In case you’ve been hiding under a rock—or used a rock to smash your iPhone, iPad, Kindle, television, laptop, and all forms of news-sharing devices (and, for the record, we’d totally understand if you did)—two weeks ago journalist Michael Wolff released Fire and Fury, a tell-all about Trump’s first nine months in the White House.
We think that book has gotten plenty of coverage, and already knew that the Trump White House was a hot mess. But, we do admit Wolff’s title is apropos to our, and the country’s, mood these last twelve months. Below, our editors have compiled a list of books by writers of color and women that bring fire, fury, and sometimes, both.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
Ward takes James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time. The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honoree Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel Jose Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown
Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Ng’s novel traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin edited by Michael Warr and Phil Cushway
Included in this extraordinary volume are the poems of forty-three of America’s most talented wordsmiths, including Pulitzer Prize–winning poets Rita Dove, Natasha Tretheway, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tracy K. Smith, as well as the work of other luminaries such as Elizabeth Alexander, Ishmael Reed, and Sonia Sanchez. Included are poems such as “No Wound of Exit” by Patricia Smith, “We Are Not Responsible” by Harryette Mullen, and “Poem for My Father” by Quincy Troupe. Each is accompanied by a photograph of the poet along with a first-person biography. The anthology also contains personal essays on race such as “The Talk” by Jeannine Amber and works by Harry Belafonte, Amiri Baraka, and The Reverend Dr. William Barber II, architect of the Moral Mondays movement, as well as images and iconic political posters of the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party. Taken together, Of Poetry and Protest gives voice to the current conversation about race in America while also providing historical and cultural context.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful. But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity. Boxers & Saints offers a penetrating insight into not only one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history, but into the very core of our human nature.
Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness edited by Carolyn Forché
Bearing witness to extremity―whether of war, torture, exile, or repression―the volume encompasses more than one hundred poets from five continents, over the span of the twentieth century, from the Armenian genocide to Tiananmen Square.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in contemporary society.
Look by Solmaz Sharif
In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her family’s and her own fragmented narratives in the aftermath of warfare. Those repercussions echo into the present day, in the grief for those killed in America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the discrimination endured at the checkpoints of daily encounter. At the same time, these poems point to the ways violence is conducted against our language. Throughout this collection are words and phrases lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms; in their seamless inclusion, Sharif exposes the devastating euphemisms deployed to sterilize the language, control its effects, and sway our collective resolve. But Sharif refuses to accept this terminology as given, and instead turns it back on its perpetrators. “Let it matter what we call a thing,” she writes. “Let me look at you.”
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
Inferno: A New Translation by Dante Alighieri, translated by Mary Jo Bang
Dante, a master of innovation, wrote his poem in the vernacular, rather than in literary Latin. Bang has similarly created an idiomatically rich contemporary version that is accessible, musical, and audacious. She’s matched Dante’s own liberal use of allusion and literary borrowing by incorporating literary and cultural references familiar to contemporary readers: Shakespeare and Dickinson, Freud and South Park, Kierkegaard and Stephen Colbert. The Inferno—the allegorical story of a spiritual quest that begins in a dark forest, traverses Hell’s nine circles, and ends at the hopeful edge of purgatory—was also an indictment of religious hypocrisy and political corruption. In its time, the poem was stunningly new. Bang’s version is true to the original: lyrical, politically astute, occasionally self-mocking, and deeply moving.
Thrown by Kerry Howley
In this darkly funny work of literary nonfiction, a bookish young woman insinuates herself into the lives of two MMA cage fighters—one a young prodigy, the other an aging journeyman. Howley follows these men for three years through the bloody world of mixed martial arts as they starve themselves, break bones, fail their families, and form new ones in the quest to rise from remote Midwestern fairgrounds to packed Vegas arenas. With penetrating intelligence and wry humor, Howley exposes the profundities and absurdities of this American subculture.
Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now edited by Amit Majmudar
In a political atmosphere where language and even meaning itself are continually under threat, poetry has a critical role to play. And our poets have been responding—in the streets and at their desks, demanding a full accounting from themselves and from their nation. Majmudar’s elegant introduction to these vital poems reminds us that “false stories take a lot of killing because they are made of language. Because they are made of language, though, they can be killed.” American poets of diverse styles and strategies contribute their truths: scenes from the front lines of resistance, and from the interior of our collective conscience. A final cento by Majmudar—a poem including at least one line or phrase from each of the poems in the volume—celebrates the robust multiplicity of voices in this book and in America now.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors’s story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.
The Animal Too Big to Kill by Shane McCrae
With McCrae’s unmistakable cadences, he probes insistently yet big-heartedly into some paradoxes of belief and righteousness, confronting God from the quagmire of his upbringing: half-Black and raised by White supremacists.
Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past by W. Ralph Eubanks
In June of 1957, Governor James Coleman stepped before the cameras of Meet the Press and was asked whether the public schools would ever be integrated. “Well, ever is a long time,” he replied, “[but] I would say that a baby born in Mississippi today will never live long enough to see an integrated school.” In this extraordinary pilgrimage, Library of Congress Publishing Director W. Ralph Eubanks recaptures the feel of growing up during this tumultuous era, deep in rural Mississippi. Vividly re-creating a time and place where even small steps across the Jim Crow line became a matter of life and death, he offers eloquent testimony to a family’s grace against all odds. Inspired by the 1998 declassification of files kept by the State Sovereignty Commission—an agency specifically created to maintain white supremacy—the result is a journey of discovery that leads Eubanks not only to surprising conclusions about his own family, but also to harrowing encounters with those involved in some of the era’s darkest activities.
Silencer by Marcus Wicker
A suburban park, church, a good job, a cocktail party for the literati: to many, these sound like safe places, but for a young black man these insular spaces don’t keep out the news—and the actual threat—of gun violence and police brutality, or the biases that keeps body, property, and hope in the crosshairs. Silencer sings out the dangers of unspoken taboos present on quiet Midwestern cul-de-sacs and in stifling professional settings, the dangers in closing the window on “a rainbow coalition of cops doing calisthenics around/a six-foot, three-hundred-fifty-pound man, choked back into the earth for what/looked a lot, to me, like sport.”
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
Randa Jarrar’s story collection moves seamlessly between realism and fable, history and the present, capturing the lives of Muslim women and men across myriad geographies and circumstances. With acerbic wit, deep tenderness, and boundless imagination, Jarrar brings to life a memorable cast of characters, many of them “accidental transients”—a term for migratory birds who have gone astray—seeking their circuitous routes back home. Fierce and feeling, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a testament to survival in the face of love, loss, and displacement.