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Brittany Allen
Brittany Allen is a New York based prose writer, playwright and actor. Her essays and fiction have been published in Catapult, The Toast, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @Britt_Kathryn.

Masters of Contradiction

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Brittany Allen | Longreads | May 2018 | 12 minutes (3,259 words)

A kind of cognitive dissonance occurs when your body is a political battlefield, but your body is also an ordinary meat-sack, worth love and attention and a good talking-to like any other flawed protagonist. In this reader’s experience, to be black, or perhaps more generally “Other,” in today’s America, is to dwell in this contradiction; it is to feel freighted by the harrowing historical origins of one’s existence, even as it is to know what every human knows — dailiness, murk, muddle, and tedium. Fiction writers who carry the burden of “Otherhood” must contend with this paradox on the page (not to mention in the marketplace). And when one is a Lorax, one may find oneself wondering how to treat the political heft of “Otherhood,” while creating characters and situations that feel true in the most mundane, human sense. Put another way: when you’re a Lorax, how do you write for an individual truffula tree without sinking under the weight of all their combined trunks? How do you render humanity when recent history and current politics — those arch and lumpy enemies to imagination — cast tall shadows over the lives of your chosen subjects?

I’ve met few fictions that really inhabit the murkiest corners of — say — black life in America, perhaps because rare is the author who gets to write (or feels free to write), about what and who is murky and daily when such an obvious historical tragedy defines us from the get-go. I’ve encountered few fictions that explore the maddening, difficult-to-name contradictions inherent to “Otherhood” (as I know it); few characters who feel like myself, or the people I love and know. Black folk who have wondered about their own individual responsibility to blackness. Black folk who struggle to name the pesky, omnipresent sensation that they are thwarted in some way that’s vaguely but crucially connected to their skin color. But this spring marks the arrival of two new collections that take on all the cognitive dissonance with compassion, insight, and unflinching honesty: Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man (Graywolf) and Nafissa Thomson-Spires’ Heads of the Colored People (Atria). Read more…