Dear literature-loving friends,
Today is Juneteenth, the day a Union general announced in Texas that all slaves in the United States were legally free. In an age when the commercialization of so many holidays can turn me cynical, this is a holiday whose skyrocketing popularity I can get behind. And it feels like an auspicious day to finally reach back out to the Yuba Lit community with an opportunity for discussion on Wednesday, July 22nd.
When you last heard from Yuba Lit, we were cancelling our March presentation in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Now we all seem to be living two lifetimes past that event, having endured three months of this new pandemic reality, and then the murder of George Floyd, which–captured graphically on video–awakened so many people to the reality of so many unjust deaths, including Ahmaud Arbery and Brionna Taylor but also Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin and countless others, names known and unknown.
If, like me, you seek to maintain hope for a better society through these challenging times, I believe we can find it together in the particular power of books and literature to challenge invisible assumptions, open hearts, and widen perspectives. The latest New York Times best-seller list reads like a crash course syllabus in anti-racism, and that’s good news. The surge of these book sales, to me, holds a truth: to really understand the history of the United States and its current structures and cultures, we need more than social media and news flashes. We need literature and books.
Amid the wealth of books, articles, and podcasts supporting constructive conversation on racial injustice (in my PS you will find a highly recommended list of resources compiled by seminarians), two very different works of literature have been on my mind. The same day George Floyd’s murder was filmed in Minneapolis, Christian Cooper filmed a white woman in the Central Park Ramble making false 911 accusations against him, pointedly describing him to dispatchers as “an African American man.” This took me back to a landmark article by Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson published in 2015, “The White Space,” which studies the problem of our entrapment in “white spaces,” where black people perform a delicate “dance” to prove a belonging that can be swiftly and dangerously revoked, while white people exist oblivious to their dominance. Re-reading Anderson’s article took me back, in turn, to Eula Biss’s 2008 essay in The Believer, “No Man’s Land,” which makes further connections to the “pioneering” eviction of Native Americans from their own lands.
The two articles with their complex, interconnected truths led me to an open question: Moving beyond “white spaces” is hard. But it is possible. What realities do these articles show us so that we might hold the awareness to make this possible?
Yuba Lit right now cannot produce live, in-person author readings. But we can hold discussions of literature, much as Yuba Lit did back in Winter 2019 with our “Reading Chekhov for Our Times” meetings. And so, I would like to make a space for reading “The White Space” and “No Man’s Land” and discussing them together, on Wednesday, July 22nd, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. This free discussion will take place on Zoom. Please press “reply” to this email and RSVP if you’d like to attend, and you will be sent connection information.
This will be a community discussion rooted in the readings. I will guide and lightly moderate with a series of structured prompts. The two readings are available free online, here: https://sociology.yale.edu/sites/default/files/pages_from_sre-11_rev5_printer_files.pdf
and here: https://believermag.com/no-mans-land/
Again, if you’d like to take part on Wednesday, July 22nd, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Zoom, please just reply to this email to let me know. It will be such a joy to reconnect with members of the Yuba Lit community! And I look forward to the day when we can also connect in person again at live readings.
Yours in the love of literature,
Yuba Lit founder
An important PS: I highly recommend this helpfully organized list of anti-racism resources. Check out where you are on the chart and start exploring the plethora of thoughtfully selected links: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PrAq4iBNb4nVIcTsLcNlW8zjaQXBLkWayL8EaPlh0bc/preview?fbclid=IwAR2oirDMyZotWm1g7QFdNc-xzcBtc3BFlzbUWh9UCJVGms5IqsVge