The fire this time A new generation speaks about race

Book - 2016

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2nd Floor 305.896/Fire Checked In
New York : Scribner 2016.
First Scribner hardcover edition
Physical Description
viii, 226 pages ; 22 cm
  • "The Tradition"
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Legacy
  • Homegoing, AD
  • The Weight
  • Lonely in America
  • Where Do We Go from Here?
  • "The Dear Pledges of Our Love": A Defense of Phillis Wheatley's Husband
  • White Rage
  • Cracking the Code
  • Part II. Reckoning
  • Queries of Unrest
  • Blacker Than Thou
  • Da Art of Storytellin' (a Prequel)
  • Black and Blue
  • The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning
  • Know Your Rights!
  • Composite Pops
  • Part III. Jubilee
  • Theories of Time and Space
  • This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution
  • Message to My Daughters
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contributors
  • Permissions
Review by New York Times Review

IN JAMES BALDWIN'S day, they called it the "Negro Problem" - shorthand for racial tension, that unfortunate term publicized in Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 study "An American Dilemma." The "Negro Problem" was a misnomer for what we might otherwise call "the white man's burden" : the responsibility of those who benefit from structural white privilege to dismantle it in favor of racial equality for all. But as Baldwin told us in "The Fire Next Time," it's easier said than done. After all, whiteness and its trappings remain all too appealing. "The danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity," Baldwin wrote in the letter to his namesake nephew that begins his 1963 classic. "Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature." Imagine that warning in the context of the volatile racial climate of the Obama era and the Trump presidential campaign, and you can see why Baldwin remains essential reading even today. Baldwin, dead since 1987 and an expatriate for many years before that, remains a talisman in the midst of American racial chaos. We keep digging him up whenever there's a crisis, laying eyes on his words for spiritual healing and affirmation. Even as someone who came to Baldwin's work much later than most, I find that his thoughts are not only inescapable, but also seductive in their naked truth. It is a positive thing, then, that writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jesmyn Ward have sought to follow Baldwin's lead as they translate race in America in their own works. Ward, the author of the National Book Award-winning novel "Salvage the Bones" and the memoir "Men We Reaped," sought out Baldwin's words after the teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012. As news outlets covered Zimmerman's trial on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, Ward eventually put aside the catharsis of Twitter for "The Fire Next Time" and Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son," where she found the relief and comfort she truly needed. She also found inspiration there. Ward writes of it in the introduction to "The Fire This Time," a stirring anthology that takes more cues from Baldwin than just its title. Inspired by the chronological structure of the two sections of "The Fire Next Time," Ward organizes the poems, columns, essays and other ruminations in this collection into three sections confronting the past, present and future of blackness in America. I say blackness more than race or racism; the anthology cannot avoid these last two uglier constructions, but the joy and pain of existing while black is what's celebrated here. That is to the credit of Ward, and the writers (like Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon and Isabel Wilkerson) whose works she arranges in this volume. Wrestling with her feelings about Zimmerman's acquittal gave her the idea to "gather new voices in one place, in a lasting, physical form, and provide a forum for those writers to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon." The first call to account, appropriate given the name of the volume, is for Baldwin himself. The journalist and essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, through the lens of her visit to Baldwin's abandoned expatriate homestead in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, explores her past reluctance to revere him in her essay "The Weight." Ghansah had once been inclined during her youth to view Baldwin as a patron saint for black writers who seek to chronicle black experiences in a mostly white media universe. But soon, Ghansah writes, "I quietly felt repelled by him - as if he were a home I had to leave to become my own." It's a healthy approach to take to heroes, and it's the best way to plunge into this anthology. It seeks not to repeatedly dig up Baldwin's legacy, but to provide a model for contextualizing and building upon it so that, perhaps, the man can finally rest in peace. This volume has found a new generation to carry the weight, hence the title of Ghansah's contribution. The essay appeared earlier online, and about half of the work in this volume has also been previously published, like Wendy S. Walters's ponderous "Lonely in America" and Carol Anderson's powerful "White Rage." Yet what matters is not the amount of original material, but the book's arrangement. As she describes biting into the bitter oranges from the tree on Baldwin's property and writes about his "black death" at 63, Ghansah puts his humanity at the forefront. That's a common theme throughout an anthology that deals with everything from the Charleston church shooting to OutKast's influence to Rachel Dolezal's chicanery, all through a black lens that is still too rare in literature and elsewhere. The pain of black life (and death) often inspires flowery verse, but every poem and essay in Ward's volume remains grounded in a harsh reality that our nation, at large, refuses fully to confront. In the spirit of Baldwin's centering of black experiences, they force everyone to see things our way. JAMIL SMITH is a senior national correspondent for MTV News.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [September 14, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* James Baldwin's famous book of essays, The Fire Next Time (1963), brilliantly examines the interrelated roles of race, history, and religion in the U.S. Building on Baldwin's title, editor Ward has assembled poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction to address the renewed racial tensions that continue to boil in America in the twenty-first century. The author of two award-winning novels and the critically acclaimed memoir Men We Reaped (2013), Ward divides the volume into three sections: Legacy, Reckoning, and Jubilee. The result is a powerfully striking collection, from Honorée Jeffers' illuminating and exhaustive efforts to correct the legacy of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry in the U.S., to poet Kevin Young's insightful consideration of the humor and tragedy at the heart of the racial hoax perpetrated by the former president of a chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal. White Rage, a short piece by Carol Anderson, deftly reconfigures the outrage and violence of Ferguson, Missouri, as the result of calculated oppression, and poems by Jericho Brown, Natasha Tretheway, and Clint Smith punctuate the book. An absolutely indispensable anthology that should be read alongside other recent, equally transformative works, including Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me (2015) and Claudia Rankine's Citizen (2014).--Báez, Diego Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this timely collection of essays and poems, Ward (Men We Reaped) gathers the voices of a new generation whose essays work together as one to present a kaleidoscopic performance of race in America. The 18 contributions (10 of which were written specifically for this collection) cover topics deep in history as well as those in the current culture. One, for example, reveals fresh insight about Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet, and her husband, while other essays are situated in the present, taking readers on a tour of street murals in N.Y.C. and exploring the music of hip-hop duo OutKast. One entry evokes the experience of a young college student exploring the streets of a new city as he learns "what no one had told me was that I was the one who would be considered a threat." Over the course of the collection, readers engage with the challenge of white rage, and learn about the painful links between Emmet Till's open casket and the black bodies on today's streets. The two concluding pieces provide a profoundly moving view of the future deeply affected by the past, through a husband's letter to his expectant wife, followed by a mother's message to her daughters. 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. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Using James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time as inspiration, this collection by National Book Award winner Ward (English, Tulane Univ.; Salvage the Bones) explores what it means to be black in America, past and present. A stellar cast of writers and poets ruminate on contemporary events such as the racially motivated church shooting in Charleston, SC, in 2015. Especially enlightening is the excerpt from Carol Anderson's White Rage, noting white backlash to Brown v. Board of Education. Novelist Edwidge Danticat parallels black mourning today to the events of the 1999 Amadou Diallo case, wondering how to explain injustice to her children. Poet Claudia Rankine describes the anxiety that mothers of black sons face, while cultural critic Garnette Cadogan relays the danger of walking as a black man (no hoodies or standing on street corners). Writer Kiese Layman mesmerizes with a reflection of hip hop duo Outkast, and Mitchell S. Jackson eloquently narrates the father figures in his life. Many black families will relate as Ward laments the difficulties of constructing a family tree or Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's experience as the sole employee of color. VERDICT This relevant anthology illuminates the fears, hopes, and joys of blackness and will spark interest in the contributors' previous works. [See Prepub Alert, 2/8/16.]-Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Poets, scholars, and essayists reflect on race in America.In this insightful collection, novelist and memoirist Ward (Creative Writing/Tulane Univ.; Men We Reaped: A Memoir, 2013, etc.) brings together 18 writers "to dissent, to call for account, to witness, to reckon." Taking her title from James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963), Ward hopes this book will offer solace and hope to a new generation of readers, just as Baldwin's work did for her. Many essays respond to racial violence, invoking the tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sarah Bland, worshipers at Charleston's Emanuel Church, and Abner Louima, among many others. Edwidge Danticat reports that she asked Louima recently how it feels each time he hears that a black person was killed by police. "It reminds me that our lives mean nothing," he told her. As other parents reveal in their essays, Danticat feels she must have two conversations with her daughters: "one about why we're here and the other about why it's not always a promised land for people who look like us." She wishes, instead, to assure them "they can overcome everything, if they are courageous, resilient, and brave." Poet Claudia Rankine was told by the mother of a black son, "the condition of black life is one of mourning." Besides fear for their children's futures, some writers focus on their black identity. As a result of genetic testing, Ward discovered that her ancestry was 40 percent European, a result that she found "discomfiting." "For a few days after I received my results," she writes, "I looked into the mirror and didn't know how to understand myself." Wendy Walters resisted thinking about slavery until the discovery of long-buried slaves in New Hampshire provoked her to research the past. Poet Kevin Young shrewdly probes NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal's motives to pass as black. Carol Anderson, Emily Raboteau, Natasha Trethewey, and others also add useful essays to this important collection. Timely contributions to an urgent national conversation. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.