In Dominican American poet Diannely Antigua’s debut collection “Ugly Music” (YesYes Books, 2019), winner of the Pamet River Prize, one finds sources of despair, ecstasy, and sheer honesty cracked and threaded with lyrics, breath, and tears. Mothers, grandmothers, stepfathers, and lovers enter and exit the pages, while the poems’ speaker sings and shouts and whispers words of violence and love, sex and loss, grief and drowning, miraculous surrender and rescue, forgiveness and faith. Structured as a song, with verse and chorus leading to bridge and ending in outro, the collection is shaped from memory, family, and diary entries and layered with distant islands, children lost, backseats and pregnancy tests, self-love and God’s work.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
In New Orleans’ author Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s much acclaimed debut novel, “We Cast a Shadow,” we find ourselves in a near-future southern city, where white supremacy reigns and the process of “demelanization”—a medical procedure to remove all characteristics of blackness—has become popular. Our unnamed Narrator, a black lawyer at a white-glove firm, is obsessed with the possibility of advancement in order to afford this procedure for his biracial son. In his desperation, he strives to protect his son from racial violence, and yet, it becomes clear that he has fallen into the trap of this very same violence by pushing this “protection” onto his son… Sweeping ideas of inheritance, pride, injustice, humanity standing back-to-back with inhumanity, survival, and devotion swarm and abound in these pages. Language that flies, whip-smart and stunning, uncovers a cracked and unjust society and calls up moments of magnified family love.