“Abortion is central to the Amerian political landscape and a common pregnancy outcome, yet research on abortion has been siloed and marginalized in the social sciences: in an empirical analysis, we find only 22 articles published in this century in the top economics, political science, and sociology journals. This special issue aims to bring abortion research into a more generalist space, challenging what we term the “abortion research paradox” wherein abortion research is largely absent from prominent disciplinary social science journals but flourishes in interdisciplinary and specialized journals. After discussing the misconceptions that likely contribute to abortion research siloization and the implications of this siloization on abortion research as well as social science knowledge more generally, this essay introduces the articles in this special issue. Then, in a call for continued and expanded research on abortion, this essay closes by offering three guiding practices for abortion scholars—both those new to the topic and those already deeply familiar—in the hopes of building an ever-richer body of literature on abortion politics, policy, and law. The need for such a robust literature is especially acute following the United States Supreme Court’s June 2022 overturning of the constitutional right to abortion.”
A leading journal in its field, and the primary source of communication across the many disciplines it serves, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law focuses on the initiation, formulation, and implementation of health policy and analyzes the relations between government and health—past, present, and future. Jonathan Oberlander, editor
The Weekly Read is a weekly feature in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels. Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.
Hunter Hargraves is Associate Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at California State University, Fullerton. His new book Uncomfortable Television examines how postmillennial television made its audiences find pleasure through discomfort, showing that televisual unease trains audiences to survive under late capitalism, which demands that individuals accept a certain amount of discomfort, dread, and irritation into their everyday lives.
In your introduction, you describe your book as “a historiography of television’s formal relationship to pleasure” (7). In layman’s terms, how would you summarize the project or main intervention ofUncomfortable Television?
Uncomfortable Television examines why, as television’s key forms, genres, and viewing practices changed dramatically throughout the early twenty-first century, television also began to make us feel more uncomfortable. For most of the twentieth century, TV was popularly thought to be a family-friendly entertainment medium. Audiences found pleasure in the simple setups of a sitcom, for example, and knew when to laugh thanks to the canned laugh track. Or they would watch a police drama and know who to root for, since these programs had clearly defined heroes and villains. In the twenty-first century, however, we derive pleasure on TV from much darker affects and situations. We cringe at irritating and awkward protagonists. We binge series that depict frequent instances of sexual assault and racialized violence, occasionally asking audiences to show some degree of sympathy for these “antiheroes.” As television evolved throughout the 2000s and early 2010s to include more serialized narratives, more high-quality aesthetics, more legitimation from cultural elites, more fan cultures, and more programming in general, it used these changes to mask this shift in pleasure—that’s the thrust of the book’s intervention.
In addition to this historiography, Uncomfortable Television both argues for an attention to affect and performance in television studies and offers a critique of neoliberalism. How do you connect these cultural and political/economic components in your analysis?
With respect to the first part of this—the attention to affect and performance in television studies—it’s partly coincidental: as television changes in the 21st century, affect studies also begins to emerge as an interdisciplinary field, giving scholars across the humanities and social sciences new vocabularies to make sense of cultural texts. Within media studies, most of this engagement with affect tends to focus on film, however, which I attribute to television’s “low” commercial status; at the time, television was thought as formally too uninteresting and too simplistic to merit affective inquiry. I argue that television has always been invested in the production of affect, but its looser narrative structure means that this investment occurs on different terms. In the book’s first chapter, for example, I go even further back and look at the British cultural historian Raymond Williams’ canonical writings on television and on affect—what he calls “structures of feeling”—to diagram how television represents the habits, behaviors, and feelings of everyday experience.
As far as neoliberalism goes, the connection is a little more direct: late capitalism thrives on an uncomfortable viewer/consumer in part because it can offer costly solutions to alleviate this discomfort. Beyond this, however, the changes to society enacted by neoliberalism—the outsourcing of the welfare state to private institutions, the valorization of entrepreneurship despite the precarity it engenders, and the reorganization of consumer society around the individual rather than the nuclear family—all pave the way for the proliferation of discomfort. Targeting the individual viewer rather than the family unit, for example, means that producers are no longer required to make family-friendly content, since narrowcasting has enabled each member of the family to watch different programs on different devices, thus resulting in programming with less restrictions when it comes to profanity, sex, and violence. Television has consistently taught audiences how to adjust to new economic realities going as far back to its popularization in the 1950s, which was strongly connected to the development of a postwar consumer society and the middle-class, suburban lifestyle associated with the “American dream.” Uncomfortable Television argues that postmillennial television has a similar function, teaching its audiences how to live under the anxiety and precarity common to neoliberalism.
Can certain forms of discomfort be productive, or otherwise preferable to or distinct from others? How might you distinguish become “uncomfortable” and “offensive,” for example?
Discomfort is tricky to dissect, in part because it is pretty subjective: in your example, what is uncomfortable for one viewer might be offensive to another viewer. (And I acknowledge how my own position as a queer White male influences my readings of discomfort throughout the book.) But because television criticism has expanded throughout the twenty-first century, encompassing blogs, think pieces, podcasts, and social media commentary, I think it becomes a lot easier to map the nuances of audience discomfort. Now, that doesn’t necessarily recoup it as fully productive: in the book’s first chapter, I look at HBO’s Girls and the celebrity persona of its creator, Lena Dunham, who is satirically characterized as an irritating and entitled millennial who just doesn’t have it together. Irritation is rarely thought of as “productive” because it is too minor to provoke serious action. But I read Girls as reclaiming irritation in all of its forms—such as trolling or calling out—as weapons of survival for millennials in an economy stacked against them, which can result in fundamentally strange and contradictory feelings of joy and pleasure.
You assert that “television is a medium fundamentally of the present” (8). Can you expand on this distinction between television and other forms of media and on their differing temporalities/relationships to time?
Within television studies, TV has been historically thought of as a “medium fundamentally of the present” because of its liveness, since for the first half of its history its programming wasn’t easily archivable or replayable, aside from syndication and re-runs. This is why so many of the programs that garner high ratings over the past twenty years—sports and big reality competitions—rely on an unspoiled viewer watching live, despite advances in recording technology. Beyond that, and more relevant to my book’s project, television’s scripted storylines also creep out across several seasons, making it hard to periodize easily. A stand-alone film that moves towards closure more easily reflects its time of production and release, whereas television can tell a story across several years or even decades, making it harder to categorize affectively. One aside I make in the book is that even though shows like Friends and ER were some of the most popular series of the 2000s, their episodic forms are of the 1990s, so that throughout their runs they present a mix of historically-specific affects that isn’t always recognizable at their moment of broadcast. In Uncomfortable Television’s conclusion, for instance, I look at discomfort from the perspective of when a program’s comedic style feels too dated or problematic for the current time. I use the example of blackface in 30 Rock, which audiences enjoyed ironically fifteen years ago but now is considered inappropriate; in fact, series creator Tina Fey pulled episodes containing blackface from streaming platforms following the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter uprisings.
What’s your favorite television show (that would hold up under critical scrutiny, in your opinion), and what is your “guilty pleasure”?
This is hard, since I have so many favorites! Most of my recreational viewing actually falls into so-called “guilty pleasures”; I have a perverse interest in reality television, watching a lot of gamedocs like Big Brother and melodramas like the Housewives. Sometimes I think I became a scholar of television in part to rationalize my love of these programs and to subject them to the kind of critical scrutiny that still accounts for their many voyeuristic pleasures. But as far as more legitimated television goes, I tend to stan series that are invested in narrating the complexity of minoritarian experience—Paramount+’s The Good Fight might be my favorite drama from the past few years.
Read the introduction to Uncomfortable Television for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E23HRGRV.
“In 1985 Oscar Lorick—an aging and illiterate Black farmer clinging to seventy-nine acres of land and burdened with massive debts—turned to local farm activist Tommy Kersey to help stave off foreclosure. The ensuing mobilization tied together the NAACP, Black church networks, white supremacist militants, corporate sponsors, a millionaire benefactor, and even the Atlanta Falcons in the ultimately successful attempt to save his farm. Lorick’s story serves as a point of departure to assert that the Farm Crisis facilitated the convergence of anti-federal and federal-skeptic ideologies, both radical and conventional, in the fertile ground of rural America. Relying on court records, news reports, and organizational documents, this article reconstructs a story that grabbed national attention during the Farm Crisis to demonstrate the importance of free-market narratives, racial discrimination, and the legacy of civil rights mobilization in understanding the complexity of agrarian activism in the crisis-era South.”
Oscar Lorick’s story remains inscribed in the countryside outside of Cochran, Georgia, today. The faded inscriptions read “Live Free or Die,” and “FED RES SYS” with superimposed prohibition sign. (Photograph by Bert Way, April 17, 2022.)
The Weekly Read is a new weekly feature in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels. Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.
We are pleased to announce a new weekly feature, The Weekly Read, in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels.
Writing on Twitter, Schalk said, “As a Black feminist disability studies scholar, I believe that #AccessIsLove & I try to practice that in all I do in the classroom, my writing, & how I share my work. I’m so grateful to be able to do my intellectual & political work in ways that feel right to me.”
Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.
Sybil Newton Cooksey and Tashima Thomas, guest-editors of Afro-Gothic, an issue of liquid blackness (volume 6, issue 2), share a list of influences and interests.
1. Tricky (Adrian Thaws), Hell is Round the Corner (2019).
It took nearly two years to get Afro-Gothic published. One of our touchstones throughout the long process was Tricky–it would not be an exaggeration to say that his work haunted this endeavor. When it began in 2020, we were both reading his (auto)biography, Hell is Round the Corner. The “auto” in parentheses here draws attention to the author’s practice of bringing other voices into the telling of a story, their versions tangling and twisting about his own. The resulting narrative is a tapestry of collective memory. Bookended by two suicides–that of his mother when he was four years old, and then of his daughter when she was 24–Hell maps a living in the midst of death that reinforces Afro-Gothic’s rootedness in everyday black experience. Tricky’s grief around his mother’s death would famously catalyze the eponymous homage and award-winning album Maxinquaye (1995), which, with its ghostly vocals and atmospheric production, undoubtedly merits an Afro-Gothic entry of its own. Yet for someone with a chorus of ghosts providing the soundtrack for this life story, Tricky doesn’t dwell on the macabre. “I don’t have a fear of death,” he asserts in the chapter “Speaking in Tongues.” “I’m not scared of stuff like that, because if you don’t accept death, then you never accept life.” Life, or what he terms “just fumbling along,” has made him an accidental philosopher, an artist-pugilist whose GPS (Gothic Positioning System) enables him to navigate a brutalist landscape in which some fresh hell is always just round the corner.
2. Rungano Nyoni, I am Not a Witch (2017).
We came across I am Not a Witch early on in our process of formulating Afro-Gothic, as we had the pleasure of seeing this film and Rungano Nyoni in conversation with Garrett Bradley, Tina Campt and Simone Leigh in 2020. The Zambian-born Welsh Nyoni is a bold and impressive artist. We were wholly compelled not only by her thinking on the subject of black women’s experimental filmmaking, but also by her framing of the film, which she described as “an African feminist fairy tale.”
At the outset of this fantastic allegorical work, a nine-year-old girl is discovered alone on the outskirts of a remote village in Zambia. Because no ordinary person should survive in such circumstances, the inhabitants decide that she must be a witch. Faced with the “choice” of accepting the label and living tethered to the skeptical community by a long white ribbon or cutting ties with the locals and therefore risk being transformed into a goat (and surely killed), the astute young girl opts for the former. The subsequent dark-humorous narrative tracks the existential absurdity of her life as a kept “witch.” We cannot help but be energized by the spirited way in which Nyoni tackles the topics that unfurl within this film–gendered violence, everyday magic, and the fear of the “monstrous” or uncanny feminine–and how they dovetail with our formulations of Afro-Gothic. I am Not a Witch is also disturbingly beautiful; its carefully composed and dramatically colored images organize dark romantic tableaux to mesmerizing effect.
3. Okwui Okpokwasili, Bronx Gothic (2014).
Okpokwasili is such an extraordinary artist, and one of our favorite performers and thinkers. Bronx Gothic is a devastating tour de force in which she pushes her body and her emotions to the limit. While watching we are made immediately aware of how dangerous is this work she has undertaken. There is no illusion of safety here for the audience, either. The intimate staging of the performance demands that we share her trembling breath, the shaking of her body, its eventual exhaustion. Okpokwasili’s frenzied motion infuses the venue’s atmosphere with a discomfort that is physical and existential; as would-be spectators we find ourselves in stiflingly close quarters–could this sweat, this anguish, be my own? “The Gothic,” Okpokwasili says, “is about these hidden spaces, these doors you best not open, the wings that you don’t go into, that hold secrets or spirits,” as she stages this encounter that thrusts us into the dark and unknown of black girls’ interior lives. Though not strictly autobiographical, she does conjure aspects of her own childhood in the Bronx, and the work’s central conceit–the exchange of ingenuous notes between two 11-year-old girls–is based in real life. By turns hilarious and horrendous, the performance forces us to bear witness to their fraught coming of age, imbibe their dreams and despair, feel their pleasures and pains. As the show hurtles toward its tumultuous end, the subject confusion of the two main characters, the mingling of the abominable and the everyday, and the uncertain boundary between the alive and the dead accentuates the sublime beauty-and-terror of Okpokwasili’s black-girl gothic.
4. Ibrahim Mahama, Parliament of Ghosts (2019).
In Parliament, Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama assembles a graveyard of the ruins of the British empire in Ghana, one railway train seat at a time. In what becomes a gathering of ghosts arranged like the Houses of Parliament, Mahama assembles the material remnants of colonial rule: scrap metals, salvaged wooden cupboards, lockers, books, jute sacks, maps, logbooks, and other long abandoned relics of the British railway system. But it’s the photographs of disembodied arms that impress us as Afro-Gothic: they succinctly depict the dangers and dehumanizations of the railway workers who migrate from their villages in northern Ghana, where Mahama is from, to the capital for work. They tattoo their forearms with their names and next-of-kin contacts. In the event they should suffer death in a gruesome accident or under the murderous conditions imposed by their precarious circumstances, the information would allow their bodies to be identified and returned to their families. Each photograph is cropped to reveal only an arm against the background of a map, the taut skin a palimpsest of British colonial rule written on flesh in blood. The ominously fragmented body part conscripted into Her Majesty’s service calls to mind the macabre history of the now semi-defunct railway system that was once a gleaming symbol of modernity. It is a modernity, as Mahama illustrates, that was built on the precarity of black life, the reduction of the black body, and the ever-presence of death.
5. The Afterlife of the Remains of Katricia Dotson (1985-?).
When 11 people, including five children, were killed in the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound by the Philadelphia Police Department, one of the missing and declared-dead residents was 14-year-old Katricia Dotson. Her death, however, is only the beginning of this horror story. During the woefully botched cleanup of the site, the burnt bones of the deceased were mangled and commingled. Despite repeated attempts by her family to recover her remains for burial, Katricia’s bones were held in a lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology for decades, even occasionally trotted out of boxes and displayed to awed students or donors. The story eerily echoes the history of the use of the enslaved and indigenous as clinical material and the practice of graverobbing to secure cadavers for dissection, and calls to mind the number of unburied bones still housed in the basements of institutions, medical colleges, and museums. Although this case ostensibly ended in 2021 with the return of the disputed bones to MOVE and the dispatch of some belatedly discovered sinews to the Dotson family, these developments came too tardy for some. In a final gothic twist, Katricia’s mother, who had been incarcerated at the time of her death, died of COVID-19 in June 2021 before she could be reunited with her daughter’s remains.
6. Firelei Báez, To Breathe Full and Free (2021).
What happens when an “uncanny rise up” is architectural rather than fleshy? Firelei Báez’s installation, To breathe full and free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction (19º36’16.9”N 72º13’07.0’’W, 42º21’48.762’’N 71º1’59.628’’W, 36° 22′ 0.1848” N94° 12′ 8.64” W), is a re-creation of the Haitian palace Sans-Souci (1813). Once considered a jewel of architectural achievement, the palace’s glory was short-lived–it crumbled in the earthquake of 1842. The artwork’s title’s coordinates pinpoint the original location of Sans-Souci, along with its installation sites in Boston and Arkansas. Although Sans-Souci remains in a state of ruin, tucked away along the northern shore of Haiti, Báez reimagines the palace as emerging from a watery grave, covered with vévés – African religious symbols of healing and resistance– and crowned with undulating blue tarps.
To breathe is a conjuring; it is the “intrepid decrepit” whose resurfacing signals that the time has come for a reckoning with colonial histories. The serrated architectural façade manifests the twinned violences of perpetual militarism and devilish debt structures imposed by a racial capitalism that plunged the country into poverty and malign neglect. Báez’s installation invokes the “revenant motion” of the ocean, immersing viewers in its ultramarine blues, baptizing us in its “black watery fantastic.” There’s also something of Horace Walpole’s, The Castle of Otranto (1764), often referred to as the first Gothic novel, that reverberates in Sans-Souci’s supernatural architecture–but, as Báez reminds us, the horrors of the haunted Haitian castle are of an entirely different sort.
7. Tiya Miles, Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2015).
One of the first people we contacted at the inception of this project was Tiya Miles. Her book on dark tourism spoke to us of the Afro-Gothic nature of this practice of leisurely lingering in the afterlives of plantations in the US South. Tales is a promenade through these haunted spaces, which are often attended by a congregation of black “haints” summoned to entertain the horror-hungry tourists. Miles logs her real-time experiences on ghost tours at the Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, the Ormond Plantation and Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, and the Madame LaLaurie House in New Orleans. Throughout the book, she puts forth the many ways in which this industry rides the backs of black ghosts like Molly, Chloe, and Cleo–enslaved women, now dead and working overtime–as tour guides pour on the “spooky,” feeding their audiences’ appetites for “stories of violence against black women – sexual violence, physical violence, and ideological violence.” Perhaps most symbolic of the intersection of insatiable appetite for trauma porn and interminable loop of black suffering, is the cocktail, “Chloe’s Bloody Mary,” named for a murdered slave woman, that is served up at the plantation’s Carriage House Restaurant. The ghost tours lead Miles to question, “What ‘product’ was being bought and sold here, enjoyed and consumed, in the contemporary commercial phenomenon of southern ghost tourism?”
8. Gangsta Boo, “Meet the Devil”(2015).
Ryan Waller, who curated the volume’s playlist, is an avid fan of Memphis horrorcore rap, and his enthusiasm for the genre was infectious. We therefore wanted to note the recent passing of Lola Chantrelle Mitchell (Gangsta Boo) and make mention of her Gothic-tinged “Meet the Devil.” Although Mitchell was a pioneering member of the by-then legendary group, Three 6 Mafia, this track from the 2015 album Candy, Diamonds & Pills marked her audacious emergence as a solo artist, dogged by rumors as to why she parted ways with her longtime collaborators.
I ain’t gotta hang with DJ Paul to be reppin’ that triple six. (Mafia!) I’m a pioneer up in this bitch You betta recognize who you be fuckin’ with. (Mafia!) With much respect, got the check, got the tech if somebody got a problem with me I was born in it, I’m a die in it If you want me then you better try and come and get me. Bitch! Losin’ sleep, that’s neva Always countin’ chedda Nosy motherfuckers wishing that they life was betta Girl, you do not know me You ain’t on my level Keep on talkin’ shit and I’m gone make you meet the devil
Gangsta prowess meets Gothic bravura in these taunting lyrics–in the video for the song she takes out a hit on the hip hop gossip columnist who has been badmouthing her. At the end of the video the hapless victim learns too late what we’ve known all along: the devil he’s about to meet is Gangsta Boo herself.
liquid blackness seeks to carve out a place for aesthetic theory and the most radical agenda of Black studies to come together in productive ways, with the goal of attending to the aesthetic work of blackness and the political work of form. In this way, the journal develops innovative approaches to address points of convergence between the exigencies of Black life and the many slippery ways in which blackness is encountered in contemporary sonic and visual culture.
The journal showcases a variety of scholarly modes, including audio-visual work and experimental and traditional essays. It aims to explore who can do theory (scholars, artists, activists, individuals, and ensembles), how theory can be done (in image, writing, archiving, curating, social activism), and what a Black aesthetic object is (“high”/“low” art, sound and image, practice and praxis).
Articles are published under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-ND) and are open immediately upon publication. Authors are not charged any fees for publication and retain copyright and full publishing rights without restrictions in their articles. Readers may use the full text of articles as described in the license.
Journal editors: Alessandra Raengo and Lauren Cramer
TOP FIVE is a new blog feature where authors, editors, guest editors, and other interesting people associated with Duke University Press are invited to share a list of influences and interests. Check back next month for a new edition.
We are excited to join you in person for the 2023 American Historical Association annual conference! Director Dean Smith will be joining you all in person in Philadelphia. Browse highlights of our history books and journal issues in Franklin Hall at booth 212. Even if you cannot join us in person, you can still browse our latest books and journal issues in the field on our conference landing page, or view our complete list of books and journals in history.
Save 40% on all books and journal issues with conference coupon code AHA23 when you order on our website through February 15, 2023. Customers in the UK and Europe can order books with this code from our UK partner, Combined Academic Publishers.
We are excited to join you in person for the 2023 Modern Language Association annual conference! Ken Wissoker will be joining you all in person in San Francisco, and you can also get to know Assistant Editor Ryan Kendall in our booth. If you were hoping to meet with Courtney Berger, they are sorry to miss the conference due to illness. See below for details on contacting Courtney or any other editors.
Save 40% on all books and journal issues with conference coupon code MLA23 when you order on our website through February 15, 2023. Customers in the UK and Europe can order books with this code from our UK partner, Combined Academic Publishers.
You can find our authors and editors all over the conference, but don’t miss:
A reception for the minnesota review along with Mediations, and TC Marxism, Literature, and Society at Golden Gate C1 in the Marriott Marquis, Saturday, 7:15-8:30pm
“Lauren Berlant’s Affects,” a gathering of Dr. Berlant’s friends, admirers, and former advisees honoring her work, virtual session, Saturday, 1:45-3:00pm
“In the Event of Women,” celebrating Tani Barlow’s book by the same name, Moscone West 3001 (Level 3), Sunday, 8:45-9:30am
Several of our music titles landed on best of the year lists. Pitchfork chose The Florida Room by Alexandra T. Vazquez for its list. Cat Zhang said it is “a loving and rich account of somewhere that exists both in real life and the imagination, too abundant to be contained.” Spin‘s Book Club featured Good night the pleasure was ours by David Grubbs in their year-end round up, calling it “an enthralling portrayal of the delicate balance between performer, audience, and sound.” Popmatters featured a list of titles that will make you rethink music history and included Emily J. Lordi’s The Meaning of Soul, calling it “the most important, game-changing book on soul—the music, the concept, and its history—ever published.” And Rough Trade bookstore put A Kiss across the Ocean by Richard T. Rodríguez on their best books of the year list. While supplies last, you can order a signed copy from them! Rolling Stone also included A Kiss across the Ocean on it’s Best Music Books of 2022 list, as did NBC Latino.
Publishers Weekly put Subversive Habits by Shannen Dee Williams on their list of Best Religion Books of 2022. In their starred review, they said, “this should be required reading for scholars of Catholic and African American religious history and will undoubtedly become the standard text on its subject.” Marcia Chatelain also included Subversive Habits on her list of the best scholarly books of 2022 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, saying “I have never read a more thoughtful account of the Black Catholic experience.”
Public Books featured There’s a Disco Ball Between Us by Jafari S. Allen on their 2022 Public Picks list. Frank Andrew Guridy said the book is “a tour de force that offers a completely new understanding of Black life and the Black Freedom Struggle.”
In her “Year of Reading” feature in The Millions, novelist Chantal V. Johnson highlighted Cistem Failure by Marquis Bey. She said, “I love when a book articulates things I haven’t been able to put into words. It is as if something that had been squirming inside me settles.” Marquis Bey’s Black Trans Feminism was selected as a best book of 2022 by Ms. Magazine‘s Karla Strand.
Bookriot mentioned LOTE by Shola Von Reinhold as one of the best LGBTQ novels of the year. And in a verse about her 2022 influences in Bomb, Cat Fitzpatrick wrote, “Shola von Reinhold, in her novel Lote / (A book which I advise you to procure) / Says ornament’s divine, one should devote / One’s soul to it, that that’s what life is for.”
CBC Books selected Dionne Brand’s Nomenclature as one of the year’s best Canadian poetry books, calling the titular poem “a thoughtful and wide-rangingreflection on location, consciousness, time and the current state of the world.” The Center for the Art of Translation featured Nomenclature on their holiday gift list, calling it “a gripping catalogue of witness and a call to imagine a better world.”
And finally, Madison’s weekly newspaper Isthmus rounded up the best Wisconsin books of the year and included University of Wisconsin Madison professor Thulani Davis’s The Emancipation Circuit.
Whew, that’s a wrap on 2022! As always, we’ve got some fun reading recommendations for you, courtesy of Duke University Press staff!
Exhibits Manager Jes Malitoris recommends Your Body Is Not Your Body—an anthology for horror lovers, full of rage and catharsis from over 30 trans and non-binary authors, poets, and artists. These speculative fiction short stories and poems are not for the faint of heart, full of body horror and transformation. The collection is precisely what Jes needed this year, and as a bonus it is produced by a small press, with all the proceeds going to Equality Texas to protect and support trans youth.
Meanwhile, Senior Copywriter Chris Robinson offers Eve’s Hollywood. As Chris puts it, this is a collection of essays by journalist, socialite, model, artist, etc. etc. etc. Eve Babitz. She paints a picture of the wealthy and glamorous side of Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s that she ran with—rock stars, her rich Beverly Hills classmates. In one particularly poignant essay she recounts spending the night in the legendary Chateau Marmont while the Watts riots were raging: a picture of the complexity and multiplicity of Los Angeles. Babitz’s writing is scary good—her acknowledgement section alone is astonishing.
Next up: Business Systems Coordinator Arvilla Mastromarino gives praise for Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Alone but for the occasional appearance of a man known as “The Other,” the book’s protagonist, Piranesi, wanders a labyrinthine world caught between sky and water. He helps The Other’s research into A Great and Secret Knowledge, only to learn a terrible truth of his own. Clarke masterfully weaves a dream of a tale that Arvilla didn’t want to wake up from!
Books Marketing Manager Laura Sell especially enjoyed Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott. Laura says she’s never given much thought to the “Dark Ages”—the period after the Romans left England and abandoned the city of Londinium, but before England was unified in the tenth century. This novel richly imagines that period from the point of view of two sisters. Laura was struck in particular by the beautiful and haunting descriptions of the decaying Londinium, about 150 years abandoned when the novel takes place. The earth is slowly reclaiming the city, with no one to repair the infrastructure. Reading this book from a crossroads in our own democracy and civilization is instructive. Take care, the most technologically advanced empire can be but a memory in a hundred years.
International Library Sales Manager Natasha De Bernardi loved Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, a debut collection of nine short stories featuring Black women protagonists. The church is a theme throughout, but really they are intimate stories of black women (and girls) dealing with their inner desires. The book was published by a small university press and won the PEN/Faulkner Award as well as being a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. A recent New York Times op-ed listed the book as an example of the kind of quality fiction that is coming out of university presses and that does not find a place among big commercial publishers. Slate has a great article that tells the story of how the book got published.
Publicist & Academic Exhibits Coordinator Ryan Helsel’s favorite book of 2022 was Black Was The River, You See by Welsh photographer Dan Wood. In her introductory essay, writer Rachel Trezise presents the Welsh expression “milltir sgwâr,” which, while translating directly to “square mile,” refers “more particularly to the patch of ground you make your own—the place that shapes you and which is shaped in return by your connection.” For Dan Wood, this describes the villages and rolling hills that line the banks of the “unremarkable” River Ogmore along its short passage to the sea in South Wales. Wood’s muted color photographs use the Ogmore as a thread to connect lyrical observations of landscape, people, and detritus, creating a sense of place that is highly specific yet familiar. Ryan adds that, after the past few years of staying very close to home and spending many afternoons walking the banks of the Eno River (which, at 40 miles is more than twice the length of the Ogmore) with his two young children, the reminder to embrace the landscape, people, and artifacts that make up our “square mile” feels more valuable than ever.
And finally, Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Ault simply could not settle on just one! The three best books she read this year were The Sentence by Louise Erdrich; The Trees by Percival Everett; and All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews. In each of these works, politics are fundamental to the workings of plot and narrative in a way that feels elegantly worked-through, rather than tacked-on (as was the case in some other post-George Floyd novels that Elizabeth has read and read about…). Elizabeth adds that the books all have a strong sense of place; Erdrich and Mathews both evoke the Upper Midwest she knows and loves (in their Minneapolis and Milwaukee, respectively) in its glory and its violence. Each of the authors does smart and interesting things with character, even as Everett’s novel is much more satirical than the other two, which are both really warmly peopled. In their own ways, each is actually pretty f’ing funny, and Elizabeth loves when that can coexist (as it must; as we know it does in our everyday lives!) with an urgent attention to the evils of racism, capitalism, homophobia, transphobia, and the many other threats to collective thriving and liberation.