In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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One of [Langston] Hughes’ most famous poems is “Harlem” — named for this neighborhood that birthed African-American literature’s most storied renaissance. The poem begins with the verse: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?” Hughes was referencing the dreams of African Americans in Jim Crow America, but his question could also be asked of an author’s dreams. The most grand of those feature critical acclaim, awards, strong sales and, for an uncommon few, a place in the zeitgeist. For most writers, those kinds of dreams are deferred, sometimes forever. For [Colson] Whitehead, who is just 49, they are a rare reality.
If greatness is excellence sustained over time, then without question, Whitehead is one of the greatest of his generation. In fact, figuring his age, acclaim, productivity and consistency, he is one of the greatest American writers alive.
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “ ‘I Carry It Within Me.’ Novelist Colson Whitehead Reminds Us How America’s Racist History Lives On” in Time
“Bevins” had several sets of eyes All darting to and fro Several noses All sniffing His hands (he had multiple sets of hands, or else his hands were so quick they seemed to be many) struck this way and that, picking things up, bringing them to his face with a most inquisitive
Little bit scary
In telling his story he had grown so many extra eyes and noses and hands that his body all but vanished Eyes like grapes on a vine Hands feeling the eyes Noses smelling the hands
Slashes on every one of the wrists.
The newcomer sat on the roof of his sick-house, staring down in wonder at Mr. Bevins.
Editorial Intern Isabella Ciambotti
Excerpt from Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
Anna was not in lilac, as Kitty had absolutely wanted, but in a low-cut black velvet dress, which revealed her full shoulders and bosom, as if shaped from old ivory, and her rounded arms with their very small, slender hands. The dress was all trimmed with Venetian guipure lace. On her head, in her black hair, her own without admixture, was a small garland of pansies, and there was another on her black ribbon sash among the white lace. Her coiffure was inconspicuous. Conspicuous were only those wilful little ringlets of curly hair that adorned her, always coming out on her nape and temples. Around her firm, shapely neck was a string of pearls.
Kitty had seen Anna every day, was in love with her, and had imagined her inevitably in lilac. But now, seeing her in black, she felt that she had never understood all her loveliness. She saw her now in a completely new and, for her, unexpected way. Now she understood that Anna could not have been in lilac, that her loveliness consisted precisely in always standing out from what she wore, that what she wore was never seen on her. And the black dress with luxurious lace was not seen on her; it was just a frame, and only she was seen—simple, natural, graceful, and at the same time gay and animated.
Senior Editorial Intern Dan Goff
Excerpt from Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy