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Week 9/14/20

PUBLISHED: September 21, 2020

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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He was incorrect. Harriet Johnson was a slight hummingbird of a woman who conducted herself in everything with furious purpose. If something was worth doing—working, eating, talking to another person—it was worth doing seriously or not at all. She kept a sugarcane machete under her pillow for intruders, and it was difficult for Elwood to think that the old woman was afraid of anything. But fear was her fuel.

Yes, Harriet had joined the bus boycott. She had to—she couldn’t be the only woman in Frenchtown to take public transportation. But she trembled each time Slim Harrison pulled up in his ‘57 Cadillac and she squeezed into the back with the other downtown-bound ladies. When the sit-ins started, she was grateful that no one expected a public gesture on her part. Sit-ins were a young person’s game and she didn’t have the heart. Act above your station, and you will pay. Whether it was God angry at her for taking more than her portion or the white man teaching her not to ask for more crumbs than he wanted to give, Harriet would pay. Her father had paid for not stepping out of the way of a white lady on Tennessee Avenue. Her husband, Monty, paid when he stepped up. Elwood’s father, Percy, got too many ideas when he joined the army so that when he came back there was no room in Tallahassee for everything in his head. Now, Elwood. She’d bought that Martin Luther King record from the salesman outside the Richmond for a dime and it was the damnedest ten cents she’d ever handed over. That record was nothing but ideas.

Art Director Jenn Boggs
Excerpt from The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead


Lorde loved to be in dialogue, loved thinking with others, with her comrades and lovers. She is never alone on the page. Even her short essays come festooned with long lines of acknowledgment to those who have sharpened their ideas. Ghosts flock her essays. She writes to the ancestors and to women she meets in the headlines of the newspaper — missing women, murdered women, naming as many as she can, the sort of rescue and care for the dead that one sees in the work of Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe. In “The Cancer Journals,” in which she documented her diagnosis of breast cancer, she noted: “I carry tattooed upon my heart a list of names of women who did not survive, and there is always a space left for one more, my own.”

Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from “A Timely Collection of Vital Writing by Audre Lorde” in the New York Times


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