere between Beckett, Sartre, and an Aardman Animations cartoon, and the good news is it’s brilliant. The book consists of stand-alone cartoon strips, four panels each, starring all the animals of the ark. The twist is that they talk and think as if they’re…