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The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race Hardcover – August 2, 2016
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"[A] stirring anthology that takes more cues from Baldwin than just its title ... every poem and essay in Ward’s volume remains grounded in a harsh reality that our nation, at large, refuses fully to confront."
—The New York Times Book Review
"[A] powerful book ... alive with purpose, conviction and intellect."
—The New York Times
"With this gorgeous chorus — Ward has done the same [as her ancestors]: she has created a world, a space, the one she, herself, was seeking. A new type of belonging, a new place to belong, is exactly what she has given us."
—L.A. Review of Books
"[W]hat The Fire This Time does best is to affirm the power of literature and its capacity for reflection and imagination, to collectively acknowledge the need for a much larger conversation, to understand these split-second actions in present, past, and future tense, the way that stories impel us to do. This is a book that seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward."
"The Fire This Time is a powerful, rewarding read that gets to the heart of what it means to be black in America today."
“A half century ago James Baldwin, the prophet in the American wilderness, delivered The Fire Next Time—as complex a reckoning with race, morality and human nature as we have seen. Jesmyn Ward has pulled together in this collection you now hold the incisive, sage, angry and deeply complex voices of a new generation, responding to many of the same questions that confronted us in 1963. To Baldwin's call we now have a choral response—one that should be read by every one of us committed to the cause of equality and freedom.”
—Jelani Cobb, historian
“In 1963, we were poised on a precipice, intellectually, spiritually, politically primed for the change we knew had to come. Now, some half-century later, we are again at the precipice. We are dismayed and disheartened to find ourselves here, aghast that the rules and players have changed but the game, somehow, is the same. What do we do, this post-Civil Rights generation, in the face of the same injustice, dressed in different clothes, coded in different laws? In The Fire This Time, a new generation of black writers speak with the ‘fierce urgency of now.’”
—Ayana Mathis, novelist
“Fires destroy things…burns them up…makes ashes for us all…But fires also keep us warm…give us a glow to sit by…to tell ancestry stories to the children against the rhythmic crackle of history…to make love to against the glow. The generation of segregations gave us The Fire Next Time…we broke down those walls…The generation after segregation gives us the water to mix with the ashes to build…something…anything all…in the words of Margaret Walker…our own. This is a book to pick up and tuck under our hearts to see what we can build.”
—Nikki Giovanni, poet
"Timely contributions to an urgent national conversation."
"An absolutely indispensable anthology."
—Booklist (starred review)
"Ward's remarkable achievement is the gift of freshly minted perspectives on a tale that may seem old and twice-told. Readers in search of conversations about race in America should start here."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and was a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. She is also the author of the memoir, Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She lives in Mississippi.
Top customer reviews
Jesmyn Ward's introduction packs a wallop of truths along with some jabs of injustice and the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. As she laments the myth of Black thuggish hoodlums, as recently represented in the white imagination through the Trayvon Martin aftermath, she recognizes that myth was born in America. "A place where black life has been systematically devalued for hundreds of years." And the myth persists still, with all attendant outcomes "Replace ropes with bullets. Hound dogs with German shepherds. A gray uniform with a bulletproof vest. Nothing is new." So, with that powerful introduction the reader is bracing for maximum impact. But most of the collection fails to live up the promise of the explosive beginning.
A highlight for me was Kevin Young's essay Blacker Than Thou. He uses the Rachel Dolezal debacle to talk about black identity and what it means with a humorous pen that provokes laughter. "Teaching a class about blackness doesn’t mean you are black. Blackness isn’t a bunch of facts to memorize, or a set of stock behaviors; nor darker skin color neither. It’s like the jazz heads I’ve seen, often white, who can tell you every sideman on every session, but seem in the daylight unable to find the beat. The beat is there always; doesn’t mean you can always hear it."Edutainment at it's best.
Claudine Rankin makes a strong contribution with her essay, The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning. The title alone alerts the reader that something hard-hitting and special awaits them over the next few pages and Ms. Rankin doesn't disappoint. She uses her turn to look at the public mourning of black bodies, invoking Emmett Till as exhibit A, while excoriating the nation for its continued anti-black racism. "The American imagination has never been able to fully recover from its white-supremacist beginnings. Consequently, our laws and attitudes have been straining against the devaluation of the black body. Despite good intentions, the associations of blackness with inarticulate, bestial criminality persist beneath the appearance of white civility." She implores the nation to recognize and deal with some hard truths, "a system so steeped in anti-black racism means that on any given day it can be open season on any black person—old or young, man, woman, or child. There exists no equivalent reality for white Americans. We can distance ourselves from this fact until the next horrific killing, but we won’t be able to outrun it. History’s authority over us is not broken by maintaining a silence about its continued effects." How can anyone deny the truth of that statement? She theorizes that public mourning must continue "but the real change needs to be a rerouting of interior belief. It’s an individual challenge that needs to happen before any action by a political justice system would signify true societal change." Is it possible that through all the public mourning that;"Grief, then, for these deceased others might align some of us, for the first time, with the living.
The most compelling essay in this book for me is Black and Blue by Garnette Cadogan. He simply has a love for walking. He finds it the best way to explore a city. While this activity was never a problem in his native Jamaica, Kingston specifically, he moves to New Orleans, LA to attend college and his favorite activity becomes fraught with danger. He has to "cobble together" engagement rules to enjoy walking. Walking? "In this city of exuberant streets, walking became a complex and often oppressive negotiation. I would see a white woman walking toward me at night and cross the street to reassure her that she was safe." He moves from New Orleans to the Bronx, New York. He finds "The city was beguiling, exhilarating, vibrant. But it wasn’t long before reality reminded me I wasn’t invulnerable, especially when I walked alone." Walking? Again, certain rules of engagement become necessary. He describes being punched in the chest by a stranger for running, being accosted by NY's finest, for fitting the description."Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone." Walking?
The book is another contribution to a rapidly building canon of looking at the value of black life. So, readers should welcome that, as there is always a different perspective to be examined and to be added or discarded from one's own ideas of the current state of affairs. The weak essays unfortunately are a drag on the overall strength of the book, rendering it one to get from the library rather than a retail outlet.
Fats Waller, "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue?""
The title of this choric collection of prismatic prose and poetry convoking for equality, compassion and freedom from fear, written by some of today's prominent and talented African-American writers, derives from the title of James Baldwin's groundbreaking The Fire Next Time which he ended with the fiery memorable passage:
"If we...the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of others--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by the slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!"
I will never know the pain and fear and rage felt by African-Americans, including the artists who contributed pieces to this innovative anthology full of timely contributions to the current critical conversation on racial relations in the U.S. Nonetheless, if this book can be a bridge to better, fuller understanding by me (which, I think, it most definitely is) and others similarly situated, such a comprehension of the unknown being, after all, one of the main goals of artists and writers, then maybe it will help us all play some part in changing ourselves and perhaps the world for the common good.
"Be the change, you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy
Jesmyn Ward, the editor and an author of parts of this book, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2011 for her novel Salvage the Bones. She begins the book with her hope that:
"this book makes each one of you, dear readers, feel as if we are sitting together, you and me and Baldwin and... all the serious, clear-sighted writers here--and that we are composing our story together. That we are writing an epic wherein black lives carry a worth, wherein black boys can walk to the store and buy candy without thinking they will die, wherein black girls can have a bad day and be mouthy without being physically assaulted by a police officer, wherein cops see twelve-year-old black boys playing with fake guns as silly kids and not homicidal maniacs, wherein black women can stop to ask for directions without being shot in the face by paranoid white homeowners.
I burn, and I hope."
Ms. Ward grew up about an hour from me. She wrote an affecting essay entitled "Cracking the Code," which really made me think about many of us in the United States who don't really know their full ancestry, including me, how this country is truly a melting pot, as it reminded me of how ridiculous and hateful it is that some people still judge others by the color of their skin. In it, she discusses a relatively inexpensive genetic testing company called 23andMe, that she and some other family members used not long ago to find out their ancestry. She grew up as "black" but her dad looked as much Native American as black, and she has relatively light skin for an African-American. Anyway, she talks about how she felt upon finding out that's she's more European than sub-Saharan African; specifically, 40% European-mix of British, Irish, French, German, Scandinavian, Iberian, Italian, and Ashkenazi-- 32% sub-Saharan African, a quarter Native American and less than 1% North African.
Another essay I found particularly thought-provoking, in a book full of poignant essays and verse, was one called "Blacker Than Thou," by Kevin Young, considering the question of Rachel Dolezal:
"It would be one thing...if in her house, to her pillow or family, Dolezal said she felt black... It’s when that somehow translates to what she does, when she teaches black studies as if she’s a black person—not a teacher, but a mind reader—that it becomes a problem. She wears the mask not to hide but to gain authority over the very thing she claims to want to be. How very white of her!"
This anthology has improved my understanding on matters of race and thus effected a change in me. I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to gain different perspectives on race and racial relations in our current political climate.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK, Jr.