Ross Gay joined us on April 8th for the culminating event of Multnomah County Library’s 19th annual community reading project, Everybody Reads. While speaking with local high schoolers at a visit facilitated by Literary Arts, Gay shared some of his favorite reads. Check them out below.
The Autobiography of My Mother
by Jamaica Kincaid
From Macmillan: Powerful, disturbing, stirring, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel is the deeply charged story of a woman’s life on the island of Dominica. Xuela Claudette Richardson, the daughter of a Carib mother and a half-Scottish, half-African father, loses her mother to death the moment she is born and must find her way on her own.
Kincaid takes us from Xuela’s childhood in a home where she can hear the song of the sea to the tin-roofed room where she lives as a schoolgirl in the house of Jack LaBatte, who becomes her first lover. Xuela develops a passion for the stevedore Roland, who steals bolts of Irish linen for her from the ships he unloads, but she eventually marries an English doctor, Philip Bailey. Xuela’s is an intensely physical world, redolent of overripe fruit, gentian violet, sulfur, and rain on the road, and it seethes with her sorrow, her deep sympathy for those who share her history, her fear of her father, her desperate loneliness. But underlying all is “the black room of the world” that is Xuela’s barrenness and motherlessness.
by John Edgar Wideman
From HMH: A multilayered memoir of basketball, family, home, love, and race, John Edgar Wideman’s Hoop Roots brings “a touch of Proust to the blacktop” (Time) as it tells of the author’s love for a game he can no longer play. Beginning with the scruffy backlot playground he discovered in Pittsburgh some fifty years ago, Wideman works magical riffs that connect black music, language, culture, and sport. His voice modulates from nostalgic to outraged, from scholarly to streetwise, in describing the game that has sustained his passion throughout his life.
by Patrick Rosal
From Persea Books: Whether in New York City or his ancestral home of the Philippines, Patrick Rosal finds trouble he isn’t asking for in these unforgettable poems, but he responds in kind, pulling no punches in his most visceral work to date. Brooklyn Antediluvian is full of lessons, hard-earned, from a poet who repeatedly discovers beauty where we least expect it.
Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being
by Kevin Quashie
From Duke University Press: Kevin Quashie imagines a Black world in which one encounters Black being as it is rather than only as it exists in the shadow of anti-Black violence. As such, he makes a case for Black aliveness even in the face of the persistence of death in Black life and Black study. Centrally, Quashie theorizes aliveness through the aesthetics of poetry, reading poetic inhabitance in Black feminist literary texts by Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, and Evie Shockley, among others, showing how their philosophical and creative thinking constitutes worldmaking. This worldmaking conceptualizes Blackness as capacious, relational beyond the normative terms of recognition—Blackness as a condition of oneness. Reading for poetic aliveness, then, becomes a means of exploring Black being rather than nonbeing and animates the ethical question “how to be.” In this way, Quashie offers a Black feminist philosophy of being, which is nothing less than a philosophy of the becoming of the Black world.
The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend
by Sarah Manguso
From Macmillan: “An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night,” reported the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press. This man was named Harris, and The Guardians—written in the years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and ended his life—is Sarah Manguso’s heartbreaking elegy.
Harris was a man who “played music, wrote software, wrote music, learned to drive, went to college, went to bed with girls.” In The Guardians, Manguso grieves not for family or for a lover, but for a best friend. With startling humor and candor, she paints a portrait of a friendship between a man and a woman—in all its unexpected detail—and shows that love and grief do not always take the shapes we expect them to.
by Maggie Nelson
From Greywolf Press: A genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes the author’s account of falling in love with Dodge, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, is an intimate portrayal of the complexities and joys of (queer) family making.
Writing in the spirit of public intellectuals like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson binds her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and childrearing. Nelson’s insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry for this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
by Saidiya Hartman
From PRH: Saidiya Hartman examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Free love, common-law and transient marriages, serial partners, cohabitation outside of wedlock, queer relations, and single motherhood were among the sweeping changes that altered the character of everyday life and challenged traditional Victorian beliefs about courtship, love, and marriage. Hartman narrates the story of this radical social transformation against the grain of the prevailing century-old argument about the crisis of the black family.
In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship that were indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work.
“Care is the antidote to violence.”Saidiya Hartman