“The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

This debut collection sings. Forged in the fires of Columbus, Ohio, the poems are about childhood memories and community. If much of the work feels autobiographical, the collection transcends individual experience and speaks to anyone who’s ever watched friends fall apart, or got nostalgic over a piece of music, or been cheek to cheek with…

“In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” by Christina Sharpe

Part memoir, part thesis, and part lyrical examination of what it means to be black in the 21st century, In The Wake is simply a great, great book. It bridges so many fields – social justice, poetry, fiction, Critical Race Theory, semiotics, semantics – yet retains complete coherence. It is beautiful, ingenious and tragic. In…

“Feeling the Unthinkable: Essays on Social Justice” by Donald Gutierrez

If Donald Gutierrez were alive today, what would he think of the USA now? He’d be horrified. And disgusted. Gutierrez, who died in 2013, shortly after this collection was published, was a social conscience. He passionately confronted inequity and government abuses, particularly that of his own country, the United States of America. Here, 48 of…

“Unreal City” – by Michael Smith

This novel has no plot to speak of: man of indeterminate age wanders around London, visits his sister in Paris, and contemplates his louche, faux-bohemian, penniless lifestyle, past and present. It has no plot twists, no action, little dialogue, no character development, and in fact no memorable characters. And it’s a cracker of a novel….

“Fire.” by Elizabeth Hand

Read this slim book in one sitting and you’ll get a perfect overview of the career of Elizabeth Hand. There’s the witty, subversive fiction. There’s an autobiographical piece – “Beyond Belief: On Becoming a Writer.” There are two biographical portraits of fine writers who are in danger of slipping out of public consciousness. And there’s…

“Chinatown a today hora y otros poemas” by Andrea Cote

Andrea Cote-Botero is a much garlanded poet and prose writer, having won The National Poetry Prize from the Universidad Externado de Colombia (2003), the Puentes de Struga International Poetry Prize (2005) and the Citt√° de Castrovillari Prize (2010). Her work has been translated into a dozen languages. Cote-Botero grew up in a Colombia that was…

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…

“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…

“Another Door Calls” by Elise Stuart

Elise Stuart’s debut collection shimmers in the rain, gets snagged on the cholla, frees itself in the night winds, and goes rolling down a flooded arroyo. This terrific collection couldn’t have been written anywhere but New Mexico, Stuart’s spiritual home. Her familial roots lie elsewhere, but her narrative voice and sensibility reside firmly in the…