Critical Essays Archive

Black Boyhood, Black Fear

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When I first read Kiese Laymon’s “City Summer, Country Summer” essay, it seemed a sweet, nostalgic comparison of Black culture in New York City to Mississippi. On second read, however, I saw that what united the two boys within was more than their age or the color of their

Kinetic Orality in 1919

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Eve L. Ewing fills her poems with bodies and voices. This interplay between rhythm and language becomes a means by which the marginalized speak; kinetic orality is a response to the recurring nature of systemic racism in that it thrives on both repetition and improvisation.

A Writer Between Worlds

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Culture shock is central to Tawada Yôko’s subject matter: her characters tend to be travelers of one kind or another—mail-order brides, bewildered exchange students—forced to wander in the gap between languages, where the meaning of ordinary daily experience turns slippery and weird.

The Canonization of John Kennedy Toole

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We’ve spent so much time discussing Ignatius Reilly: his multi-dimensional, timeless creation, but have ignored saying the obvious about John Kennedy Toole—that much of the Dunces mythos is built on the back of his suicide.

Colonialism and Nationalism in The House of Hunger

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Alongside his exoneration of colonial violence both externally apparent and pervasively overlooked, Dambudzo Marechera questions what will happen when independence comes, throwing into stark relief the metanarrative of the nation state and the concept of nationalism as a motivating structure for freedom.

Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca

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A master of suspense, Daphne du Maurier’s highest skill lies in finding the latent dread in mundane domestic moments.

White Melancholia

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To both Toni Morrison and Jess Row, American literary output has been marked by an often unconscious awareness of the racial other. To Row, an avoidance in recent white literature serves a kind of protective function for white writers and readers, acting as a shield against our own shame.

Maria Popova’s Figurations of Inner Life

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It almost does not matter what someone does or what happens to them. Rather, what matters is what someone thinks they have experienced. As Popova suggests, the true changes in our lives are cognitive as much as they are biographical—or, rather, if they are biographically significant, it is only

The Historical Imperatives of Swing At Your Own Risk

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Deeply rooted in Black feminist discourse, Metta Sáma’s second full-length book of poetry is part of a line of historical poetics—part documentary, part interpretative—that refuses to distinguish between the horrors of the past and their ongoing inflections in the present.

The Danger and Loneliness of Passing

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Brit Bennett’s recently published novel and Nella Larsen’s classic reveal the danger—and loneliness—of a black woman passing for white in the early 1900s and the 1990s. Passing affords the freedoms and opportunities for reinvention that whiteness allows for, but this comes at a terrible cost.