Figure out which fire is burning

I feel like I am going blind from staring so much at my computer and phone. I feel a little, too, like my artistic compass is blind, just spinning and spinning in a search for true north. I’ve been trying to work on a new project lately, and it’s slow going—there is something missing, and I know it, and I guess the achievement I’ve made has been to continue to dig for that thing. Eventually I’ll find it.

Most of the spring I’ve been working on some edits, and an illustration project that allowed me to watch (or at least listen to) TV while I was working. I’m proud of those things, but I also feel like I’ve swum out into very deep water and only just now realized how far it is between my feet and the bottom. Maybe that’s an aimless metaphor. I am thinking about other things than art, and that’s ok for awhile: it will help me think about art in the future, and better.

The mountains around Tucson are on fire, and there has been smoke in the air, so it’s hard to tell what’s barbecue and what’s disaster. Not unrelated, the hospitalizations for Covid in Arizona have gone up by 49% since Labor Day. The Black Lives Matter protests here have been great about masks, hand sanitizer, water, safety. What is smoke, and what is fire?

Lisa Lucas, the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, has been sourcing a list of books by black women (specifically, the last book by a black woman that people have read, but we can all read these books any time), and I’m going to share a bunch of them here for you.

  • My contribution was Lakewood by Megan Giddings, which I just finished, and which is excellent. At once a page-turning thriller about conducting secret medical studies on human subjects and a deeply empathic look at the generational trauma faced by black people in America.

Here are some more:

  • Dawn by Octavia Butler. A post-apocalyptic tale in which a woman must rebuild a broken world. Butler is a sci-fi master, and if you haven’t read her, you have a lot to look forward to.
  • The Proposal by Jasmine GuilloryEvery one of Guillory’s modern romcom romances is an absolute delight.
  • Luster, by Raven Leilani. I have heard nothing but incredible things about this novel, and you can pre-order it now!
  • Sula, by Toni Morrison. I read Beloved on a beach last summer and it ruined me for most of the actual “beach reads” I’d brought along, because no one anywhere can write like Toni Morrison. I haven’t read this one of hers yet, and it’s on my list.
  • The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. A new novel by Bennett, whose debut The Mothers was outstanding. This one follows identical sisters, one of whom decides to pass for white.
  • White Negroes, by Lauren Michele Jackson. Non-fiction which examines cultural appropriation and how it intensifies racial inequality.
  • Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. I am adding this one, which I haven’t read but just ordered, as I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. If you’re interested in a searching look at abolition movements, and want to know more about why the carceral justice system that we have is not inevitable—and is deeply inequitable—this one may be for you.
  • American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson. Another one I’ve been meaning to read! A thriller about a black intelligence officer in the FBI being asked to betray the man she loves. I’ve heard this book is fantastic and a lot of fun.
  • Mem by Bethany C. Morrow. A speculative look at a Jazz Age Montreal where people keep secret clones called Mems to hold their memories for them. (Morrow also has a new novel out about mermaids – ! – called Song Below Water.)
  • Wow, No Thank You, by Samatha Irby. Sam Irby is hilarious, and all her essays are hilarious, and they will make you happy, full stop.

Ok, there are many more recommendations in Lisa Lucas’s Twitter thread about this, but I’ll leave you with these for now. Buy them, get them from the library, read and enjoy them. Think about abolition, and how we can use some of the money from over-funded police departments for more civic programs. Take a break and look at the sky.