New Works About the Current Condition
This month features an anthology of writers edited by John Freeman, new music from Emily Jane White, and contemporary words of wisdom from Ishmael Reed.
Freeman’s California: The Best New Writing on California edited by John Freeman (Grove Press, 2019, $16, 287 pp.)
Who doesn’t love a survey of contemporary writing? Sacramento native and former Granta editor John Freeman has pieced together a memorable collection of essays on California from great literary talents such as Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Anthony Marra, Tommy Orange, and Namwali Serpell. Their stories and poetry contemplate the Golden State’s myths and realities and touch on a wide range of hot-button issues, including immigration, climate change, AIDS, incarceration, and suicide. From Freeman’s introduction, the first seven shorts, and right in to Rabih Alameddine’s “How to Bartend,” the pieces are fast-paced, page-turning reads filled with humor and poignancy. They offer their own unique takes, fun filled and harrowing, on what life in California is, was, and will be like. This anthology is Freeman’s sixth in a series. — Judith M. Gallman
Immanent Fire by Emily Jane White. Talitres, Talitres.com/en
On her sixth album since 2007, Oakland singer-songwriter Emily Jane White makes the impending ecological apocalypse and humankind’s path of self-destruction sound ominous and reversible. Her music, an atmospheric blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, and prog swells with drum-driven oceanic power while White’s voice draws the listener into the anguish and empathy she feels toward our alienation from nature. Such song titles as “Drowned,” “Infernal,” “Washed Away,” “Shroud,” and “The Gates at the End” describe our current condition. But there is a message of refusal and renewal as well. White may shudder before capitalism’s exploitative manipulation of technology, but she turns the power back on itself. Her faith in emotional vulnerability and feminine receptivity is buoyed by the beauty of the arrangements by co-producer Anton Patzner. — Derk Richardson
Why No Confederate Statues In Mexico by Ishmael Reed (Baraka Books, 2019, $24.95, 272 pp.)
Not known for pulling punches, Ishmael Reed, author of The Complete Muhammad Ali, steps in the ring and squares off with misinformation, malice, and Trump in his latest, Why No Confederate Statues In Mexico. Drawing the book’s title from the buried history of the failed Confederate attempt to colonize parts of Mexico during the Civil War, Reed excavates a history of resistance by multiracial coalitions and follows it up to contemporary times with a series of searing essays. An astute observer of the overlooked American experience, Reed eviscerates Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and the shady dealings of the publishing industry while advocating for independent media, and so much more. An elder statesman in the world of arts and letters, Reed’s incredible prose and impeccable citations are only matched by his well-seasoned satiric wit. — D. Scot Miller