Recent Must Reads: A Weekly Roundup

It has been three years since I left my teaching position in the English Department at a state university in Massachusetts. This is the first semester that I miss not being in a classroom of college students, to help shepherd them through difficult times. The majority of students I worked with were freshmen, many of them the first in their family ever to go to college. Many students had never been in high school classrooms that required open, participative conversations, so one of our first activities together focused on creating an effective environment for challenging discussions.

One of my favorite essays to begin a conversation was Edwidge Danticat’s The Most Important Story of My Life. The piece describes the experience of Danticat’s uncle, who died in a Miami, Florida “Processing Center” upon leaving Haiti to relocate in the United States. The themes of the essay include immigration, race, isolation, family connection/disconnection. Discussing the immigrant experience and how the United States failed Danticat’s uncle was eye-opening for many students. I followed up Danticat’s essay with a moving piece by Demetria Martinez: Inherit the Earth/The Things They Carried. Martinez’s essay also considers the immigrant experience from Mexico to the United States and the images and personal details of what is lost on such a journey: shoes, baby strollers, wedding pictures, empty water jugs. The physical details of both essays convey a deep emotional response, and often students understand for the first time the immigrant plight through a more empathetic lens.

In the three years since I have taught, I have discovered many writers I would love to share with a classroom of young adults. In addition to the writers I always taught: bell hooks, Louise Erdrich, Junot Diaz, Richard Blanco, and Frederick Douglass (and yes, my students, unlike our current White House resident, were well aware that Douglass was no longer living!), I would now add writers new to me who have changed my perception on race and identity. I would love to share the important political work of Jesmyn Ward, Roxane Gay, Melissa Blake, Terese Mailhot, Anna March, Porochista Khakpour, Kelly Sundberg, Lidia Yuknavitch and many more. My main purpose as a teacher was to open young minds to new views, to more expansive ideas, to empathy, and to integrating oneself into the movements of a larger culture. These writers all have the capacity to accomplish that. I miss being the instructor who will share powerful writing with young people, and I can only hope that university professors are moving beyond the “canon” to more immediate, relevant, political voices.

This week Danticat has a new essay in The New Yorker. She discusses Trump’s latest disaster, the termination of DACA, and the many Dreamers she has worked with. Please read the article for personal stories of Dreamers and a more insightful understanding of their gifts and accomplishments.

Other stories this week include pieces on “lunch shaming” in schools; solar panels on a Navajo Reservation; potential negative impact on the Disabilities Act; Slave ads from the 19th century; and a protest against white supremacy by the Dockworkers Union in San Francisco. A powerful essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates appears in The Atlantic; in it Coates offers a detailed and complex argument of Trump as the United States’ first white president. Intrigued? So was I!! The essay is lengthy, but well worth the time to read. Lastly, I have included a 2016 article on Feminist writer Kate Millett who died this week at the age of 82.

So, for these stories and more, Please Read On! Your comments are always welcome!

 


  1. Monica’s is one of eight hundred thousand stories, eight hundred thousand dreams deferred, if not completely destroyed. These dreams have already been nurtured by the Dreamers themselves, as well as by this country, where many have gotten their primary, secondary, and even university educations. For those of us who know Dreamers, who live with or near them, who work with them, who love them, it’s puzzling that their value to this country is being so casually discarded. The Dreamers I know have the drive of pioneers. Their determination is born out of urgency. They can’t, as Monica has said, take for granted their right to be here. They earn it every day.
“DACA, Hurricane Irma, and Young Americans’ Dreams Deferred”/ by Edwidge Danticat/ The New Yorker/ September 6, 2017

 


2. “Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question,” Obama continued. “Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.” Obama’s words addressed the typical talking points Trump invokes when admonishing immigrants in this country and the specific doctrine Sessions mentioned in his announcement of DACA’s abolishment. “This action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense,” Obama said.
“Barack Obama Attacks Trump’s DACA Announcement As ‘Contrary to our Spirit’ ”/ by Rachel Leah/ Salon/ September 5, 2017

 


3. This move has been long sought by food-policy advocates and many members of the New York City Council, who said that some students would prefer to go hungry rather than admit they cannot afford to pay for lunch. Nationally, the practice of “lunch shaming” — holding children publicly accountable for unpaid school lunch bills — has garnered attention.
“New York City Offers Free Lunch for All Public School Students”/ by Sean Piccoli and Elizabeth A. Harris/ New York Times/ September 6, 2017

 


4. A giant array of solar panels near the famed sandstone buttes of Monument Valley has begun producing electricity for the Navajo Nation at a time when the tribe is bracing for the loss of hundreds of jobs from the impending closure of a nearby coal-fired power plant.
“Navajo Nations First Solar Project Now Producing Enough Electricity for about 13,000 Homes”/ by Associated Press staff/ azcentral.com/ August 29, 2017

 


5. The “Last Seen” ads started appearing around 1863. By 1865, when the Civil War ended, they were coming out in streams. Black people torn away from family members by slavery placed thousands of “Information Wanted” notices in black-owned newspapers across the country, seeking any help to find loved ones.
“‘My Mother Was Sold From Me’: After slavery, the desperate search for loved ones in ‘last seen ads’”/ by DeNeen L. Brown/ Washington Post/ September 7, 2017

 


6. H.R. 620 would completely change the way in which a business is required to comply with the ADA. Instead of requiring that a business comply proactively, the bill would place the burden on the individual who is being denied access. This bill proposes that after an individual with a disability is denied access she must first notify the business owner, with exacting specificity, that her civil rights were violated, and then wait for six months to see if the business will make “substantial progress” toward access, before going to a court to order compliance.
“Congress Wants to Change the Americans with Disabilities Act and Undermine the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities”/ by Tyler Ray and Vania Leveille/ ACLU/ September 6, 2017

 


7. The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump. In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off “moderate” whites. This has proved to be only half true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington and better schooled in the methodology of governance—and now liberated from the pretense of antiracist civility—doing a much more effective job than Trump.
“The First White President”/ by Ta-Nehisi Coates/ The Atlantic/ October 2017 issue

 


8. In finding their voices and becoming a band, they say they have endured criticism from their families, friends and neighbors, and have received hundreds of online death threats for supposedly blaspheming Islam and not acting like proper Muslim girls — in other words, submissive, they said.
“In Indonesia, 3 Muslim Girls Fight for Their Right to Play Heavy Metal”/ by Joe Cochrane/ New York Times/ September 2, 2017

 


9. On Sunday, the focus shifted to the East Bay city of Berkeley where far-right forces planned to gather. Yet, once again, anti-fascists out-organized the right. Upwards of 5,000 people appeared, including — once more — Bay Area dockworkers and union teachers. Among ILWU members present was Howard Keylor, a 90-year-old who led the anti-apartheid boycott that Local 10 conducted in 1984 in solidarity with South Africans.
“These Dockworkers just Showed the Labor Movement How to Shut Down Fascists”/ by Peter Cole/ Salon/ September 2, 2017

 


10. This faith in literature—in particular, this faith in the academic study of literature—is perhaps the thing that most marks Millett’s work as the product of another time. It’s striking that in the years after her first book’s release, when she was spending much of her time advocating for “gay liberation,” it occurred to her that the best thing she could do was not speak, or organize, or teach, but write a book of literary criticism, a “SexPol of gay and straight, a scholarly objective approach more convincing to the authorities.” She mapped it out one night at her farm-cum-feminist artist colony in Poughkeepsie: “First lay down a theory about the two cultures, our segregated society. Then find in homosexual literature the emotional truth of the experience as it was lived.” The book never came to be, but the dream of it tells us something about what it meant to be a literary scholar, and a radical feminist, in the early 1970s.
“What Kate Did”/ by Maggie Doherty/ New Republic/ March 23, 2016

 


Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.

 

 

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