Celebrating the Pulitzer Prizes: Slice of Life #sol20

I started my day with the news, and today was yet another day when the world–when Americans–were too much for me. What has sustained me through the last twenty-four hours is reading and rereading these enlightening paragraphs from Dr. Ibram Kendi’s latest piece in The Atlantic:

Slaveholders desired a state that wholly secured their individual freedom to enslave, not to mention their freedom to disenfranchise, to exploit, to impoverish, to demean, and to silence and kill the demeaned. The freedom to. The freedom to harm. Which is to say, in coronavirus terms, the freedom to infect.

Slaveholders disavowed a state that secured any form of communal freedom—the freedom of the community from slavery, from disenfranchisement, from exploitation, from poverty, from all the demeaning and silencing and killing. The freedom from. The freedom from harm. Which is to say, in coronavirus terms, the freedom from infection.  

Mind…blown.

First of all, this is stylistically absolutely majestic, and I want to sit and marvel at what this prose is doing. I cannot wait to use these paragraphs as a mentor text to study writing.

But what I really needed was the historicizing of this otherwise inexplicable moment when some Americans are refusing to stay home or to wear masks and loudly protesting their “constitutional right” not to protect themselves or others. I have been so very angry this week. So very angry.

I knew I was looking at the legacy and current action of white supremacy, but I couldn’t connect the dots and understand why. Dr. Kendi has clarified the why, and so at least the part of my mind that kept restlessly circling on why, why, why has a better understanding. Understanding diminishes my rage, disgust, frustration and disappointment not even a little bit. But there is something at least mildly satisfying about being able to historicize a current crisis and place it within a context, however enraging.

Even white supremacy couldn’t dampen my joy at the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners yesterday. (Though it’s only fair to note that it did try. There were some really gross responses by white male historians to Nikole Hannah Jones’s Pulitzer.)

First, there was Nikole Hannah Jones’s Pulitzer for Commentary for her introductory essay to the 1619 Project. This is an incredibly important piece of writing, an essential and right reframing of the history and meaning of our nation. But this piece doesn’t just dazzle on argument alone: the writing itself is so beautiful, so haunting. Every time I read it, I learn something new about how to interweave personal essay, history, critique into one powerful whole.

Then, there was Colson Whitehead’s win for what continues to be the best novel I’ve read this year, Nickel Boys.

And then there was Jericho Brown’s win for his collection of poetry, The Tradition. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a poem as slowly as I read Duplex. That first line and where the poem takes you before returning to that line. Wow.

And THEN Ida B. Wells won a special citation for her journalism and I just broke out entirely in goosebumps. If you don’t know much about Ida B. Wells, start with Caitlin Dickerson’s excellent obituary in the New York Times.

I am looking forward to catching up on the rest of the journalism and books I missed this year.

11 thoughts on “Celebrating the Pulitzer Prizes: Slice of Life #sol20

  1. I have started limiting the amount of news I watch because I get so angry with people claiming they have the right to do this and do that without considering the rights of others they come in contact with. It is a sad sign of the “I am the only one who counts” mentality we have fallen into. I just read Duplex thanks to your link. Wow. As you say, the journey that poem takes you on is something else and not one to be rushed.

  2. Dearest E. Thanks for always providing me with perspective, with enlightenment, with the challenge to look beyond what gets the most attention to what is deserving of my attention.

  3. Oh, I have so many thoughts from this most thought-provoking post. First, thank you for the links. The Nickel Boys announcement brought cheers. I had read Jones’ essay; now I must reread because once is not enough. I was unfamiliar with “Duplex”. That’s pantoum power. Finally, I just bought Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist after hearing him and Jason Reynolds talk about Stamped during an NCTE event. Your mentioning him here, quoting his piece from the Atlantic, “the freedom to/the freedom from” structure, reaffirmed my respect. Thanks for this.

  4. Thanks for celebrating all of these writers and thinkers by recognizing them and providing links. Kendi’s book, “How to be an anti-racist” is such a beautiful book since it combines practical tips with an incredible memoir of his own journey to understand racism. Recognizing an ally in this discussion is powerful.

  5. Thank you for helping to enlighten me as to why this mask/no mask debate seems to be so political. I live in a red state and I’m afraid to go anywhere. Recently I took my dog in for a much needed grooming. Not a sole! had on a mask in the vet’s office. Not to mention the grooming was the worst job I’ve ever seen.
    But on to the Pulitzer’s: Jericho Brown is from the state of Louisiana (He now lives in Georgia). I love his Duplex and want to try to write one. I ordered his book last night from my bed when I heard the news.
    Thanks for being who you are, an advocate and activist.

  6. I have t read the Atlantic piece yet but will. I love Kendi’s writing. It is necessary and important, and as you say, it’s gorgeous prose. My husband and I have talked extensively about the beliefs underpinning coronavirus responses, including the inherent racism in reopening states. We even see these fringe groups protesting in Idaho where we have one of the worst outbreaks (Sun Valley) per capita.

    And like you, I was thrilled to see Nikole Hannah Jones win and to see Ida Wells receive a posthumous Pulitzer. I do really like “The Nicole Boys“ and the way it illuminates an important historical moment. I can’t say it’s my favorite read last year, but I’m fine seeing Colson Whitehead honored. I also loved seeing the NYT win many Pulitzers. And Jericho Brown’s “Tradition” has been keeping me company the past month or so. Each poem is a masterclass, but many are gut wrenching. My goal this summer is to write a decent duplex and a gazelle. I’ve been studying these forms.

  7. Thank you for sharing the links in your story. I was amazed to read “Duplex”. And the N.Y. Time’s piece about Ida Wells. I can’t understand the actions of those who put the lives of others in danger. I’ve heard and watched news reports that show behaviors that disrespect, disregard, belittle and are criminal toward others. Then I remind myself that is not the whole of our country but those few who have criminally improper judgement.

  8. Thank you. Thank you for the links, for leading me to the pieces that will help me put this moment in perspective. Thank you for sharing your reading life, your thinking life. Thank you for linking to that beautiful haunting poem. Thank you.

  9. The paragraphs you quoted are genius! And thanks for spotlighting these winners—I went and read Duplex, and it is beautiful! Thank you for the great post!

  10. Pingback: The Week in Reading #imwayr 5/11/20 | the dirigible plum

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