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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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The BreakBeat Poets: Building a Legacy

One year ago today, just in time for National Poetry Month, Haymarket Books published a groundbreaking poetry collection called The BreakBeat Poets. Featuring the work of seventy-eight different writers, The BreakBeat Poets celebrates the new “BreakBeat Generation.” The BreakBeat Generation, as defined by editor Kevin Coval, is a new era whose style is fueled by the hip-hop and spoken-word movements of the Black Arts, Nuyorican, and Beat poets.

breakbeat

“Hip-hop,” Coval says in the introduction, “made poetry relevant. It was no longer this dreadful, dead-white-male-centered, highly dull piece to sleep through in English class. It was very much alive and in our Walkmen and notebooks.”

Hip-hop created a connection to an audience that most classic poetry lacked. It was an invitation to participate extended to a generation who wasn’t used to being invited. Hip-hop, by definition, is a civic discourse. Political in nature, if not in content, many poems take on social justice as their refrain. In its own kind of revolution, hip-hop gives a voice to an unheard generation,

The BreakBeat Poets is both a masterful stand-alone collection and a magnetic introduction to some crucial poets you might not have heard before. And many of these poets aren’t done. With a sample of three groundbreaking works from the past, and three exciting new titles for 2016, here’s a primer on the BreakBeat Poets’ legacy.

this is modern artThis Is Modern Art (Haymarket Books) by Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin is a play which provides a glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists that asks us to question the true purpose of art. When one graffiti crew finishes the biggest graffiti bomb of their careers, the consequences get serious and spark a public debate asking, “Where does art belong?” The language of the play reflects Coval and Goodwin’s poetic backgrounds, using subtle imagery and turn-of-phrase to pack a heavy punch. The play was first staged at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in early 2015. This Is Modern Art will be published on August 30, 2016.

Buck Studies (Fence Books) by Douglas Kearney is a poetic examinabuck studiestion of blackness and maleness in jaw-dropping, hard-cut language. Kearney complicates and exhausts common notions of form and style to create lyrics and ballads you never knew were possible. At the hub of Buck Studies is a long mash-up of the stories of Herakles, the Greek bad-man, and that of Stagger Lee, the black bad-man. Buck Studies will be published on July 12, 2016.

Dated Emcees (City Lights Publishersdated emcees) by Chinaka Hodge is a collection of 25 poems, meant to mirror the length of a classic double-album. Hodge’s writing is fiercely intelligent and emotionally packed. Each word is so specific and powerful that it feels as if Hodge has invented them just for each poem, just for each reader. Her work explores her own love life through the lens of hip-hop’s best known orators, characters, archetypes, and songs. Hodge has been featured in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, as well as on PBS, NPR, and CNN – in other words, she’s kind of a big deal. Dated Emcees will be published on June 7, 2016.

vultureStarve the Vulture: A Memoir (Akashic Books / Kaylie Jones Books) by Jason Carney is a powerful account of the author’s criminality, drug addiction, and recovery. Starve the Vulture is an unflinchingly honest confession. The memoir uses the lyrical, mesmerizing tone that Jason Carney is known for in his poetry to describe his path to redemption and unlikely fame on the national performance poetry circuit, where Carney is a four-time finalist. Woven into Carney’s path to recovery is a powerful family story, depicting the roots of prejudice and dysfunction through several generations. Starve the Vulture was published January 6, 2015

The New Testamethe new testamentnt (Copper Canyon Press) by Jericho Brown is a reclamation of mythologies, from Frankenstein to Cain and Abel. The New Testament seeks not to revise these histories but to find the source of redemption. Brown uses lyric to tenderly examine race, masculinity, and sexuality. Don’t pick up this book unless you have at least two hours to spare – one to read it, and one to sit stunned at the beautiful ache of truth you have just witnessed. Poet Claudia Rankine said, “To read Jericho Brown’s poems is to encounter devastating genius,” and that’s not an exaggeration. NPR.org praised The New Testament, saying that Brown’s poems “are always beautiful, full of a music that is a cross between the sinuous sentences of Carl Phillips, the forceful descriptions of Mark Doty, and hip rhythms of Terrance Hayes.”

burymyclothesBury My Clothes (Haymarket Books) by Roger Bonair-Agard is a collection about art, and what it means when creation itself is an act of survival. Bonair-Agard uses a driving sense of rhythm and narration to bring the reader along on meditations of violence, race, and the place in art at which they intersect. National Book Award Finalist Patricia Smith praises Bury My Clothes as a collection of “unapologetically relentless stanzas [which] will slam their fists into places you have not yet discovered.” Bury My Clothes was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.

Find out where to buy This Is Modern Art: A PlayBuck StudiesDated EmceesStarve the Vulture: A MemoirThe New Testament, and Bury My Clothes here on the Consortium website.

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Celebrate National Poetry Month with 10 New Must-Read Collections

Only a decade ago, if someone asked you what you thought of poetry, you may have thought of dust-covered textbooks, of droning professors, and of lines that you read over and over and still were unable to fathom. Sure, there were the outliers—Plath, Neruda, Angelou. But for the most part, poetry got trapped in the Ivory Tower of Academia; where you needed at least one literature degree to be trusted (or even want) to really engage with the art.

But with the onset of the digital and information age, poetry is not only surviving, it’s thriving. Now poetry is diving headfirst into this new flood of possibilities provided by the digital revolution and the information age, and it’s flourishing. In the past few decades, poetry has evolved and diversified to the point that an art form once dominated by “old dead white guys” is now being reclaimed by poets of all identities, from all backgrounds and experiences.

In honor of National Poetry Month, and in honor of a new age of poetry by and for the people, we present to you a round-up of contemporary poets from leading independent publishers to both soothe and trouble the soul. Because, after all, as the late and great C.D. Wright once said, “Poetry is not like, it is the very lining of the inner life.”

night sky with exit1. Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press) is is Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection. Vuong’s poems use his characteristic gentle (yet incredibly dynamic) cadence to explore the things that make us human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, and war. Night Sky with Exit Wounds is the kind of book that soon becomes worn with love. You will want to crease every page to come back to it, to underline every other line because each word resonates with power. Ocean Vuong is hot right now, picking up steam with a Whiting Award win, a roundup in Teen Vogue, and a recent excerpt in the T: the New York Times Style Magazine. Night Sky with Exit Wounds publishes April 5.

2. Olio (Wave Books), by Tolioyehimba Jess, is an exploration of black musicians and performers from the pre-Civil War Era to World War I. If you’ve been wanting to get into poetry but haven’t been willing to give up the power, characters, and length of a novel, Olio is the book for you. Clocking in at a whopping 256 pages, Olio sings with the same musicality it describes, from jazz and blues to work songs and church hymns, as it dissects the legacy of minstrelsy and blackface through the personas of almost a dozen artists. Olio will be published on April 5.

3. Scattering The Dark: An Anthology Oscattering the darkf Polish Women Poets (White Pine Press), edited by Karen Kovacik, is a collection of over thirty women poets writing before and after the fall of Communism in Poland. If you’re the poetry aficionado that’s read it all, Scattering the Dark is for you. The poets muse on universal topics—dreams, art, what “home” means—while revealing what it means to be both a woman and a writer in a time when both identities were practically forbidden. It’s a lyrical window into a previously unseen world. Scattering the Dark will be published on April 12.

4. The Spoons In The Grass Are There To Dig A Mspoonsoat (Sarabande Books) by Amelia Martens is a book of prose poetry that packs a mighty punch for such a slim volume (64 pages, folks). Her writing is unassuming and unpretentious as, again and again, she reaches into the mundane and pulls out the extraordinary. The Spoons in the Grass are There to Dig a Moat will be published on April 12.

the black maria5. The Black Maria (BOA Editions Ltd.) by Aracelis Girmay is a lyric of history, of heritage and violence, and of building new futures. Girmay writes unflinchingly of America’s long traditions of racism against African Americans, her poetry infused with both a slow-burning anger and the ache of longing. The crowning achievement of this book is a jaw-dropping long-form poem which weaves together stories from the youth of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Girmay’s dreams of her own future child. In its first-ever poetry issue, O Magazine included The Black Maria in a sampling of “recently published gems of the genre.” The Black Maria will be published on April 12.

6playdead. Play Dead (Alice James Books) by francine j. harris is not for people who like to enter poetry and come out unchanged. harris’s writing is raw, gritty, and unflinching. Her words will reach into your very core as she spins together difficult and necessary lyrics with shreds of hope. Play Dead has been praised by everyone from Ross Gay, who “read these poems not knowing they were possible” to Publishers Weekly, who gave it a starred review. Play Dead will be published on April 12.

7. The Big Book Of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books) is a nbig bookew collection of poems by Jamaal May. If you know what it’s like to miss a step going down the stairs and suddenly find yourself breathless, you know what it’s like to read a book by May. You can feel May’s yearning tugging at you from the page. His poems are often narrative, but that doesn’t mean they’re lacking in subtlety and intricacy. May is a master of images, drawing new meanings with each turn of phrase. They’re the kind of poems you whisper to yourself over and over again. The Big Book of Exit Strategies will be published on April 12.

8. Out Of Print (City Liout of printghts Publishers) is the third book of poet and publisher Julien PoirierIf you’ve ever had trouble getting into poetry because it’s too stuffy and scholarly, Out of Print is the perfect solution. It’s raucous, it’s uncensored, and it puts on no airs as it tap-dances over the notion of “high-brow literature.” Out of Print draws equally from absurdism and pop-culture. Poirier’s poems will make you laugh until your stomach aches, only to suddenly pause and think, huh. Out of Print will be published on April 19.

9. New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tatu) (Akashic Books) containew generationns eight volumes of poetry from eight different poets from across the African continent, plus an introduction by editors Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. The chapbooks work together like instruments in an orchestra, their unique tones and timbres coming together to present a work that is magnificent, both as a whole and in each part.  It is a love song, a lament, a history, a future, and a tribute to what Abani describes as Africa’s “unending lineage of light.” New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tatu) will be published on April 19.

shallcross10. ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press) is Wright’s seventeenth volume of poetry and the first published after her passing on January 12, 2016. It’s safe to say that ShallCross is one of the most anticipated books of this year. Wright draws from journalistic techniques and filmic narratives to range across seven poetic sequences, including a collaborative suite responding to photographic documentation of murder sites in New Orleans. ShallCross will be published on April 26.

 

Technically, this title was published on March 15, but we love it so much that we couldn’t resist throwing it into the mix…

11. They And We Will Get Into Trouble For This (Coffee House Press) by Anna Moschovtheyandweakis, is a series of three long-form poems tied together by a fourth poem, which runs along the bottom of each page in the form of bracketed words and phrases strung together like a row of lanterns guiding you. Moschovakis writes with an honesty and simplicity that is at once concise and lyrical. She muses on heredity, mental health, and philosophy in a stream-of-consciousness that is impossible to look up from until you realize you’ve reached the back cover. Anna Moschovakis and her beautifully designed, beautifully written collection also made Bustle’s list of poetry collections to read for National Poetry Month, and you can get a taste of it from this poem, excerpted in BOMB.

Find out where to buy Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Olio, Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Woman Poets, The Spoons in the Grass are There to Dig a Moat, The Black Maria, Play Dead, The Big Book of Exit Strategies, Out of Print, New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Boxed Set (Tatu), Shallcross, They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, and many more books here at the Consortium website.

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City Lights Publishers Celebrates Rad Women

Think of the last time yoRadAmericanWomenu saw a picture book that was engaging and inspiring to people of all ages. Now, think of a book like this that is written by and features a diverse cast of women. You probably don’t have many examples of such a book. City Lights Publishers, however, has given us just this book with their release of Rad American Women A-Z (spring 2015), written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. To celebrate the many rad women that the book features, City Lights is creating a video blog series in which other awesome women read entries from the book. On September 9, 2015, Maris Dyer – intern at City Lights – took a look at the new project on City Lights’ blog and released the first video, featuring former editor of ACLU News Elaine Elison reading “L is for Lucy Parsons.”

Rad American Women A-Z is a joyous celebration of women. It is an alphabet book, with each letter entry featuring a different woman and highlighting her story and achievements. As the blog post says, the “alphabet book illustrates revolutionary American women throughout history, some well-known and others less-so, starting with A for Angela Davis, B for Billie Jean King, and C for Carol Burnett.” The collection showcases 26 diverse woman, and the entries span across many different professions and eras, from artists, scientists, abolitionists, and everything in between.

Named “Rad Women Read Rad American Women,” the video blog brings in influential and simply awesome women from around the Bay Area to the City Lights office to read from the book. Elaine Elison is the first on the list of 26 guests, who (aside from being the former editor of ACLU News) is also a writer, editor, researcher, and communications consultant. She read  about Lucy Parsons, an activist who worked for justice in women’s issues, worker’s rights, and racism in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As is written in her entry, Parsons fought to make “America a fair place for all.” After reading Lucy’s entry, Elison explained why she chose Lucy: “I’m a big fan of Lucy Parsons. […] we all need to learn from her boldness and courage.” Elison finished her reading by giving advice to young women about how to become rad: “believe in yourself, join CityLightshands with your sisters, and stand up for what you believe in.”

City Lights will be releasing a new video each week until they  finish all 26 entries. Check City Lights’ blog each week for new entries!

 

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Bookslinger Update: “Whopper”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

This week’s story is from Winged Shoes and a Shield by Don Bajema, published by City Lights Publishers. Hallucinating between childhood and manhood, Eddie Burnett is both hero and anti-hero in this hard-hitting collection of linked stories. Coming of age in California’s post-war suburbs and free-falling through the turbulence of the sixties and early seventies, Eddie’s transformation from a boy’s innocence to a man’s hardened wariness is captured in lyrical, emotionally raw episodes. He navigates the minefields of American masculinity in a series of disturbing, yet strangely uplifting odysseys, from hope to despair and back again.

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