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Photograph by Fred Viebahn

An Interview With Rita Dove

In Germany, I began to experience what it was like to think in another language. Also, the way Germans looked at me—with curiosity but no racial baggage—was so different than Americans. I began to understand a little bit more about my own country and how I fit in or not. 

Katrina: After the Flood. By Gary Rivlin. Simon & Schuster, 2015. 480p. HB, $27.

The Storm That Won’t Quit

The storm landed on August 29, 2005, right as winds mercifully dropped to 125 miles an hour, down from 175. But the real horror came afterward, in the wake of fifty-three levee breaches that caused New Orleans to fill up like a bathtub. When the air [...]

Byron Kim, Synecdoche, 1991. Oil and wax on luan, birch plywood, and plywood, 120 1/4’’ x 350 1/4’’ (© Byron Kim. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art/Richard S. Zeisler Fund)

Black and Blue and Blond

In 1517, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, feeling great pity for the Indians who grew worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines, proposed to Emperor Charles V that Negroes be brought to the isles of the Caribbean, so that they [...]

Kin

He has the surname that suggests
a contested kinship: Jefferson—

Newspaper Pieces Between Hard Covers

However good, most newspaper articles are destined for the same fate as yesterday's lead story—they wrap fish or line garbage cans. Sometimes, however, fate spares them such ignominy and places them between hard covers. This was the case recently when Henry Holt brought out two collections of pieces originally published in The New York Times—one, an investigation of "how race is [currently] lived in America"; the other, a sampling of writers talking about writing. Let me begin with the former, not only because the series was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, but also because race remains a tricky, paralyzing subject. What the editors hatched up was surely an ambitious project, one that promised to be more than the "usual mosaic of dreary census, school, and income statistics, studded with pious quotations from the civil rights era of blessed memory or from academics and clergymen speaking earnestly." The result takes us to a slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina, a restored plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and a platoon in Fort Knox, Kentucky. We meet, among others, a white quarterback who played ball at a historically black college, a white rapper on the college lecture circuit, and two young wheeler-dealers, one white, one black, as they make their way up (and down) the e-business fast track. Above all else, the series wanted to give race in America a human face, or perhaps more correctly, a series of human faces. To accomplish this, the Times assigned reporter(s) to cover 15 especially juicy stories, and then gave them the time necessary to watch as the arc of the respective sagas unfolded.

 

Remembering Our Bloodiest War

Recently, historians have sought to understand how and why Americans continue to remember their civil war. Memory of the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil remains fresh in popular imagination, kept alive by legions of Civil War buffs, reenactors, genealogists, and amateur writers, as well as scholars, who declare it to be the "Second American Revolution" or the watershed in our national history. Clearly, it was a significant event, but why does this war still resonate so strongly in our popular culture and national psyche? The answer, or answers, appears to be quite complicated.

 

Climbing Over the Ethnic Fence: Reflections on Stanley Crouch and Philip Roth

As Stanley Crouch likes to tell the tale, he and Philip Roth were having dinner in an up-scale New York City restaurant one evening shortly before their respective novels—The Human Stain in Roth's case, Don't the Moon Look Lonesome in Crouch's—hit the bookshelves. Because both men share a taste for good food, first-rate wine, and sophisticated cultural talk, it must have been quite a time. But at some point in the banter Roth proposed the following bet—namely, that none of the reviewers would mention that their novels were, in large measure, about moving beyond parochial boundaries, or about what I'm calling "climbing over the ethnic fence." At stake was the next dinner, with the loser picking up the check.