From Publishers Weekly
With help from writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Grace Paley and Wanda Coleman, novelist/poet/essayist Reed puts together a captivating, multifarious look at the American experience through its short fiction (a "cousin" to his lauded poetry anthology From Totems to Hip-Hop). From the ins and outs of a young Latino's struggle in an Anglo-dominated Catholic school (Nash Candelaria's "The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne") to Haight Street during the Summer of Love ("Wormwood" by Conyus), Reed's selections will draw readers into American cities, suburbs, prairies and mountains with vivid, precise, at times documentary description and bold, personal questions of American identity and purpose. At the same time, the overwhelming role of love, loss, and growth can render them almost allegorical; a perfect example is Wajahat Ali's "Ramadan Blues," in which a young boy is first introduced to the traditional holiday fast. The boy's fear and self-deprecation over his meager battle with hunger balance the personal detail and honesty of the autobiographical with the sweep of America's religious legacy. A "gathering of voices from the different American tribes," this highly varied collection doesn't neglect important works from the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, George S. Schuyler, Gertrude Stein and Mark Twain.
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Versatile writer and literary provocateur Reed created a high-voltage poetry anthology, From Totems to Hip-Hop: Poetry across the Americas, 1900–2002 (2003), and now teams up with Blank, editor of Rediscovering America (2003), to present 63 short stories spanning two centuries and a spectrum of writers with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and artistic styles. In a rampaging foreword, Reed indicts commercial media for its trashiness and redundancy and praises literary fiction writers for telling “the truth as they see it” about what makes American life so vital and contradictory, so cruel and so cherished. Reed and Blank have selected molten and magical tales that dramatically explore the consequences of our attitudes toward race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality. Authors appear alphabetically, making neighbors of Wanda Coleman and Robert Coover, Bharati Mukherjee and Alejandro Murguía, Mary TallMountain and Mark Twain. From Ntozake Shange to Paule Marshall, Jimmy Santiago Baca to E. Donald Two-Rivers, Grace Paley to Wakako Yamauchi, this is a live-wire, from-sea-to-shining-sea collection in which we hear America singing. --Donna Seaman