Author Archive

Pensando en Puerto Rico

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Marigloria Palma renders the spectrality of her island—the willful legal, economic, and social (which is all to say: racist) invisibilities that have intentioned to create humanitarian crisis and impending exodus in the hurricane’s wake. “We’re dying here. We truly are dying here.”

Notes on Longing

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Longing—the menace of love, or the loss of it—is not so unlike Adrienne Rich’s description of reading a poem: “prismatic meanings lit by each others’ light.” It’s the hope that someone activates in us something that has been a mystery even to ourselves.

In Remembrance of Brian Doyle

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When the prolific author Brian Doyle passed away last month, American Letters lost not only a talented writer in Doyle, but also a waning parochial worldview.

There Is No “Appropriation Prize”

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There are a couple of things I try to emphasize when I teach writing workshops. One: writing is not an innate talent that some people are born with and others are not. Two: writing is not a thing to be won.

The Weather We’re Having

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The calamity of weather disaster in literature offers more overt indications of those who are vulnerable and exposed. From Shakespeare’s encroaching storms to Richard Wright’s floods, from Zora Neale Hurston’s hurricane to Haruki Murakami’s quakes, we learn that we have to keep our eyes on the skies and our

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE Revisited

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By way of introduction at readings, I often start with a poem about my hometown. “For those of you who don’t know me,” I say, “I’m from Schenectady, New York, and I think it is the greatest small city in the world.” I wait a beat before the punchline:

Going to Battle: Sojourner Truth and the United States Immigration Ban

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When news of the executive order on immigration broke last week, I was looking at a photograph of Sojourner Truth. The picture had been open on my desk for days—an object of an essay I’m writing—and its content struck a particular and heartrending chord.

Reading the Signs: Letter from Prague

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For the past six months, I’ve been living in Prague—a small but fierce city in Central Europe where despite the cumulative oppressions of Nazi occupation and decades of isolation and communist rule, residents still maintain a well-developed sense of irony. Monitoring the (Anglophone) news from the self-exile of Prague

In Sickness: Feeling Unwell in the Wake of the U.S. Election

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In the days after the U.S. presidential election last month, people became sick. Friends, colleagues, and mere acquaintances narrated their symptoms.

An Aquarium in Paris

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Sinking down the basement steps of the Palais Porte Dorée in Paris is to find it much as it was in its inaugural year. The hulking Art Deco palace was a centerpiece of the 1931 Colonial Exposition—a World’s Fair-type undertaking meant to reinvest French citizens of the interwar period