Timely contributions to an urgent national conversation.

THE FIRE THIS TIME

A NEW GENERATION SPEAKS ABOUT RACE

Poets, scholars, and essayists reflect on race in America.

In this insightful collection, novelist and memoirist Ward (Creative Writing/Tulane Univ.; Men We Reaped: A Memoir, 2013, etc.) brings together 18 writers “to dissent, to call for account, to witness, to reckon.” Taking her title from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963), Ward hopes this book will offer solace and hope to a new generation of readers, just as Baldwin’s work did for her. Many essays respond to racial violence, invoking the tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sarah Bland, worshipers at Charleston’s Emanuel Church, and Abner Louima, among many others. Edwidge Danticat reports that she asked Louima recently how it feels each time he hears that a black person was killed by police. “It reminds me that our lives mean nothing,” he told her. As other parents reveal in their essays, Danticat feels she must have two conversations with her daughters: “one about why we’re here and the other about why it’s not always a promised land for people who look like us.” She wishes, instead, to assure them “they can overcome everything, if they are courageous, resilient, and brave.” Poet Claudia Rankine was told by the mother of a black son, “the condition of black life is one of mourning.” Besides fear for their children’s futures, some writers focus on their black identity. As a result of genetic testing, Ward discovered that her ancestry was 40 percent European, a result that she found “discomfiting.” “For a few days after I received my results,” she writes, “I looked into the mirror and didn’t know how to understand myself.” Wendy Walters resisted thinking about slavery until the discovery of long-buried slaves in New Hampshire provoked her to research the past. Poet Kevin Young shrewdly probes NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal’s motives to pass as black. Carol Anderson, Emily Raboteau, Natasha Trethewey, and others also add useful essays to this important collection.

Timely contributions to an urgent national conversation.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2634-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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