Mini reviews of two nonfiction anthologies I read this summer: The Feminist Utopia Project and The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race.
I tend to enjoy reading anthologies of all kinds, but especially those bringing together works of nonfiction. Whereas the pieces included in fiction and poetry anthologies tend to be hit or miss for me, I find that I’m typically able to appreciate something about every piece included in a well-edited collection of nonfiction, be it a stimulating claim or a nuanced perspective on a complex topic. Included below are two mini reviews of my favorite anthologies that I’ve read this year.
(1) The Fire This Time: Encompassing many subjects, styles, and tones, the anthology aims to spark thoughtful conversation about the current state of race relations in America, as well as theorize what forms Black identity and anti-racist activism might take in an increasingly digitalized society. In spite of shared reference to recent social trends and tragedies, the essays in the anthology consider a vast span of topics: the nation’s cultural amnesia over slavery, white rage, walking while Black, the ethics of public mourning, and more. The essays written by established writers read as more multifaceted than those written by less experienced writers, understandably, but even the weaker essays in the anthology still offer interesting perspectives. The anthology as a whole seemed to me to get stronger as it went on. Whether Emily Raboteau’s discussion of NYC’s Know Your Rights murals or Daniel José Olders’s letter to his wife addressing the rise of a new kind of social movement, many of my favorite essays were clustered toward the end. There were some brilliant pieces early on, though, namely Jesmyn Ward’s personal essay on ancestry and identity.
(2) The Feminist Utopia Project: Bringing together scattered interviews, essays, poems, art, and utopian stories, the anthology aims to present several conflicting feminist visions of what a more humane society might look like, but the contributions are incredibly uneven in quality. The fiction typically reads as vague and underdeveloped, the essays as cautious and uninspired. All too often, the fiction writers paint a picture of a fairytale-esque world free of conflict, instead of exploring the many forms that an actual anti-racist, feminist society might take. The essayists, by contrast, are painfully pragmatic—most merely argue for adopting modest social democratic policies. From paid maternal leave to a higher minimum wage, the Democratic Party of 2018 already has adopted many of the proposals of the anthology, first published in late 2015 by The Feminist Press. Readers looking for radical but realistic ideas that redefine what is possible will be disappointed, then, in the collection’s fiction and nonfiction alike. In spite of that, several of the poems and art pieces are quite imaginative, and most of the interviews are informative as well as engaging.