Honorée Fanonne Jeffers recounts her mother’s efforts to overcome voter suppression in Georgia, and as a 9-year old, her own special role in helping elderly Black people to vote in the 1976 U.S. presidential election.
“A long time ago, I took a vacation because I thought I was irreparably broken, when, in fact, I was simply normal. Lonely, and waiting for the future. In other words, alive.”
Bipolar disorder leaves one talented creative writing professor facing the ways a life can break down and get put back together, especially in academia.
For a vivacious, disabled man with a limited vocabulary, his twin brother’s name came to communicate a range of ideas and emotion. But when it came time to decide his fate, who could really speak for Danny?
The great short story writer Lee K. Abbott died this week. He influenced as many writers with his prose as he did with this approaching to teaching. Few of his stories appear online, so to honor Abbott’s creative life, the Kenyon Review republished one from their Autumn 1989 Issue. See you on the other side, Amigo.
Writing is not farming or surgery or road construction, but it isn’t easy either. Rejection stings. It undermines, and it’s unavoidable. When a talented, respected memoirist attends a literary event with a poet who left a painful mark on her, she reconciles with her past and questions not only what sort of marks she’s left on her peers, but what she’s made of her old injury.
Twenty-six tragedies recounted — one for each letter of the alphabet — in a mix of the very personal, and the very public.
On living in a world where dying suddenly has become uncommon:
“When I started as an intern,” an elderly colleague recently observed at a staff meeting, “most patients only stayed in the hospital for a day or two. Either you got better or you didn’t. Lingering wasn’t part of the protocol.” Today, in contrast, lingering is the norm. Insurance companies force you out of the hospital, not rigor mortis. Where a generation ago, the expectation was for men to retire at sixty-five and keel over at sixty-seven—the basis for the pension plans now bankrupting municipal governments—a massive myocardial infarction in one’s fifth or sixth decade is no longer inevitable. Stress tests and statins and improved resuscitation methods mean we are more likely to survive to our second heart attack, live beyond our third stroke. Life ends with a whimper, not a bang.
The writer reflects on her old part-time job—ghostwriting the Sweet Valley High book series:
“Sweet Valley High set its fables of ‘same and different’ in a 1980s world of new wealth and upward mobility, latching on to an innovative publishing reality: create a mass-market paperback series for young female readers, keep the price point low enough that it could be absorbed by a middle-class allowance, and use the books themselves to advertise each other by ‘seeding’ the plots of each subsequent book in the final chapters. After almost a decade of new realism offered to teen readers by Judy Blume, whose heroines had scoliosis or weight problems or pimples and worried about getting their periods and struggled about whether or not to believe in God, Sweet Valley High offered a pastel, romantic antidote: a world of action instead of contemplation, a world in which bodies were seen soft-focus, free of the slightest blemish or appetite. Mysterious illnesses aside, this was a disembodied world, where corporeality was hinted at solely through actions: the twins ‘sped’ in their shiny red Fiat Spider convertible; ‘dashed’ to the mall; or ‘raced’ upstairs to phone a friend. Rhetoric mattered here as much as action—the books were filled with dialogue, and talk was everywhere—gossip, confidences, promises, avowals, protests, demurrals. I never knew, before I started writing for Sweet Valley, how many synonyms there were for the verb ‘said.’ The twins by and large didn’t ‘say’ things—instead, they chuckled and giggled and whispered and murmured and sighed. They ‘gasped’ over good news or bad. They lived in a fantasy world, these girls, and as long as I was writing about them, to some extent, so did I.”
[Fiction] According to Chinese mythology, the goddess Nugua formed the first mortals from yellow mud. An artist, she carefully sculpted each limb, pressed closed each fingertip, contoured each nose, creating individuals. But at some point she became impatient with the demands of craftsmanship and dipped a vine in darker soil, flung it every which way. Lumps of mud fell from the skies, and became human.
And so the land was divided into two races: the hand-formed pale-skinned nobles, and the darker commoners who had never known the goddess’s touch.
Chinese people, Annabel’s mother said, shaking her head. Such snobs. But in the lamplight, her mother’s face shone paler than the moon.