Omari Weekes

  • Endless, Nameless

    IN HANGMAN, MAYA BINYAM’S engrossing and shrewd debut novel, the author cultivates a world in which many languages are spoken but few are understood. After twenty-six years, an unnamed narrator finds himself on a flight traveling from what seems to be the United States back to his African homeland. He has just listened to the man sitting next to him tell a story about his life when a flight attendant asks if he would prefer tea or coffee. Though it is a routine question, she must switch languages for him to realize that he has a preference: coffee. With that settled, she asks, again in multiple

  • On Boroughed Time

    WHEN BARBARA SMITH describes Toni Morrison’s Sula as an “exceedingly lesbian novel” in her pathbreaking essay “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” she stops just short of calling either of the book’s main characters the L word. Sula, which sumptuously tells the story of a pair of Black girls learning how to become Black women in a world that aims to constrain their desires, reveals the depths of intimacy available to women when they focus on cultivating relationships with each other rather than seeking communion with men. For Smith, a woman deriving pleasure for herself “functions much like

  • Mindful Mayhem

    WHEN SUN RA BEAMS into an Oakland, California, community center as an intergalactic ambassador from the council of outer space in the 1974 science-fiction movie Space Is the Place, one of the young men in the crowd asks, “Why are your shoes so big?” Ra, the experimental poet, composer, and jazz musician, is wearing platform shoes gussied up with intergalactic flair, which warrant the flippant and incredulous response. But after Ra is asked if he is real, the mocking wonder of the group of Black earthlings gradually dissipates as he answers, “How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like

  • New York Is Now

    AS THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT took center stage in newspapers and magazines across the United States, the people of Harlem were, among many things, dealing with a rat problem. The vermin were biting children and contaminating pantries, but they were also a striking symptom of a larger issue: Harlem was facing a housing crisis. Though public housing had been erected, it was both scarce and disgusting. The exuberance that characterized the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s seemed to be in decline as economic insecurity, inadequate sanitation, dreadful landlords, and neglected public space tarnished

  • interviews July 15, 2021

    Pay Attention to the Skirmish

    In Elias Rodriques’s new novel, All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running, the protagonist, Daniel, returns to his childhood home in North Florida from New York after a high school friend dies in a drunk-driving accident. Back in the town of Palm Coast, Daniel reunites with a cast of old associates including Desmond and Twig—two friends from the track team—and contemplates confronting the person who could be responsible for his friend’s crash. A mediation on grief, memory, family history, and homecoming, the book is also an exploration of how race, class, and queerness affect these time-honored themes.

  • Commit to the Bit

    HUMOR CAN BE A RISKY BUSINESS. For the comic, professional or not, comedy evinces parts of the self that may not otherwise see outward expression. For the reader, the line between mirth and madness can be thin. In The Republic, Plato, perhaps history’s foremost derider of laughter, reasons that elites must refrain from laughing because it signals a loss of control, a condition that can be exploited by the masses. Comedy must be left to the marginalized—“slaves and hired aliens,” as he puts it in The Laws—because someone needs to participate in the ridiculous in order for the serious to make