Poet, essayist, and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib has produced two celebrated volumes in recent years—“The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” (Button Poetry, 2016) and “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” (Two Dollar Radio, 2017). Collections, respectively, of poetry and essays, both walk the territory of family, friendship, and community with compassion, depth, and clarity. There is no shying away from the disparity and death that crack open these worlds; instead, there is facing them, staring right through them to what truly is and what could be. Broken bodies, broken glass, mothers’ arms, closed caskets, hunger, jukeboxes, brothers, ghosts, bullets, grieving, missing those gone and those gone missing. And inside of all this is the thought: What would it be like to look up into the stars instead of fleeing “midnight and questions that come with it”?
What Is a Sketch but a Chalk Outline Done in Pencil or Words? An Interview with Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s debut story collection, “Heads of the Colored People,” selected for the 2018 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction, strides into the worlds of black women and men, black girls and boys, upending stereotypes and straining against the limits of the expected through a dark, provocative humor. With a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, and as a Callaloo fellow, Tin House alum, and Sewanee scholar, Thompson-Spires infuses her writing with scholarly works, 90s pop culture, and contemporary concerns. Black culture and identity in conversation with the tensions and politics of race are angled in ways that refuse definition. Through the unique cast of characters in twelve exquisitely startling, hilarious, and at times poignant stories, questions are asked about connection, collaboration, assimilation, resistance, and vulnerability.
In the stories of Jamel Brinkley’s expansively beautiful collection, “A Lucky Man” (Graywolf Press/A Public Space Books, 2018), selected for the 2018 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction, fathers and sons of the Bronx and beyond try to make their way, to negotiate and understand their world. The language here is at times lyrical, always honest, revealing the reach and fascination and discomfort of the places—of the city, of the mind—in which the characters dwell. As Robert Hunsberger (Duende) writes: “Told in nine vivid short stories, Jamel Brinkley’s debut collection, “A Lucky Man,” tugs sharply at the tender threads of intimacy, race, and masculinity. Brinkley’s prose, as fierce in its vigilance as it is in its empathy, casts new light on the delicate and heartbreaking truisms of American manhood.”