Critical Essays Archive

The Embodied Narrator in How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

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Clint Smith’s new book is an examination of memory through an examination of sites that represent our country’s collective memory of slavery. He makes an important and effective call for us to examine how we remember our past, and how central our historical memory is to our existence today.

We Wish You Luck’s Writerly Campus Novel

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There is something thrilling about a campus novel, the way its borders close around a defined perimeter and an alluring clique. Caroline Zancan’s entry to the genre, set at a premier low-residency MFA program, pushes the campus novel into such an academic, writerly realm that it takes on the

The Chorus of There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis

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The new anthology, edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman, documents last summer’s period of quarantine and protest, bewilderment and commitment. Over the pages, the resonances build like voices gathered in a street singing justice songs.

The Perforation of Language in The Perforated Map

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Eléna Rivera's 2011 collection fuses the relationship between maps and language—a paper map is a metaphor for language itself, and can be pierced. To puncture a sentence or an entire poem means reaching through language’s strictures and expectations into what’s on the other side, and accessing language’s limits.

The Power of the Cuban Peoples’s Verses

José Martí, Margarita Engle, and the San Isidro Movement have contributed, over the course of a century, to the long tradition of writing about a free Cuba through poetics. The government knows the revolutionary history and power of artists and poets in Cuba, and they fear it.

Tradition in The Complete Stories

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Noah Warren’s new poetry collection opens with “Preface to the Second Edition.” What’s been excluded from this edition—words that may have been included in the imagined first edition—and what’s been included to shape a different experience of encountering these words in this specific order: it’s all impossible knowledge.

The Absurdity of Labor in There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job

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Kikuko Tsumura’s most recent novel is a smart—and humorous—exploration into the emotional toll labor can have on individuals in a hyper-consumerist, capitalist system.

Searching for an American Epistemology in Lost in Summerland

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Barrett Swanson’s essays rigorously interrogate the intersection between capitalism, masculinity, and the “gnawing sense of purposelessness” pervasive in our country’s psyche, while also adding an undeniable empathetic and interpersonal dimension that satisfies a reader’s desire for emotionally specific narrative intrigue.

The Persona as a Portal in The January Children

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In Safia Elhillo’s 2017 poetry collection, both the historical figure of Abdelhalim Hafez and his personification seem to serve as an umbilical cord connecting the speaker to her heritage as she navigates the trauma of immigration.

The Dark Depths of Motherhood in Love Me Back

Merritt Tierce’s 2014 novel is a beautiful and honest portrait of a young mother. It is also dark and disturbing, and is as much about punishment as it is about motherhood, and how the two intertwine.