In this volatile political and moral climate, reading can serve as a refuge. However, as I continue to amplify my acts as the agent of change I know myself to be, I’m using my reading as both weapon and armor—a constantly expanding and empowering force. That being said, please take this list of recommendations for post-Inauguration reading not as comprehensive but as communal—to add onto continuously over the next four years. One of the best catalysts for vigilance, after all, is awareness. We at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop invite you to challenge your boundaries, listen to the myriad voices around you—and share with us. We’d love to learn more about what you’re reading to nourish and charge your own acts of resistance. In the meantime, many thanks to Emily Smith, Alexander Carrigan, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Anna-Celestrya Carr, Rita Banerjee and Shannon Sawyer for sharing their suggested reads for the resistance.
– AM Ringwalt, Curator
The Grass Dancer by Susan Power
(Recommended by Emily Smith)
Susan Power honors the the Dakota Sioux in this novel of magic and dreams through a retelling of tribal stories, which are often haunted by the dead. Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Tribe and a descendant of Sioux Chief Two Bears. While Power is a highly regarded writer, she also has a background in law; using her degree, she founded the American Indian Center in Chicago, which offers relief and education services to one of America’s largest Native American populations.
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
(Recommended by Emily Smith)
Although Louise Erdrich’s novel was published in 2009, its central narrative is fit for contemporary news. The story opens on an act of racism in mid-century North Dakota: after a white family is found murdered, a group of men hang three American Indian men and one boy. The real villain goes unpunished.
The novel is a Pulitzer-Prize finalist that unfolds a century later from the perspective of multiple family members a la The Sound and the Fury. By the close of the novel, it’s clear that suppressing injustice has resounding consequences, even generations later.
The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel from 1985 is still relevant today, as women are policed for their bodies and their autonomies, usually being mistreated under the guise of “religious freedom” or underlying misogyny in various social and political institutions. The novel follows Offred, a woman who has had her name, her family, and her body taken by a totalitarian theocracy that only values her for her fertility. The book is equal parts speculative fiction and horror, one that can terrify both women and men with its protagonist’s incredible voice and its raw look at a world that seems imaginary but rings close to home. With an upcoming miniseries adaptation airing on Hulu in April, more people are sure to discover The Handmaid’s Tale and see how its depiction of religious extremism, misogyny, women’s health rights, and bodily autonomy compare and contrast to our new government.
(Recommended by Alexander Carrigan)
Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by black feminist author and teacher Roxane Gay. In it, she discusses issues of race, politics, sexuality, literature, media, and Scrabble tournaments, all while keeping her clever voice and personality. This was a book that made me laugh, tear up, and pay attention to various sections of society that I don’t often read about. It speaks to those who are often disenfranchised, and does so in a way that makes it easy to read and enjoyable at the same time.
The Boston Review and Black Ocean Press
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)
It’s crucial to support literary presses, particularly these two Boston-based ones, in anticipation of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Both the Boston Review and Black Ocean Press are committed to “our shared commitment to the rights and values essential to a democracy” (see Greater Boston Writers Resist, which took place on January 15, 2017 at the Boston Public Library).
It’s worth noting, too, that in his poignant farewell address, Barack Obama warned against numbing ourselves to the “battle of ideas” essential to politics —and a creative life—in “selective sorting of the facts,” the sectarianism inherent in having news sources catered to one particular political viewpoint versus another (take Fox versus PBS, for example), the rise of social media catering to each member’s biases and the tendency of popular news sources to operate on omission. Obama said, “. . . increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”
So, as a challenge to both myself and everyone reading this, consider these two literary presses in conjunction with media and art that challenges your ethos. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely appreciate presses like the Boston Review and Black Ocean even more after immersing yourself in other perspectives.
In the wake of the election, the Boston Review continued the call for defending independent nonprofit publishing. In recent publications, the journal asserted that “poetry is a counterattack” and began curating literary works representative of “Global Dystopias.” On December 15, 2016 the Boston Review published an article by Vivian Gornick entitled “Feeling Paranoid,” a piece not dissimilar from Obama’s farewell address. Gornick writes, “the struggle of any society—but especially one that calls itself a democracy—is to honor the existence of those not like ourselves.” The Boston Review shares texts like Race Capitalism Justice and Poems for Political Disaster, a collection of “both new poems and selections from the Boston Review archive that record, refract, subvert, or otherwise respond to political trauma, catastrophe, or terror—both here at home and abroad.” The Harvard Book Store and Boston Review will host an evening of readings from Poems for Political Disaster at the Cambridge Public Library on January 30, 2017; I invite you to join me there.
Black Ocean Press boasts a catalog of innovative poetry, featuring works by Elisa Gabbert and Tomasz Salamun, among many other crucial voices. The press recently opened a brick-and-mortar space in Somerville, Massachusetts. Janaka Stucky, poet and founder of Black Ocean, describes the space aptly in a December issue of the Boston Globe, as a “‘third space’ — a space neither the home space nor the work space. ‘In the discourses of dissent,’ Stucky says, ‘the third space is where the oppressed plot their liberation.’” In 2016, Black Ocean supported resistance camps at Standing Rock by having all of its proceeds on “Black Friday” be sent onto Standing Rock in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. With books—and an overall ethos—as artfully constructed as they are dissenting, Black Ocean Press proves to be a necessary ally in anticipation of the Inauguration. Stucky will join me for CWW Presents on February 3, 2017, too, where he will share his poetry alongside musician Audrey Harrer and Fawn, my folk duo.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores what “feminism” means today. This eloquent book-length essay examines not only outright discrimination, but the subtle ways that inequality is made manifest through our institutionalized behaviors. The author balances philosophical pondering with humor and offers a nuanced explanation of the gender divide. Using her own experiences in both the U.S. and in her native Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows how sexism is harmful not only for women, but for men as well. This is a good read for these times when leaders are normalizing sexism. It is a rally cry to continue the fight for what our feminist predecessors have fought for in the previous century.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is a novel & T.V. series based on the book that creates a time-shifting alternate history, exploring what might have happened if FDR was assassinated in 1936 and the Nazis won WWII. Twenty years into the future, the Nazis and the Japanese Empire have taken over the U.S., and instead of the free spirit of the 1960s, we see the grim atmosphere of a fascist state. The Resistance is alive and carries on subversive activities, having some cells on both of the occupied halves of the country, as well as in the Neutral Zone, which is geographically in the Midwest. The characters are artfully complex, and their moralities are tested against the backdrop of this harsh world. We hear familiar songs and see cultural icons appropriated by those in power, and these similarities are just as eerie as the differences from the actual historical reality. Moreover, this world takes a look at how we Americans became Nazis, whether through passive acceptance, by conscious choice or by force.
News From Nowhere
by William Morris
(Recommended by Anna Celestrya Carr)
William Morris’ novel is a combination of science fiction and utopian socialism. The narrator Guest awakens in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society, there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. In the story, Morris’ belief is that all work should be creative and pleasurable defeating the most common criticism of socialism of the supposed lack of incentive to work in a communistic society. It is easy to find novels based on dystopian societies,News From Nowhere is not a perfectly written work but with too few utopian stories to choose it is an interesting read that focuses on beauty.
It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider
by Jim Henson
(Recommended by Anna Celestrya Carr)
Sometimes we all need a reason to smile. It’s Not Easy Being Green is a delightful collection of quotes from and inspired by Jim Henson. Funny, sweet and uplifting it is a fantastic way to take a break from all the chaos.
“I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. As it turned out, I am very proud of some of the work we’ve done, and I think we can do many more good things.” – Jim
Queer: A Graphic History
by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
(Recommended by Shannon Sawyer)