Happy New Year!

Fortifying Imagination (Jason Reynolds, Krista Tippett)

And if I claim to love them — because all of us claim to love our kids, but I think, sometimes, our love sometimes gets conflated with our fear. And that’s OK; I understand that fear is real. But, for me, my own personal opinion is that if I love them, I have to tell them the truth. I have to figure out how to tell them the truth because a lot of these kids can handle it.

Respair

On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by Pandemic (Jesmyn Ward)

During the pandemic, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house, terrified I would find myself standing in the doorway of an ICU room, watching the doctors press their whole weight on the chest of my mother, my sisters, my children, terrified of the lurch of their feet, the lurch that accompanies each press that restarts the heart, the jerk of their pale, tender soles, terrified of the frantic prayer without intention that keens through the mind, the prayer for life that one says in the doorway, the prayer I never want to say again, the prayer that dissolves midair when the hush-click-hush-click of the ventilator drowns it, terrified of the terrible commitment at the heart of me that reasons that if the person I love has to endure this, then the least I can do is stand there, the least I can do is witness, the least I can do is tell them over and over again, aloud, I love you. We love you. We ain’t going nowhere.

Minor Feelings

‘Minor Feelings’ and The Possibilities of Asian American Identity (Jia Tolentino)

In “Stand Up,” she asks, “Will there be a future where I, on the page, am simply I, on the page, and not I, proxy for a whole ethnicity, imploring you to believe we are human beings who feel pain?” The predicament of the Asian-American writer, as Hong articulates it, is to fear that both your existence and your interpretation of that existence will always be read the wrong way.

Is there a future of Asian-American identity that’s fundamentally expansive—that can encompass the divergent economic and cultural experiences of Asians in the United States, and form a bridge to the experiences of other marginalized groups? The answer depends on whom Asian-Americans choose to feel affinity and loyalty toward—whether we direct our sympathies to those with more power than us or less, not just outside our jerry-rigged ethnic coalition but within it.

How to Save a Dying Language

How to Save a Dying Language (Alia Wong)

The territorial government established English as the only official language in 1893. From then on, people caught speaking Hawaiian faced severe social ostracism. The English-only law had an immediate chilling effect that prevented subsequent generations of Native Hawaiians from learning their linguistic ancestry.

“We come to understand sorrow or love or joy or indecision in particularly rich ways through the characters and incidents we become familiar with in novels or plays,” wrote Kathy Carter, a University of Arizona education scholar who studies teaching and language, in a 1993 paper for Educational Researcher. “This richness and nuance cannot be expressed in definitions, statements of fact, or abstract propositions. It can only be demonstrated or evoked through story.”

The Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen

Recognizing the Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen (Marcos Gonsalez)

Unmarked, and universal, whiteness structures this classroom, this university, this world.

But they don’t know what whiteness is because they have never had to see it before. To them, white students and white professors discussing white literature feels like nothing out of the ordinary; it’s just the way things are, the way things are meant to be.

Yet my suspicions linger over the politics of retellings because the dominating forces over our art and culture are notoriously guilty of telling those of us who are queer, disabled, trans, and of color, that our original stories are too particular and niche to reach a large enough audience. The stories these white writers craft are universal templates, apparently.

What does it look like to retell Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights? Nella Larsen’s Passing? Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior? The question becomes tricky because these works, like all works by any kind of writer, like Austen or Shakespeare, possess their specific social and cultural contexts, all of them their own beautiful specificity. Yet some of us are always more universal, always able to be just Art, just Literature, just Author, and never, lest we say it, lest we give up the ruse, white.