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Website: Twitter: @Alison_Kinney Alison Kinney is the author of the nonfiction book HOOD (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) and a columnist at The Paris Review Daily. Her work has appeared online at The New, Harper's Magazine, Lapham's Quarterly, The Guardian, The Atlantic, New Republic, Hyperallergic, L.A. Review of Books, The New York Times, The New Inquiry, and other publications.

The Man in the Mirror

Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait

Alison Kinney | Longreads | March 2018 | 17 minutes (4,156 words)



In the foreground of the early Netherlandish painting stands a couple, holding hands, amidst the comforts of their cherry-upholstered, brass chandelier-lit bedroom. The husband, Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, raises one hand in greeting, but neither to his unnamed wife, who clasps one hand over her belly, nor to the lapdog at their feet: behind the couple, a small, wall-mounted convex mirror reflects two other men, facing the Arnolfinis in their room yet visible only in the glass. One of these men may be the artist himself, Jan van Eyck.

Like many other paintings where looking glasses, polished suits of armor, jugs, and carafes expand or shift the perspectives, The Arnolfini Portrait shows us how many people are really in the picture. Painted mirrors reflect their creators, or at least their easels, in Vermeer’s Music Lesson; in the Jabach family portrait, where Charles Le Brun paints his mirror image right into the group; and in Andrea Solario’s Head of St. John the Baptist, where the reflection of the artist’s own head gleams from the foot of the platter. Mirrors reveal the whole clientele and an acrobat’s feet in Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère; the two observers of a couple’s ring purchase in Petrus Christus’s Goldsmith in his Shop; and, regal in miniature, Philip IV and Mariana of Austria in Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Sometimes mirrors invite us to regard the artist’s reflection as our own; as John Ashbery wrote of Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,

What is novel is the extreme care in rendering
The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface
(It is the first mirror portrait),
So that you could be fooled for a moment
Before you realize the reflection
Isn’t yours.

The mirror’s revelations surprise everyone except the artist, who, in The Arnolfini Portrait, paints his signature over the mirror, like a graffito on the wall: “Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434.” Jan was here.

Read more…

‘See What Y’All Can Work Out’: The State of Empathy in Charleston

Survivor Polly Sheppard on the stand during the Dylann Roof shooting trial. Illustration by Jerry McJunkins

Shani Gilchrist and Alison Kinney | Longreads | January 2017 | 31 minutes (7,836 words)


The sentencing phase of Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof’s trial for racially-motivated mass murder is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 4th, 2017. The white supremacist’s trial brought together two writers of color—Shani Gilchrist, one of a small group of black reporters in the press room, and Alison Kinney, an Asian-American living in New York—who, prior to the trial, knew each other only from Facebook. Here they write about their experience in Charleston. They write about banding together to get better access to the story; about resisting white supremacy with creative collaboration and strategic silence; about working together to figure out the ethical responsibility of storytelling now—and to find hope and friendship in their conversations.

1. We write:

On June 17, 2015, a Bible study group met at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Their text was Mark 4:16-20, the parable of the sower, a narrative of words scattered, heard, received, or failing, of deep-rooted faith that withstands trouble and persecution. The parishioners welcomed a newcomer, who sat down with them, listened, reflected, and then opened fire.

Of the twelve parishioners, three survived: Felicia Sanders, her little granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard. Nine died: their names were the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel W. Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson.

A year-and-a-half later, at Charleston’s J. Waties Waring Judicial Center (named for the civil rights judge who first declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional), the two of us, Shani Gilchrist and Alison Kinney, would briefly note the scripture. We were at the courthouse, listening for the most incidental revelation, not only on the trial of Dylann Storm Roof, who would be found guilty on 33 counts of federal hate crimes, including hate crimes resulting in death, but also on the national crisis of bigotry and empathy. From the courtroom arguments and testimony, we gleaned bits of procedure, too: when Judge Gergel told the counsel for defense and prosecution to reach a resolution on the evidence, “I would direct you two to sit down together today and see what y’all can work out.”

We heard it as a directive to the nation, and to us—two writers who’d met through a Facebook group, whose prior interactions were limited to reading each other’s work there—sitting down together for the first time in real life, in coffee shops and in the courtroom, to work it out. We’d already found that we were both people who knew within five minutes if we were going to like someone, both people with loquacious, goofy senses of humor that masked our shyness. As writers on race, social justice, and culture, we were also figuring out how to participate in our country’s post-election dialogue. Some of the people we’re supposed to interview and interact with pose dangerous threats to us—although the invitations and threats we receive are not commensurate, as Shani is black, and Alison is Asian-American.

Another random moment: on the day before opening statements, Roof, who’d chosen to self-represent, reinstated his attorneys. While the courtroom deputy, Eunice Ravenel-Bright, a dark-skinned woman with a serious face whom everyone referred to as Mrs. Ravenel, readied a Bible for him to swear upon, he stood up casually, unshackled, as he’d remain for the duration, and started to make his way to the podium. There was almost a sideways swagger to his walk. Mrs. Ravenel’s body stiffened. The consummate professional, she said what sounded like, “No, Mr. Roof. You wait. Will the U.S. Marshal accompany the defendant to the podium?” But what the entire gallery heard in their heads was probably more like, “Hell no. Don’t get near me or my judge without someone with you who can legally knock you on your ass if you even look at me funny.”

An accused mass murderer. An entitled, lazy kid who was a proven danger to society. Unshackled and unaccompanied. In a courtroom. It’s an image that does not set right. An image that shatters the illusion of safety: safety depends here not on the law, but on rebuke, minding, and vigilance—not by the marshals, but by the person subject to the greatest threat. Read more…