Critical Essays Archive

William Gardner Smith’s International Solidarity Against Police Violence

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While there is much to improve in how we support each other at home and across the globe, Smith’s 1963 novel, which documents the 1961 police massacre of Algerian protestors in Paris, reminds us of the immense power in solidarity and our duty to rise up for justice and

A Carrier Bag Theory of Revolution

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In the bigger picture of the “life story,” there appear to be no fixed beginnings or endings—only changes.

Emma Cline’s Fairy Tale Gone Wrong

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To Cline’s Evie, a young girl whose parents are too preoccupied with their respective post-divorce transformations to truly see her and support her, leaving the mild, mind-numbing safety of her small-town and stepping onto a cult leader’s ranch is like stepping into a fairy tale world.

The Grounding Power of the Past

The gravitational pull of the physical is a placeholder for the mental, emotional, and spiritual work that Sarah M. Broom’s 2019 book, and the stories within, is doing.

James Alan McPherson’s Masterpieces

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I am inevitably an outsider to the worlds McPherson wrote about and can only understand them as such, but for me his writing cut across race, culture, age, and geography to reach the most ignorant of audiences, and to show me what a real “masterpiece” looked like.

Lost Generations

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In 1918 and 1919, an estimated fifty million people were killed by the Spanish Flu. Surprisingly, however, the memory of this global catastrophe seems to be largely absent in the cultural productions of the first half of the twentieth century.

Reading Black Marks on the White Page

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This Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, Julia Shiota turns to Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti’s 2017 anthology, which makes clear that those who identify as Pacific Islander come from a wide array of places and experiences.

Time, Change, and Community

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Czeslaw Milosz’s work explores the disorientation of time, the pain of dislocation, and the porous border between community and solitude. He writes with awe about both small moments and large expanses of time, and evokes eternity in everyday encounters between people; his poems feel at once lonely and communal.

The Fancy and Imagination of Herman Melville

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The frolicking of sailors aboard a ship’s deck reminds Herman Melville of young horses, which might lead him to the “gambols” of whales. In associations such as these, Melville shows us the incongruities and false gilding we add to life in order to make it more palatable, less terrifying.

The Ethics of Delight

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We could try to protect ourselves at this time from dread, despair, and our own fury; or, like Ross Gay, we could seek delight, and find through it a doorway into engagement in the world, painful as it might be.