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Thirteen Essential Poetry Collections Publishing During National Poetry Month

When thinking of social justice work and activist writing, nonfiction is likely the first place your mind goes. Since its invention, however, poetry has been used to produce just as (if not more) political work in powerful turns-of-phrase and lyrical poignancy. From spoken word to page poetry to rap, the diversity of voices coming through modern poetry is a beacon of light in a country divided.

National Poetry Month is always a great excuse to dust off all of your favorite old collections, but this year, why not try something new? We’ve compiled a list of thirteen poetry collections coming out this April, with an emphasis on poets of color, trans poets, immigrant poets, and other marginalized voices we should be listening to now more than ever. Give one (or all of them) a try—you might just find something you never knew you needed.

Bright Advent by Robert Strong (White Pine Press, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve memorized every line to The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter but long for a more nuanced, progressive discussion of colonial narratives, this is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for. Strong’s work brings Puritan America into the twentieth century, melding archival texts with a contemporary tone. This collection creates a dialogue around Christian conversion of the indigenous peoples of North America, looking specifically at the relationship between the Massachusett man John Sassamon and the Puritan missionary John Eliot. Strong’s poetry feels at once intensely academic and incredibly accessible.


Hard Child
by Natalie Shapero (Copper Canyon Press, April 11, 2017)

Full of laugh-out-loud bleakness and self-deprecation, Hard Child is poetry for millennials. Shapero isn’t afraid to get intensely personal as she picks apart the territory of newfound motherhood and leaving her 20s behind. In Hard Child, she expertly navigates the line between the relatable and the too-macabre. Her writing is compulsively readable, and uses gentle turn-of-phrase to build thought-provoking stanzas. In one of the most memorable and hilarious poems from Hard Child, Shapero shines a nihilistic light on personality quizzes that determine what dog or inanimate object the reader might be, saying, “Actually it’s ridiculous to opine on what kind / of a dog I would be, were I ever a dog, as I don’t / contain within me half enough life to power / a dog. I WOULD BE A DEAD DOG, THAT’S / WHAT KIND.”

In Memory of An Angel by David Shapiro (City Lights Publishers, April 11, 2017)

David Shapiro’s poetry carries with it the tone of the New York School of poets, the generation of authors who came of age in the mid-60s and 70s and were influenced both by the Beatniks of the previous generation and the surrealist movement of their visual art peers. In Memory of An Angel balances avant-garde tributes to post-modernism with retrospectives on childhood and fatherhood. There’s a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrent through all of these poems, making you wonder if this book is, perhaps, one long love poem. With a fifty-year career under his belt, Shapiro’s writing has both shaped and been shaped by decades of poets, and he’s considered something of a maestro. In Memory of An Angel is his first collection in fifteen years, so get on it.

mary wants to be a superwoman by erica lewis (Third Man Books, April 4, 2017)

mary wants to be a superwoman pays homage to the works of Stevie Wonder and the power of music to trigger certain emotions and memories. Each poem is titled after a line of a Stevie Wonder song, and while the poems aren’t directly about the songs, they’re inspired by them, written about lewis’s emotive responses and associations with listening to pop artists from her childhood. lewis’s writing puts the “stream” in stream of consciousness. Her words tumble over one another like river rapid, constantly tugging you forward into the next line, and the next, and the next. Don’t mistake her smooth flow for a lack of power though; the ease of her words only makes for a more potent punchline.

Of Mongrelitude by Julian Talamantez Brolaski (Wave Books, April 4, 2017)

Reading Brolaski is like reading the David Foster Wallace of poetry (or rather, the work of David Foster Wallace’s cooler, less-pretentious sibling). Brolaski (whose pronouns are xe/xir/xem) dumps Latin, pop culture, etymology, politics, and sex into the melting pot of the page, creating a new linguistic experiment. Xir poetry is the kind that demands to be read out loud, so you can chew on all of the gooey consonants and sticky vowels. References to the fourteenth century, words like “maiden” and “agog,” swirl in with contemporary criticisms of corporations and the gender binary. Of Mongrelitude is a poetry collection for a digital age, where memes, emojis, and abbreviations create new vernaculars on a daily basis. It’s poetry like you’ve never read poetry before.

Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon Press, April 4, 2017)

This collection brings a classic genre (the love poem or, more accurately, the lost-love poem) into a fresh and fanciful new light. Morín’s writing uses the mundane details of everyday life—from pretzels to geese to blues music—as a jumping off point for creating fascinating and philosophical worlds. In Patient Zero, Morín looks at love not only from the perspective of the lovers, but from the places and things that surround a life sick with heartbreak. Morín has an uncanny knack for painting a scene that is rarely seen in poetry. Once the scene is established, he uses clever wordplay to reveal layers upon layers of new meaning. It’s poetry that keeps you thinking, that makes you want to go back and re-read each line to untangle the puzzles that Morín dangles before you.

A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval, foreword by Chance the Rapper (Haymarket Books, April 11, 2017)

You can’t be a fan of the Chicago poetry scene (or any poetry scene, for that matter) without knowing Kevin Coval. Founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, there’s no one better to write a history of the Windy City than Coval. The book contains seventy-seven poems, one for each of the seventy-seven neighborhoods of Chicago, from the perspective of those on the margins. A People’s History of Chicago centers the often-untold histories of the city’s workers, poor people, and people of color. Coval’s poems have the flow of rap verses, and you can practically hear the thumping bassline running just beneath his wordsIn case that wasn’t enough to woo you, the foreword was written by Chancellor Bennett, a.k.a. the one, the only Chance the Rapper. A poetry book endorsed by Lil’ Chano himself? You know it’s gonna be good.


a place called No Homeland
by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 11, 2017)

a place called No Homeland takes the reader on a journey through memory and mythos to draw new maps of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. Stemming from her experiences as a Chinese-Canadian trans woman, Thom uses a characteristic lyricism (whose cadence is drawn from a strong spoken-word influence) to unpack complex ideas of what exactly “home” is, particularly in queer and diasporic communities. If Thom’s name sounds familiar, it might be because her work has been published on Everyday Feminism, Buzzfeed, xoJane, and other intersectional feminist-forward corners of the internet. Thom isn’t just a poet; she’s also an essayist, a novelist, a performer, and, in general, a verified Superwoman. She’s a rising star to watch, and there’s no better starting place than a place called No Homeland.

Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us by Noah Wareness (Biblioasis, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve ever wished that Tim Burton had directed an uncanny-valley version of The Velveteen Rabbit, this is the poetry book for you. Using The Velveteen Rabbit as a jumping off point, Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a collection of twenty-six poems and the unbelievably weird happenings that link them. Noah Wareness’s writing is grim, gripping, and more than a little creepy in all the right ways. Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a trippy philosophical exploration that feels less like reading a book and more like walking right out of reality and into someone’s dreamscape. It’s a delicious celebration of loss, vertigo, and wonder that’s sure to give you goosebumps.

Reaper by Jill McDonough (Alice James Books, April 11, 2017)
If you’re looking for political poetry, stop right here. Jill McDonough’s Reaper zooms in on America’s expanding drone program and the ever-blurring line of man and machine. McDonough examines the distancing of culpability and repercussions when there’s a computer screen and a continent between you and the dead. This is not a happy book; it’s a book to make you think, to shine a light on the darker side of American politics, and the warfare we often pretend isn’t happening. She swaps out flowery imagery for repetition of sparse, to-the point poetry that hammers home her message. McDonough’s writing is gritty and unapologetic, refusing to let even the reader off the hook. It never feels like an attack, though. Instead, McDonough is simply insisting that we look at the whole picture, not just the pretty, easy parts.

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Fence Books, April 11, 2017)

Reines’s work is lyrical and painfully relatable, her work resonating with a generational experience in lines like “Smoking crack after yoga / Swallowing vitamins with wine.” Speaking to Reines’s cultural relevance, Lena Dunham is one of the poet’s biggest fans, having posted multiple passages of Reines’s previous books on Instagram and that her “poems sing to my whole body.” Reines is also an accomplished playwright, and her scriptwriting talents bleed into her poetry, giving her verses a conversational quality and a natural flow.

The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Teicher’s poems are largely confessional and autobiographical, and The Trembling Answers is no exception; this particular volume deals with explorations of family and fatherhood, and the role his poetry plays across each. One of Teicher’s great strengths is in his honesty. He frequently reveals his flaws and mistakes to the reader, laying bare intimate details about his wife, his son, and his marriage to illustrate his very humanity. His writing is full of lists and repetition, as if Teicher is searching for answers in real-time with the reader. Each poem is meaty and sprawling, providing plenty of space for interpretation and re-interpretation.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, you’ll find a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family) at the center of his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award Winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book. NPR even named this book “Poetry to Pay Attention To” in their 2017 book preview on February 8, calling it “deeply serious and moving.” Plus, who could say no to such a catchy title?

Find out where to buy these great collections and more here on the Consortium website!

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Rebecca Solnit Trilogy Makes Required Women’s History Month Reading

Rebecca Solnit, a long-time activist and author, burst into public consciousness in 2008 by coining the term “mansplaining” in an essay about men’s tendencies to interrupt women with a patronizing “well, actually. . .” The essay was originally published in Men Explain Things to Me. With its conversational tone and ability to make feminist theory accessible and hip, the book quickly became required reading for women everywhere. After the 2016 election, another Solnit title resurfaced in relevance: Hope in the Dark offered those frustrated and anxious about the election results a guide to persevering in the face of oppression. The book, an updated version of the one originally printed during the Bush Administration, saw a massive spike in sales, and by February 9, 2017 had hit a record six regional bestseller lists.

With her monthly Harpers column winning the 2017 Ellie Award in the “Columns and Commentary” category on February 7, and an ELLE Magazine profile dubbing her “the philosopher queen” (on stands now!), Solnit has continued to prove that the feminist movement is far from losing steam. If that wasn’t enough, Men Explain Things to Me (now available in Spanish as Los hombres me explican cosas) also hit the ABA Bestseller list on February 9, coming in at #34 in the Trade Paperback Nonfiction category for the ninth week.

The Women’s Marches internationally drew crowds totaling almost 5 billion, and the rights, tenacity, and history of women are at the forefront of national and international minds. Solnit has impeccable timing as her third book, The Mother of All Questions, hits stands March 7.

Stay tuned to hear Rebecca Solnit on Democracy Now! March 24 or March 28!

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William Grill’s Wolves of Currumpaw Wins Ragazzi Award in Nonfiction

In the news flood of politics, violence, and human rights struggles filling our days and minds, what could we possibly have to learn from one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts, Ernest Thomas Seton? Quite a lot, including lessons on compassion and caring for each other and our wild world, and the beautiful necessity of learning from our mistakes.

The Bologna Ragazzi Award, one of the most prestigious children’s international book awards, has just thrown its weight behind a quintessentially American book that tells the story of Ernest Thomas Seton’s life- changing meetings with a certain wolf. The Wolves of Currumpaw, a modern illustrated retelling of Seton’s classic story “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw,” is by the young artist/writer William Grill and was announced as the winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award for nonfiction on February 16, with the awards ceremony to follow during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair from April 3-6.  The Wolves offers a story of young Seton exploiting the wilderness of the American West for his own gain, until a certain wolf tragically teaches Seton that the wildness has heart, and part of Seton’s job is to protect it.

This beautiful picture book is not Grill’s first headline-maker: his 2014 title Shackleton’s Journey was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book and also made Grill the youngest winner since 1960 of the UK’s Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration (the equivalent to the Caldecott Medal in the US).

The Wolves of Currumpaw has garnered its own following, including a Junior Library Guild selection, a Guardian Best Children‘s Book 2016 selection, and rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, and Brain Pickings, where Maria Popova said of the book, ” Grill tells the story without a sentimental gloss over the jarring cruelty that was a matter of course in the Old West. But what emerges is an essential reminder that we can’t reasonably judge one era by the moral standards of another; that, above all, so many of our ethical principles have emerged from the disquietude of their opposite—a sentiment echoed in the contrast between Grill’s soft, sensitive illustrations and the brutality of the killings, both by the wolves and of the wolves.”

There you have it, folks: a lesson from Ernest Thomas Seaton that, the Bologna Ragazzi committee agrees, more than stands the test of time.

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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time for celebrating the culture, lives, and achievements of Hispanic people all across the Americas. The month begins on September 15 in honor of the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua; Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence shortly after, on September 16 and 18. Though Hispanic people make up nearly twenty percent of the United States population, Hispanic authors continue to be ridiculously and frustratingly underrepresented in literature (this study in the Baltimore Sun says that less than one percent of all children’s books are written by Hispanic authors). It’s a statistic that becomes even more infuriating when you realize that Hispanic authors have produced some of the biggest books in the last ten years (Junot Diaz, anyone?). To counteract this inequality, we’ve compiled a list of titles by Hispanic authors from the United States to Central and South America: authors who represent the strength, resistance, and incredible contributions of Hispanic people everywhere, in genres from poetry, to literary fiction, to sci-fi, and more.

Beyond the Wall: New Selected beyond-the-wallPoems by Régis Bonvicino (Green Integer, November 2016) This is poetry at its most crucial and political, poetry that won’t let you off the hook even after you’re done reading. Beyond the Wall is the first English translation of Bonvicino’s work from 2002 to the present. Bonvicino has worn basically every hat you can wear in the literary world, from poet to translator, editor, and literary critic. His experience shows: in his poetry, he nimbly jumps between the stunning imagery of nature and the harsh realities of industrialization in urban environments. There’s a pulse to these words, a driving force that pushes you to constantly think about what you’re reading and why. Bonvicino challenges you to examine the massive role that colonialism played in developing what we think of as poetry.

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (Deep Vellum Publishing, Novemblood-of-the-dawnber 2016) Three Peruvian women brave the brutal and bloody military insurgence of the Shining Path guerillas in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The insurgence was the beginning of twenty years known in Peruvian history as the “state of fear.” In Blood of the Dawn, Jiménez rewrites the conflict through these women’s voices, marking how the personal can become political and vice versa. Jiménez’s prose is clear-cut and doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the insurgence and the effects it had on the people of Peru. When this debut novel was first published in Spanish, Jiménez received the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize. Read it, and you’ll see why.

chronicle-of-a-murdered-houseChronicle of a Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso (Open Letter Books, August 2016) is juicy familial drama at its best, rich with gossiped stories of adultery, incest, madness, and decadence. The first  English translation of Cardoso’s iconic Brazilian novel (originally published in Portuguese in the 1930s), follows the legacy of a once-proud family that blames its downfall on the marriage of its youngest son to a vibrant, rebellious, passionate woman named Nina. Cardoso’s writing is far from a fluff piece, however, meandering between plot-based narrative and deep philosophical questions in the driven-yet-pensive way that only literary fiction can. As Cardoso follows the family over the years, he hops between narrative devices from letters to diaries to confessions that will keep you reeled in until the very end.

I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos (And Other Stories, August 2016) followill-sell-you-a-dos an elderly man named Teo as he attempts to fend off boredom and cockroaches in a retirement home —all with a beer in hand. In his heyday, Teo was known all throughout Mexico City for his dog meat tacos, which he called “Gringo Dogs,” but that was before he lost his girlfriend to Diego Rivera and had his dreams crushed by his hypochondriac mother. Now, Teo is stuck trying to fill his days by antagonizing the literary salon that meets downstairs, flirting with the revolutionary greengrocer next door, and reading critical theory to telemarketers. When I’ll Sell You a Dog isn’t making you laugh out loud at Teo’s ridiculous antics, it’s “full of affection for art and artists” according to NPR. The novel is full of people who are die-hard believers, and it’s impossible not to root for characters who are so unapologetically passionate about their work.

the-revolutionaries-try-againThe Revolutionaries Try Again by Mauro Javier Cardenas (Coffee House Press, September 2016) tells the story of three childhood friends who reunite to transform Ecuador, and then discover that revolution isn’t as easy as it might seem. It’s political, yes (full of election turmoil, history of the Ecuadorian pro-austerity movement, and subversive radio plays), but to say it’s only a political novel would be to undercut the complexity of Cardenas’s writing. In The Revolutionaries Try Again, Cardenas explores the many facets of friendships, the things we leave unsaid, and all of the ways nostalgia acts as a fun house mirror on our memories. Cardenas’s writing crackles with wit and pop culture references (from ABBA to The Exorcist) – there’s a reason Harper’s magazine called The Revolutionaries Try Again a “high-octane, high-modernist debut.”

San Juan Noir, edited and introduced by Mayra Santos-Febres (Akashic Boosan-juan-noirks, October 2016) is an anthology of noir fiction by some of Puerto Rico’s best and brightest authors. Noir is nothing without atmosphere, and the setting here becomes a character of its own. The authors of San Juan Noir dig deep into the city, cracking open the (largely white, American) mythos of, as editor Santos-Febres says in the introduction, “sandy beaches, casinos, luxury hotels, relaxation, and never-ending pleasure—a place that satisfies all senses and appetites.” The stories within San Juan Noir stare right into the face of colonialism as they examine the gaps between the city’s rich and its poor, its residents and its constant flow of tourists, its colorful exterior and its gritty underbelly. This is noir with a bite, noir that enthralls with its dark tales even as it challenges the reader—do better, do better, do better.

transmigration-of-bodiesThe Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (And Other Stories, August 2016) is a response to the violence in contemporary Mexico. A plague has come to an unnamed city, spreading death and destruction everywhere. Two rival crime families take advantage of the emptied streets to reopen a decades-old feud, but when the situation escalates beyond control, they call in the only person who can rebroker the peace: the Redeemer. Both families have kidnapped the children of the other, and the Redeemer must venture out into the disease-ridden streets to negotiate the return of the bodies they hold hostage. This definitely isn’t one of the lighter books you’ll read, but Herrera’s short, poetic prose “goes straight for the soul,” according to NPR, and is impossible to ignore. The Transmigration of Bodies pays homage to literary greats from Roberto Bolaño to Raymond Chandler and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as it honors all of the bodies that violent crime has touched.

Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya (Mandel Vilar Press, October 2016) is not your avewicked-weedsrage zombie novel. From The Walking Dead to iZombie, you may be groaning at the thought of even more zombie narratives. But Wicked Weeds is different. Instead of a traditional, chronological narrative, the book comes together in scrapbook form, compiled by fictional doctor Isadore Bellamy as she tries to make sense of a brutal accident caused by her (zombie) boss. The book is made up of confessions from our zombie protagonist, transcripts of police interrogations, and segments of prose. Wicked Weeds incorporates all the best parts of sci-fi, experimental fiction, traditional horror, and Caribbean literature to create what Kirkus Reviews called “a culturally resonant tale of zombie woe.”

zero-sum-gameA Zero-Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa (Deep Vellum Publishing, November 2016) is a biting political and consumerist satire—definitely a timely and relevant pick for this fall. A Zero-Sum Game follows the high-stakes election for the presidency of a residents’ committee, where a powerful stranger threatens to use his influence to shake up the process. Rabasa uses the charged atmosphere to crack dry, wry jokes that manage to lend sympathy to both sides: those in power, who find themselves caught between empowerment and selling out, and those outside of it, who find themselves wanting to be part of a revolution. It’s complex, intense, and would be heavy were the book not so charmingly funny. VERDICT: Add to your pre-election reading list.

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Titles for the Times: Ten Books On Race, Police, and Black Lives Matter

52 years ago, Bob Dylan first recorded his monumental “The Times They Are A-Changin.'”

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

Accept it soon, you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’, you could sink like a stone

For the times, they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters, beyond your command

Those lyrics are eerily current, as the people around you and I are protesting with signs that say BlackLivesMatter, as police violence continues to be peeled back and exposed by social media, as “privilege,” “gentrification,” “racist,” and “immigrant” become either fighting words or words of conversation, depending on the circles in which you find yourself.

As par for the course, many independent publishers have been producing books for these conversations for years, and even more have been published this year. No matter what circle you find yourself in, these can help to soothe the argument and continue the conversation.

Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority, Tim Wise, City Lights Publishers, January 2012: Ydearwhiteamericaou could say that Tim Wise was “woke” before that term was around. In this provocative work, Wise speaks out against the assumption that white culture is the norm. Written with Obama in his first term, this book is perhaps even more relevant now w
ith the current political and social environment. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow says, “What Tim Wise has brilliantly done is to challenge white folks . . . to see that they have a responsibility to do more than sit back and watch, but to recognize their own role in co-creating what is either a fair, inclusive, truly democratic society or a society that is predicated on indifference towards those who are labeled as ‘others.'”

freedom

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, Angela Davis, Haymarket Books, February 2016: Need your racial justice titles with a heavy dose of feminism and historical context? Look no further
than Angela Davis’s most recent title, where she digs into the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughought history and around the world in her essays, interviews, and speeches. BUST says of the title that, “Davis delivers a rooted history with directives for seeing modern events in context. Yes, freedom is a constant struggle, and here, Davis reminds us we have the tools to act, react, and keep pushing onward.”

 

From #BlackfromblackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books, February 2016: Where haven’t Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and her timely book been in the past year? Salon, Democracy Now!, the Los Angeles Times, and now required reading at Virginia Union University for all incoming students this fall are just a handful. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor teaches at Princeton University, and she analyzes the historical and contemporary ravages of racism and structural inequality, including mass incarceration and Black unemployment. She argues for the necessity of BlackLivesMatter for Black liberation.

 

Picturing Children: National Museum of African American History and Culture, Marian W. Edelman, D Giles Limited, July 2016: picturingchildrenThe Smithsonian is getting in on the conversation too: The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens to the public on September 24, and as part of the launch, the museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, is overseeing the publication of a special series of photography books with photos from the museum’s collection. The fourth title in this series is Picturing Children, and it features stunning images of America’s past and present racial tension and hope are reflected in the faces and actions of children, as NPR’s All Things Considered reported on July 30.

Michelle Obama herself referenced one of the photos (a child touching President Obama’s hair) in her speech to the DNC on July 25, saying “We know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to kids across this country. Kids who tell us, ‘I saw you on TV,’ ‘I wrote about you at school.’ Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered ‘is my hair like yours?’”

Talking Black, Talking Back, John McWhorter, Bellevue Literary Press, January 2017: Finally, we have a title that is a celebration of Black English and an argument for its legitimacy. talkingbackAs James McWhorter says, “To me, Black English is like a clockwork or an engine, a system every bit as coherent as Latin or Chinese. But to most Americans, Black English Means error.” McWhorter fights the stereotype, gives you some approachable grammar lessons, and changes our definitions of “correct language” in the process. Look for Talking Black, Talking Back from Bellevue Literary Press in January 2017.

 

The Black History of the White House, Clarence Lusane, City Lights Publishers, January 2011: Once again hitting thblackhistorye right notes, first lady Michelle Obama ruffled feathers in her DNC speech, noting that “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” Subsequently, NPR called in Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House to comment on the first lady’s speech: “. . . what Michelle Obama was attempting to do was to draw that link to show that it isn’t just what’s going on in the White House now and isn’t it great that there’s a black family there, but there’s a much longer history that needs to be appreciated.” If you want to know the underbelly of American history that likely wasn’t blared in your high school textbook, take a look at The Black History of the White House.

The Breakbeat Poets, Edited by Kevin Coval and Quraysh A Lansana, Haymarket Books, April 2015: Spoken word and hip hop inspired poetry has sparked the BlackLivesMatter Movement with creativity and passion. As Danez Smith says in his provobreakbeatcative “Dear White America,”

“I have left earth to find a land where my kin can be safe. I will not rest until black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until our existence isn’t up for debate, until it is honored & blessed & loved & left alone, until then I bid you well, I bid you war, I bid you our lives to gamble with no more.”

With poems by Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Kevin Coval, Chinaka Hodge, Aracelis Girmay, and so many more, The Breakbeat Poets is your anthology for the times. They can’t stop, nor will they.

The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, Dave Zirin and John W.
Carlos, Haymarket Books, February 2013:
With the Rio Olympics over and American media obsessing over the embarrassment of Ryan Lochte, a johncarlosbook about an Olympian taking a stand decades ago, doing something that matters, might be what you need. From the 200-meter run medal podium in 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power Salute incited controversy, career fallout, and stirring visual reminder of the times. In his book co-written with Dave Zirin, John Carlos gives the details behind that moment and how it affected his life. And Carlos is still talking today. On August 18, he told NPR’s Morning Edition, “If you’re famous and you’re black, you have to be an activist.”

racismThe ‘R’ Word, Kurt Barling, Biteback Publishing, May 2016: Is the word “racism” even something we can continue to use? What good is it doing us? Kurt Barling, professor of journalism at Middlesex University in London explores the notions of racism and oppressor language in our changing world.

 

 

Writing On The Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Edited by Johanna Fernandez, Mumia Abu Jamal, City writingonLights Publishers, June 2015: The last title to round out our list comes from a writer currently serving his time in prison for being convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1981. Journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has perhaps the most unique perspective on violence, racism, and the police force. In Writing on the Wall, he delivers 100 previously unpublished essays on community, politics, Rosa Parks, Ferguson, and more. In the words of Cornel West, “[Mumia Abu Jamal’s] writings are a wake-up call. He is a voice from our prophetic tradition, speaking to us here, now, lovingly, urgently. Black man, old-school jazz man, freedom fighter, revolutionary—his presence, his voice, his words are the writing on the wall.”

 

 

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Will Evans of Deep Vellum Tells The Rumpus “Translators are the missing link”

It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of Will Evans. He almost singlehandedly runs Deep Vellum—one of the few publishing houses in the country that publishes exclusively translated works. He is integral to building and connecting the emerging literary community in Dallas, where he is also opening an independent bookstore called Deep Vellum Books.

“I met Will at the Dallas Book Festival, where he was clearly in his element as a force of literary energy…engaging in conversation continuously with a community that had its hooks in him, and vice versa,” writes Graham Oliver in his introduction to the interview with Evans for The Rumpus, published August 24.

Since its founding in 2013, Deep Vellum has published works from award-winning authors spanning the globe, including Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight, Lina Meruane’s Seeing Red, and Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83. “I have to round out the world. I haven’t published from everywhere yet,” Evans says. “I need a Japanese book, a Turkish book, an Italian book, a German book. For me, one of the reasons I choose books is based on diversity and diversity comes in all those forms: language, region, country, gender, etc.”

As a non-profit organization, Deep Vellum eGrambraces a publishing philosophy that is “about connecting authors and readers.” Deep Vellum addresses the desperate need for more international books. Evans says, “Translators are that missing link.”

Though Deep Vellum often faces skepticism from members of the publishing industry as a translation publisher based in Dallas, Evans is confident in their mission. “I’m hungry,” he says, “I’m voraciously waiting for these books, so if I can create some of that sense in myself, maybe I can create it in readers too.”

Within Dallas, Deep Vellum is gaining traction and becoming a key figure in the city’s developing literary community. “I set up Deep Vellum to be Dallas-specific because no one took Dallas seriously in Dallas, let alone anywhere else,” Evans says, “but in Dallas at least, the conversation’s changed, and I’m not taking all the credit, but I’m trying to be a part of it…Part of my identity for Deep Vellum has been Dallas on purpose, to help make Dallas a better place to live, to make it more of the place I want to live.”

Coming out this month from Deep Vellum is Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, and translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, a harrowing novel exploring the violent reality many native Mauritians live that the tourists never see.

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13 Translated Books by Women You Should Read

As Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, Yusra Mardini, and many more are teaching us, girls run the world. August is Women in Translation Month, and we’re celebrating the powerful and innovative works of some incredible international writers. While women have been rocking the literary scene since, well, the literary scene began, they are overwhelmingly less likely to have their work translated into English than men. According to PEN America, only thirty percent of English translations published each year are written by women. Want to help correct this travesty? Buy some books.

Here are eleven titles in translation—from comedy to graphic novel to historical fiction and more—by contemporary and classic women authors from all around the world. Here’s your chance, do your part, and read.

Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter, June 2016, Translated from French by Kazim Ali) is a short novel that opens on two Communists, Sabana and David, who have been ordered to kill a Jewish man named Abahn. The book is driven by dialogue, as Abahn, Sabana, and David discuss their roles and motivations in the plotted murder, set to take place at the nearing sunrise. Clocking in at 108 pages, Abahn Sabana David has been compared to the work of Samuel Beckett, in its experimentation with ideas of human existence and suffering. It’s absurdist and powerfully self-aware, a brief encounter that will leave you reeling for days afterwards. “Timely and timeless,” the Chicago Tribune said of the novel, “it shows, among other things, how absurd and damaging it can be to live in terror.”

The Attempt by Magdalena Platzová (Bellevue Literary Press, May 2016, Translated from Czech by Alex Zucker) is a reimagining of the 1892 assassination attempt of Henry Clay Frick, an American magnate and art-collector, by activist Alexander Berkman, as told by a fictional historian. As the historian, Jan Schwarzer, researches more and more about the events surrounding the assassination, he finds himself caught in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s a tale to please all readers, from lovers of literary fiction to history buffs to social activists. This is Platzová’s second book to be translated into English after her 2014 novel Aaron’s Leap, and Publishers Weekly raved that “Platzová is on a roll.”

Before by Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum Publishing, August 2016, Translated from Spanish by Peter Bush) is the story of a young woman revisiting her childhood, which was plagued by a dark and inexplicable fear. It’s as much a coming-of-age novel as it is a ghost story. Boullosa’s delicate narrative touch makes Before the modern day equivalent of Turn of the Screw or The Yellow Wall-Paper. With each memory the narrator reveals, a new mystery unfurls—is her childhood home haunted? Why does she refuse to acknowledge her mother, Esther? Boullosa is a master of the plot-twist, too, and the shocking conclusion will leave you gasping for breath. This is a hot title for an eerie summer read, appearing on Literary Hub’s “13 Books You Should Read This June.”

Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes (The Feminist Press at CUNY, July 2016, Translated from French by Siân Reynolds) is a dark comedy for anyone who wants their romance with a side of eyeliner-wearing, cigarette-smoking, metal-banging punk aesthetic. Despentes, a filmmaker and former sex worker, grounded the novel in her own experience of being admitted to a mental institution at age 15. The book critiques the double standards of sexuality and teenage rebellion in men and women as it examines the relationship between two doomed lovers, Gloria and Eric. It’s raw and unnerving in all the right ways, and despite its politically-charged subject matter, Despentes maintains a dry wit through the novel that keeps it from veering into bleak nostalgia. A review by Parul Sehgal in the New York Times captured Despentes’s intensity best, saying, “Despentes’s work is all untramelled id — fractious, noisy, unafraid of embarrassment and impossible to contain.”

A Greater Music by Bae Suah (Open Letter, October 2016, Translated from Korean by Deborah Smith) is a heart-wrenching novel of the two love affairs a young Korean writer experiences while living in Germany. After falling into an icy river, halfway between life and death, the narrator revisits a series of memories that move between the hazily-defined present and three years ago, when she first moved to Berlin. Read this book if you want to feel all of the emotions. A Greater Music will grab you by the heartstrings and play you like a harp, in the best of ways. It riffs on music, language, and literature while delivering a gut-punch of an ending. Bae Suah was nominated for the 2016 PEN Translation Award, and her second novel, Recitation, will be out from Deep Vellum Publishing next January.

Killer Deal by Sofie Sarenbrandt (Stockholm Text, June 2016, Translated from Swedish by Paul Norlen) is a pulse-racing crime novel that follows Inspector Emma Sköld as she attempts to solve a series of increasingly brutal murders occurring at open house showings in the upper-class suburbs of Stockholm. Swedish crime novels have been gaining in popularity since Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first rocked the U.S. literary scene in 2008, and whether you’re a longtime fan of the genre or a recent convert, Killer Deal should be the next read on your list. Between the thrilling action scenes and tense emotional turns, Sarenbrant’s brilliant writing makes a 400-page novel speed by. It’s more complex than most crime novels, adding a political charge that Publishers Weekly called “an absorbing addition to Sweden’s fictional portraits of a welfare-state society gone hopelessly wrong.”

One of Us is Sleeping by Josephine Klougart (Open Letter, July 2016, Translated from Danish by Martin Aitken) is a novel about the things in life we take for granted—childhood, family, love—and how quickly they can fall apart. One of Us is Sleeping follows an unnamed narrator as she returns home to care for her cancer-stricken mother, in the wake of a failed relationship. Klougart has been called Denmark’s Virginia Woolf, and it’s easy to see why. Her writing is poetic and sensitive, what Publishers Weekly called a “beguiling conjuring of consciousness,” digging deep to the core of universal themes and human psychology. Klougart has won multiple awards for her writing, including the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, one of the most esteemed Scandinavian book awards, but this is the first time her writing has been translated into English.

The Party Wall by Catherine LeRoux (Biblioasis, July 2016, Translated from French by Lazer Lederhendler) is a collection of stories that interweave to become a single novel about biology, identity, and the gray areas found in between. The book is broken down into four parts, each about a different pair (a mother and son, a brother and sister, two sisters, and a political couple) who has to grapple with a sudden revelation. LeRoux’s narrative abilities are impressive, and you’ll often find yourself pausing to marvel the control she has over both the smallest details and largest arcs. This is LeRoux’s debut novel, and it was named an Indies Introduce Pick for Summer/Fall 2016.

The Passport by Herta Müller (Serpent’s Tail, August 2016, Translated from German by Martin Chalmers) is a haunting novel about a small German village in Romania caught in between two worlds: the stifling Communist dictatorship of Romanian Nicolae Ceaucescu, and the glittering promises of the Western World. When the village miller applies for a passport to West Germany, the dreams and desperations of the town and its history collide. Müller, who was forced to leave her native Romania under similar circumstances, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, and The Passport is an example of her prowess. Müller’s language is at once sparse and poetic, each word complicating the plight of the forgotten village.

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane (Deep Vellum Publishing, February 2016, Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell) is an autobiographical novel detailing the narrator, a woman also named Lina, as she confronts her new blindness in the wake of a stroke. The novel is based on Meruane’s own loss of sight, but contains fictionalized elements and intense lyrical insight. It’s easy to empathize with Lina’s struggles against dependence—both physically and psychologically—on her partner, Ignacio. As a review in the Los Angeles Times said, “[Meruane’s] uncompromising vision and piercing prose are reasons to celebrate the long overdue appearance of this bracing voice in English.”

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, November 2015, Translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) is an experimental romp through the life of Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, an auctioneer who sells the teeth of celebrities from Plato to Virginia Woolf. When Sánchez’s son steals the teeth of Marilyn Monroe straight from his mouth, the auctioneer sets off to reclaim his dentures and his glory. Written in four parts, The Story of My Teeth was originally commissioned by an art gallery, to be read and discussed by workers in a Mexican juice factory and later become an installation. The latter third of the book includes a series of photographs each accompanied by a quotation by everyone from H.G. Wells to Voltaire. It’s intriguing, searingly witty, and the kind of book that will change the way you read. Since its publication last November, it’s topped just about every round-up list created, from the New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2015” to NPR’s “Guide to 2015’s Great Reads.”

 

Is fiction not your style? Check out some of our less-traditional picks, including a translated manga memoir and a feminist reading of the Qur’an!

 

What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and Her Pussy by Rokudenashiko (Koyama Press, May 2016, Translated from Japanese by Anne Ishii) is a graphic novel adaptation of the true story of the arrest and trial of Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi. Megumi Igarashi, who also goes by the name Rokudenashiko (a word which roughly translates to “good for nothing”), is known for her bright, cheery cartoons and sculptures of vaginas which challenge the censorship and taboo around female genitalia. When Rokudenashiko started a croudfunding campaign to build a kayak molded from a 3-d scan of her own “manko,” she was arrested for distributing pornographic images. What is Obscenity? illustratively explains the permeating sexism in society and the joys of embracing and celebrating your own body. A review in the Huffington Post praised how “through it all, Rokudenashiko has kept a tone of playfulness and resilience, showing there is nothing more threatening than a girl who is willing and ready to play rough.”

Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading by Asma Lamarbet (Kube Publishing, May 2016, Translated from French by Myriam Francois-Corrah) challenges both liberal Western and conservative Islamic views on feminism and Islam. Highlighting the spiritual and humanistic messages that make up the core of the Qur’an’s teachings, Lamarbet acknowledges the oppression of women in the name of religion at the same time that she time rejects Western values as the sole means of liberation. Women in the Qur’an is as much a spiritual and historical text as it is manifesto, recreating women’s liberation an act of devotion. The book is accessible to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and should be required reading for feminists (and politicians) worldwide.

Find out where to purchase Abahn Sabana DavidThe AttemptBefore, Bye, Bye, BlondieA Greater MusicKiller DealOne of Us is SleepingThe Party Wall, The PassportSeeing RedThe Story of My TeethWhat is Obscenity? and Women in the Qur’an here on the Consortium website!

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