• excerpt • October 13, 2020

    An excerpt from Ruby Hamad’s White Tears/Brown Scars

    “White people still run almost everything,” The New York Times’ Australian bureau intoned in 2018 in a devastatingly brutal report on cultural diversity in Australia’s workplaces. The whiteness above is noticed by workers below. Sonia, a forty-something woman of color (she asked me to omit her ethnicity for privacy reasons), has been employed in the same medium-sized private sector firm for a decade. She is a mid-level manager, a position she only achieved after nine years despite consistently positive performance reviews and above-average results that, she tells me, were frequently better than

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  • excerpt • September 16, 2020

    An excerpt from Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land

    When I was a graduate student in Texas, the first time I brought a story into workshop, a fellow student told me if I was going to “write about Indians,” I would need to separate my writing more from that of Louise Erdrich. Then this man misquoted from the beginning of Erdrich’s novel Tracks, ostensibly to show how similar it was to my story. At the end of workshop when it was my turn to speak, I corrected his misquotation and suggested in my most polite voice that perhaps to him “Indians” writing about snow all seemed the same. I assured him we were not. I assured him though we might both have

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Immodest Proposals

    My husband and I canceled our spring-break trip because of the pandemic. His parents own a vacation house on a salt pond in Rhode Island that they let us use some weekends. Bummed about the cancellation and bored at home, we headed up there for a long weekend on Wednesday, March 18, thinking we’d return that Sunday or Monday. Coincidentally, that was the week that New York became the worldwide epicenter of COVID-19. Now it’s August and we’re still here.

    During the cold, frightening spring, we maxed out our data streaming everything we could think of (there’s no internet-hardware setup at the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Artful Volumes

    Duro Olowu has a flair for unlikely combinations. A single collection by the Nigerian-born designer might include flowing candy-striped silks, metallic floral brocades, crushed velvets in high-voltage hues, leopard rosettes, and intricate geometric jacquards. The effect of these kaleidoscopic contrasts is not carnivalesque but cosmopolitan—a savvy blend of craft traditions spanning several continents, Western couture, and the effortless cool of icons ranging from Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba to Françoise Gilot and Amrita Sher-Gil. Olowu brings the same catholic eye to his curatorial practice,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Queer I

    In November 1961, a closeted gay man in a well-tailored suit went to see an unsigned and relatively new musical group performing at a Liverpool club called the Cavern. “I was immediately struck by their music, their beat, and their sense of humor on stage—and . . . when I met them, I was struck again by their personal charm,” Brian Epstein would write in A Cellarful of Noise, his 1964 memoir about the band he would soon manage, make over, and turn into mop-topped superstars. Teasingly, referring to the open secret of Epstein’s private life, John Lennon suggested an alternate title: A Cellarful

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

    PORTIONS OF CLAUDIA RANKINE’S Just Us first appeared in the New York Times Magazine and were posted online with the clickbaity headline “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” In the article—now the second section of the book, after some introductory poems—Rankine relates some of the material covered in a class called Constructions of Whiteness that she teaches at Yale. As part of the class, her students sometimes interview strangers about race. “Perhaps this is why . . . I wondered what it would mean to ask random white men how they understood their

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Among the Deceivers

    TWO FIGURES OVERLOOK A SACRED RIVER: both qualify as students, yet one is more experienced by far. He attempts to bridge the difference with a lesson. Pointing to the wastelands on the right bank, he defines it as sunyata, the void. Then, turning, points at the city opposite. An enormous maze of temples and houses, the dwellings of deities and castes: that is maya, illusion. “Do you know what our task is?” A test. “Our task is to live somewhere in between.” We have two versions of the scene, but in each case the younger student is described as “terrified.”

    Originally transpiring in North India

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Mum’s Boy

    “IT WAS HIS QUOTABILITY,” observed the critic Clive James, “that gave Larkin the biggest cultural impact on the British reading public since Auden.” What comes to mind? The opening lines from “Annus Mirabilis,” certainly—“Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three”—but if there is one Philip Larkin quote even better known, it would surely be: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

    Did Larkin’s parents fuck him up? According to his sister Catherine (“Kitty”), ten years his senior, both parents “worshipped” Philip. All the same, they have undoubtedly been demonized—sometimes by the poet

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Going Postal

    I QUIT TWITTER and Instagram in May, in the same manner I leave parties: abruptly, silently, and much later than would have been healthy. This was several weeks into New York City’s lockdown, and for those of us not employed by institutions deemed essential—hospitals, prisons, meatpacking plants—sociality was now entirely mediated by a handful of tech giants, with no meatspace escape route, and the platforms felt particularly, grimly pathetic. Instagram, cut off from a steady supply of vacations and parties and other covetable experiences, had grown unsettlingly boring, its inhabitants increasingly

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Words of Light

    A DISAPPOINTED WOMAN should try to construct happiness out of a set of materials within her reach,” William Godwin counseled Mary Wollstonecraft after she tried to kill herself by jumping off a bridge. Virginia Woolf liked to read “with pen & notebook,” a generative relationship to the page. Roland Barthes had a hierarchical system with Latinate designations: “notula was the single word or two quickly recorded in a slim notebook; nota, the later and fuller transcription of this thought onto an index card.” Walter Benjamin urged the keeping of a notebook “as strictly as the authorities keep

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    One Weird Trick

    IN FEBRUARY 2005, the literary theorist Sianne Ngai published Ugly Feelings, a book she described as a “bestiary of affects” filled with the “rats and possums” of the emotional spectrum. Instead of looking to the classical passions of fear and anger, Ngai, then an English professor at Stanford University, wanted to explore what she called “weaker and nastier” emotions. The book is divided into seven chapters, each focusing on a single “ugly feeling” such as envy, anxiety, irritation, and a hybrid of boredom and shock she termed “stuplimity.” Based on Ngai’s graduate dissertation, Ugly Feelings

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Fine and Dandy

    JACQUES HENRI LARTIGUE (1894–1986), an artist whose work seems to come from another world but in reality comes from the past century, captured that era’s experience of speediness, of beauty, of carelessness, of fun. Born in fin-de-siècle France, Lartigue started shooting film as a child. Though he thought of himself as a painter first, Lartigue became famous for photographing auto races, early aviation, beachside horseplay, and society women on the Bois de Boulogne. He pioneered techniques for capturing heart-stopping proto-parkour, like a quick dandy jumping over some lazy chairs, or, in My

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