I am very pleased to announce the Longreads release of a mini-course about empathy that began as a talk I delivered in June 2017 at Pacific University’s MFA in Writing Program: “Between the Wolf in the Tall Grass and the Wolf in the Tall Story.” This was a collaboration with the psychologist Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy; Daniel Raeburn, who wrote the glorious memoir Vessels; and William Gatewood, who originally heard the talk as a Pacific student. My many thanks go out to them and our editor at Longreads, Krista Stevens.
This week in Guernica I have an essay about kissing, Misskiss. In it, I make reference to some of my son’s early attempts to write and I look ahead to when we might stop kissing—and then when we might start again. This piece will be collected in a book forthcoming by W.W. Norton, and edited by Brian Turner and Ed Winstead.
This week’s episode of the pocast Tell Me Something I Don't Know, hosted by Stephen Dubner, features a question from me for the show’s panelists about Zaytuna College, the subject of my book Light Without Fire. I'm joined on stage by Zaytuna graduate Omar Bayramoglu. Panelists include John Fugelsang, Tami Sagher, and Aman Ali.
This week, as part of their joint-series on resistance literature, Literary Hub and Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle’s blog, are both running a short essay I wrote about Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jonathan Lethem began the series with reflections on Philip K. Dick’s The Penultimate Truth. Other essays have appeared by T.J. Stiles, Meg Waite Clayton, and today, Sarah K. Stephens.
Today at Guernica I have a new essay about teaching James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time throughout Obama’s presidency. Here is a little of what I conclude:
It only became clear to me as I taught the book over the past few years ... following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, as we discussed the protests in Ferguson and the renewed vigor and revolutionary moment captured by Black Lives Matter, that Obama is not the key figure in this country. I had been wrong: the American future is precisely not as bright or as dark as his. And my students, who have paid attention to a chokehold on Staten Island and a shooting in greater St. Louis, and who remembered a black teenager killed in Sanford, Florida, and who are reckoning with recent killings in Tulsa and Charlotte and Los Angeles, now know what Baldwin was talking about. They’ve seen the private fears of white Americans projected onto American blacks. We see it every day. This is our ongoing crisis; there is serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And my students know this now. They’ve seen anger in the world, and it makes sense to them, and now it seems right to see it on the page.