Category Archives: Essays

Normal Girls: On SZA, Nella Larsen, and the Varieties of Black Feminism

By Marina Magloire

I am not Beyoncé. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I sat high above her, watching her tiny figure strut across the stage at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Screens several stories high projecting her image hung like banners for some erstwhile fascist leader. It was in many ways not the ideal concert — it was outdoors, and a thunderstorm sparked a temporary evacuation of the stadium (“Please remain calm, Beyoncé is not leaving” someone said over an intercom). But what struck me as least ideal was the staged-ness of every word and gesture, everything scripted from the high kicks, to the thank yous to her loyal and dedicated fans, to the rote delivery of the songs meant to be uplifting and to get us “in formation.” Did she know the tears I had shed in the dark over “Sandcastles,” the reckless careworn times in my car when I drove on the highway just to turn up “Sorry” loud enough to drown out my pounding heart? Did she not know the emotional catharsis I wanted to share with her at that concert? Apparently not. Continue reading

Shadi Yousefian: A Retrospective

By Christopher Ian Lutz

Know thyself. You would have read these two words as you entered the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, if you lived in Greece 2000 years ago. More recently you might have read or watched Alice in Wonderland, in which the Caterpillar asks Alice: “Who are you?” This question has been known to initiate young people on a lifelong journey of self-realization. It is the underlying factor of self-expression, teenage angst, and mid-life crises. This question, this pursuit of identity, is what perpetuates the institutions of religion, other spiritual practices, and all the methods individuals use to connect with an identity beyond temporary designations. In a similar systematic approach, Shadi Yousefian has undergone a journey of self-realization through the ritual of art by dismantling such designations in order to construct a truer form of identity. Continue reading

The Sanctity of American Landscapes

By James Freitas

The vocabulary of wilderness is often self-explanatory, sometimes onomatopoetic. Alpenglow requires no elaboration; you’ll know it when you see it. Walk through brush and you’ll brush up against it — it’ll sound like brush. Scree echoes its own murmurous hiss, sliding down a slope beyond its angle of repose — that critical “point at which gravity challenges friction,” Antonya Nelson defines it, “the tense moment before one succumbs to the other.” We’ve got sheepback rock, mudslides, and hedgerows. In Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape, a dictionary-cum-field guide, dozens of writers contribute brief entries detailing the lexical pleasures native to their regional geographies. And don’t forget the fauna, either; the chickadees sing their own name. Continue reading

The Sonoma County Fires’ Familiar Surreality

By Nicholas Miriello

“Is that smoke from the fire?” A man yelled to his neighbor walking a dog. “Jesus.”

It was Monday morning in San Francisco, and every resident had learned of wine country’s wildfires by checking the Internet or first calling their local fire department to report the smell of a fire nearby. The smell was immediate, pervasive, and unmistakably close, like a late night campfire you awake to still burning.  Continue reading

Getting in the Way: On White Female Comedians Speaking Out

By Hilarie Ashton

Straight white women, including me, have a lot of unearned privilege to atone for, and we do not always atone usefully. In an America that was problematic on levels of race, class, and gender far before openly racist, faux-wealthy, women-hating men slithered into the White House last November, there are a plethora of examples of this kind of ineffective, often ignorant action purporting to be against white supremacy. Since the election especially, on the internet and in daily life, I have seen far too many white women uncritically extolling the feminist virtues of suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both of whom are lauded for including Black women in their suffrage work without much acknowledgement of their respective racism. (It was Anthony who told Frederick Douglass, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”) Facebook profile photos and Twitter avatars perpetuate the ubiquity of the transphobic, white-centric “pussy hats” that originated as a grassroots art project for January’s Women’s March (and that were still around in my part of New York even in early summer, even though trans folx and Black women have spoken out against how the symbol at least partially excluded them, among them Katelyn Burns at The Establishment and Juniperangelica Xiomara at Wear Your Voice Mag. The pussy hats were a problem where police were concerned, too, another framework that cis white women too often ignore; Alison Reed’s incisive look at whiteness and carceral psychology in Abolition Journal gets at this all-too common phenomenon really smartly. Why, many before me have asked, would a symbol that centers cis women and white women, the Venn diagram of which is the group most responsible for getting Trump into office, seem appropriate for fighting for the rights of women who are marginalized? Continue reading

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rock and Roll

By Erin Coulehan 

People loved rock and roll long before Joan Jett made an anthem about it in 1982. The genre was born through traditionally African American musical styles and adapted to suit a different audience — a whiter audience. Rock and roll as we know (and love) it drew influence from jazz, gospel, country, and R&B to popularize in the late 1940s and 1950s, and was set on fire by bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. According to Yale-educated music historian Lorenzo Candelaria at the University of Texas at El Paso, audience is what initially distinguished rock and roll from rhythm and blues. Simply put, “rhythm and blues refers to music that was marketed to a black audience; rock and roll refers to music directed at a white audience.” Continue reading

I Was Asking for It: Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Ageism in Show Business

By Annabelle Gurwitch

Like Harvey Weinstein, I, too, came of age in a different era. Ten years his junior, the air was charged with an intoxicating mixture of sexual energy and drug fueled adrenaline in the winter of 1980 as Harvey Weinstein began his ascension as a film producer and sexual predator and I landed in New York to study experimental theater at NYU. Continue reading

Art Inside: Facilitator Training

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

It is 120 degrees outside, and yet the locals continue to tell us that this is a cool July. I stopped noticing the constant sheen of sweat shortly after we arrived for the second time here in Blythe, CA, near the Arizona border, over a week ago. I have come with a team to lead a class on the fundamentals of teaching art. In this case, the students — and future teachers — are men that are incarcerated in two prisons just outside the town. They will eventually teach their peers in the prisons. We are midway through the second 10-day session of a training that is designed to empower them to create community through the arts by sharing what they have learned, many while locked up, about painting, drawing, music, poetry, and more. The project is something I received a grant for from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement here, but months ago, as I wrote the grant application, bent over the computer in my cool office, I could never have imagined the depths to which our participants would go in engaging with this content and striving to understand, grow, and be successful. They are going to be incredible teachers. Continue reading

The Event is Always Political

By James Rushing Daniel

Just after 10 p.m. on Sunday, October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. At least 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured in what has been called the deadliest mass shooting in United States history committed by a single individual. Surprising no one, a rancorous debate immediately ensued with many on the left calling for gun control legislation and a unified right feigning moral outrage. Continue reading