• 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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  • excerpt • November 18, 2020

    An excerpt from For Now on the fabric of writing

    Now I would like to acknowledge that I also feel a responsibility to write for puppets. I have five puppets in my life, they are not ten feet from me in two small cardboard boxes on my desk. They deserve better.

    Their names are Oscar, Bedilia, Montgomery, Crocky (the crocodile) and Casper.

    I am writing on the kitchen table at this moment which is pretty much a desk too. A desk with fruit. A desk with vitamins, legal paper, a Christmas postcard from David Beebe & Hilary, newlyweds, and their dog Duane who happily is giving us profile. Let’s face it everything is puppets. Certainly in my view.

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  • excerpt • November 05, 2020

    An excerpt from Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy

    Every day for nearly a year, I immersed myself in chat groups and websites and forums where photos of lynchings were passed around like funny memes. Where “KILL JEWS” was a slogan and murderers were called “saints.” On the anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I watched them celebrate Robert Bowers, the murderer of eleven Jews at prayer, like a hero and a friend. I listened to strangers talk about killing kikes every day. I listened to strangers incite violence and praise murder and talk about washing the world with blood to make it white and pure. I listened to their podcasts. I

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  • excerpt • October 26, 2020

    Artistic representations of Toussaint Louverture through the ages

    In 1975, the Black writer Ntozake Shange completed her verse play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. In this work, which has become one of the classics of the modern feminist dramatic repertoire, seven African American women discussed their experiences of racism and sexism in society, and the creative strategies they devised to counter them. One of the characters, the “Lady in Brown,” spoke of her mind-blowing discovery of Toussaint Louverture as an eight-year-old child from St Louis. After entering a reading contest in her local library, she was swept away

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  • 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

    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

    Songs in the Key of Life

    IN AUGUST 1969, the Billboard “Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles” chart was rechristened “Best Selling Soul Singles.” A new type of music had emerged, “the most meaningful development within the broad mass music market within the last decade,” according to the magazine. The genre mystified much of the mainstream press. Publications like Time announced soul music’s birth one year earlier as if it were a phenomenon worthy of both awe and condescension. Its June 1968 issue featured Aretha Franklin as its cover star and called the music “a homely distillation of everybody’s daily portion of pain and joy.”

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Crossings to Bear

    WHILE THE BALKANS are generally not known for neighborliness, that reputation is still quite recent. Most would date it to the mid-nineteenth century, when the rise of the nation-state suddenly spurred competition over inheritances that had traditionally been shared. The term “Balkanization”—which crystallized the peninsula’s characterization as bitterly divided—was coined by the New York Times only in 1918, in the wake of the Balkan wars, when the ousting of the Ottomans sparked a land grab among the kingdoms of the former Balkan League. If anything, the previous centuries of occupying

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    The Varieties of Musical Experience

    As its title suggests, Wagnerism is not precisely a book about Richard Wagner, or even about his music. It is rather, as Alex Ross clarifies, “about a musician’s influence on non-musicians”—a narrow premise seemingly for a work of more than seven hundred pages, but Ross is only teasing out the most salient points from a crowded and mesmerizing history. His book stretches from the opening of Wagner’s first mature operas in the 1840s to the present moment, when fantasy movies and comic books teem with Wagnerian echoes, and the operas themselves are accessible in multiple formats on a previously

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