• excerpt • January 13, 2021

    Two poems from Terminalia

    Daniel Menaker (1941–2020) was a fiction editor at the New Yorker, the editor in chief of Random House, and the author of seven books, including the celebrated novel The Treatment (1998) and the 2013 memoir My Mistake. Last January, Menaker received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and spent the next months chronicling his illness in verse, writing with mournful honesty and surprising humor about his diagnosis and treatment against the backdrop of the pandemic’s larger “sickness circus.” In his own words, Dan “wrote poetry his whole life, but kept it to himself for a long time, after

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  • review • January 05, 2021

    Candace Jane Opper’s obsessive remembrance of a teen crush who died by suicide

    Grief memoirs typically meditate on the loss of someone so close to the author that they could have listed the deceased as an emergency contact. Candace Jane Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events is not that kind of memoir. The book revolves around the death of a boy Opper wasn’t exactly close with—a crush whose phone number she memorized when she was thirteen. He died by suicide, at age fourteen, in 1994, eight days after Kurt Cobain’s body was found. More than twenty-five years later, Certain and Impossible Events is Opper’s attempt to map her ongoing obsession with the boy’s death.

    Normally,

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  • excerpt • December 29, 2020

    Lorraine Hansberry’s Pan-African sensibility, in her own words

    In 1937, her father moved the family to an all-white neighborhood in Chicago to deliberately challenge the constitutionality of racial restriction clauses. In response, a white mob gathered and threw a brick through their window, narrowly missing eight-year-old Lorraine. The Hansberry case moved through the court system, with the Supreme Court of Illinois upholding the legality of restrictive covenants and forcing the Hansberrys out of their home. The case then went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), which reversed the lower court’s decision

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  • excerpt • December 18, 2020

    An essay from Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

    I’m after a worldview.

    —Jack Whitten

    When the living conditions that art evinces haven’t changed, one must always make more imaginaries for one to live in.

    —Dionne Brand, “Temporary Spaces of Joy and Freedom”

    Another arrangement of the possible . . .

    —Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

    I have gathered the epigraphs for this essay from the painter Jack Whitten, the poet Dionne Brand, and the theorist Saidiya Hartman because of the ways they speak to the necessary scale of Black responses to these catastrophes

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Daytime Regained

    ON DECEMBER 25, 1991, Gorbachev appeared on snowy televisions in the homes of millions, gray faced against gray wallpaper, to resign as the leader of a state that no longer existed. He handed over the keys and a briefcase full of nuclear codes to Yeltsin, and the red flag was lowered. George Bush Sr. quickly got camera-ready on Christmas, addressing the American people, “During these last few months, you and I have witnessed one of the greatest dramas of the twentieth century.” The Soviet Union was over, but the year was ending on a cliffhanger. Cut to January 2, 1992: as the hangover of a

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Flacks and Hacks

    IF CRAFTING THE PERFECT seating arrangements is a delicate art for blue bloods—and vandalism is the opposite of art, as well as a pastime for talented poor people—then it follows that party reporting, at its most refined, is a form of controlled demolition on private property. In their heyday, party reporters were a bit like graffiti artists on the Upper East Side, tagging the marble walls (“Slut!” “Bankrupt!”) as fast as they can be cleaned up. What is a personal publicist but an overpaid janitor with a pressurized hose?

    The allure of party reporting is risk. The entitled class (the rich,

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    True Story

    THOUGH THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of preposterous tales told in André Gregory’s memoir, the most implausible is that a well-off New Yorker like Gregory, living rent-free in an Upper West Side apartment in the late 1960s, would voluntarily take the subway downtown, every day for months, to watch three men sit at a table in an East Village classroom and slowly go insane. The men, who were actors under Gregory’s direction, spent the days improvising the tea party scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They played it as the mood struck, veering from maniacal to pornographic to scatological. Bathroom

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    No Paint, No Glory

    A FRIEND OF MINE dating a famous artist jokes that she dreads her obituary reading that she, in addition to having been the girlfriend, was “accomplished in her own right.” In her own right! The mind heaves. Anyone who has been romantically involved with a famous artist knows the risk of being overshadowed. For those who nurture artistic ambitions themselves, the challenge is twofold: to avoid being subsumed by their partner’s success and to insist upon the importance of their own work. Self-Portrait, Celia Paul’s memoir and account of her decade-long entanglement with Lucian Freud, is both

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    The Sense of an Ending

    ONE OF THE LAST THINGS the queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz published before his untimely death in December 2013 was an essay titled “Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate.” In it, Muñoz reflects on a question that had colored much of his career: politics’ relationship to queerness. The essay was, more simply, Muñoz’s reflection on what he described as “the strange and compelling collaboration between Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and her friend Gary Fisher.” Fisher was, like Muñoz, a graduate student of the queer theorist Sedgwick. He was also, unlike Sedgwick, queer and African American. When Fisher

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Inherent Nice

    IN JUDD APATOW’S MOVIE This Is 40, from 2012, a married couple played by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd take a weekend trip to a hotel, where they get in bed and discuss their relationship. Rudd tells Mann that sometimes he feels like she wants to kill him. She admits that’s true, so he asks her how she’d do it. “I’d poison your cupcakes,” she answers, explaining that she would put in just enough toxin to slowly debilitate him. “I would enjoy our last few months together,” she tells her husband, “because you’d be so weak and sweet, and I would take care of you, but while killing you.”

    Fans of recent

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Service and Devotion

    A PET PEEVE OF MINE is when people are shocked to find out that a great song was written relatively quickly. Of course it was, I want to say, before quoting one of many dog-eared passages in my worn copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Zen-creativity bible Writing Down the Bones, like, I don’t know, how about this one: “If you are on, ride that wave as long as you can. Don’t stop in the middle. That moment won’t come back exactly in that way again, and it will take much more time trying to finish a piece later on than completing it now.” The words of a poem, a song, or any other piece of writing, Goldberg

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    Home Truths

    SOON AFTER ARRIVING in New York in 1973, Ming Smith sold two pictures to the Museum of Modern Art (New York), becoming the first Black woman to be granted entrance into house Szarkowski. It was an honor she took in stride; she already knew she was good. For the next thirty-plus years, she turned out exceptional work in a broad range of styles, influenced by everyone from Claude Monet to Romare Bearden to Katherine Dunham to Zora Neale Hurston: portraits of Black cultural luminaries; documentary images of life in American cities; dispatches from around the globe; and richly allusive, kinetic

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