1.) Rebecca Solnit: I first read Men Explain Things to Me the fall of my sophomore year of college, when Solnit first released the short essay collection, and it was instrumental in introducing me to contemporary feminist thought. The book changed the way I approach politics, and though I rarely had the desire to read for pleasure during college, it definitely marked the start of a new chapter in my life as a reader. Solnit is a strong thinker and writer, who can easily transition from the amusing anecdote to multifaceted discussions of gendered and racialized inequality, environmental catastrophe, feminist aesthetics, and more. Before moving to Philadelphia for the summer, I had the chance to come across a cheap copy of A Field Guide To Getting Lost, a collection of essays about the social and personal uses of becoming lost somewhere—or in something. I’m hoping to read much more of her work this month, starting with her most recent book, Call Them by Their True Names.
2.) Danez Smith: The author of [insert] boy, Black Movie, and Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith is my favorite American poet. I first encountered Smith’s work earlier this year, after seeing Don’t Call Us Dead featured in the poetry section of an independent bookshop in Ann Arbor, and since then I’ve read all their work, though Don’t Call Us Dead still is my favorite. Smith writes fast-moving but powerful poems dealing with the experience of being Black and queer in a society built upon white supremacist oppression and the exploitation of Black bodies. Their range as a poet is astounding. They are at ease in both long and short forms, and they can call upon a wide range of emotions within a single poem, without appearing sloppy or careless. Smith also is a talented performer, and their work is widely available on YouTube. Their readings of “Alternate Heaven for Black Boys” (2016) and “Dear White America” (2014) stand out as some of their most moving, but all their performances leave a lasting impact.
3.) Édouard Louis: Although I read The End of Eddy and History of Violence only within the past few months, both have made Louis one of my favorite contemporary novelists. Louis writes short autobiographical books dealing with his life as a French gay male who grew up in a vehemently racist and homophobic small town. Both of his novels have their flaws: unnecessary digressions, sometimes-stilted dialogue, rushed endings. But History of Violence far outranks Eddy, and it’s hard not to have the impression that Louis has the makings of a great author, should he continue to grow as a writer. Louis self-consciously erases the line between fact and fiction in ways that are strange and audacious; he dramatizes his life to an excessive, even decadent, degree, but he also positions himself as a kind of ethnographer interested in recording the stories of the working-class people of his hometown. The tension between the social and the personal is electric in Louis’s work, and I’m looking forward to tracking the trajectory of his career.
I’d love to get to know your favorite authors as well! Who are some of the writers you care for the most? Have you read anything by any of my favorites, and if so, what were your reactions to their work?