New Column at Salon: An Interview with Rita Dove

There are few writers worthy of such high distinction, but to read Rita Dove is to encounter the transformative. Her feeling comes in aid of your feeling. Suddenly, you believe you have undergone an alteration of mind and spirit. Dove’s poetry breathes life onto the page and into the reader.

The Pulitzer Prize committee shared this assessment, awarding her the prize for poetry in 1987 for her beautiful, biographical treatment of her grandparents through a series of interconnected poems, “Thomas and Beulah.” Dove also received the National Medal of Arts commendation from President Barack Obama, who complimented her singular ability to “blend beauty, lyricism, critique, and politics.”

In a national moment of suffocation, it is for our civic health that we turn to those voices that offer the relief of oxygen.

Earlier this week, I interviewed Rita Dove about the power of poetry and the necessity of the arts, especially in times of political trouble and terror.

Read a transcript of our conversation at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: The Fiery Racial Gospel of Michael Eric Dyson

I began devouring Michael Eric Dyson’s work as a high school student, eager to learn about the world, and study the craft of essayistic writing. He quickly became inspirational and foundational to my intellectual and literary development. It is difficult to conceive of myself as a thinker and writer without the influence of Dyson.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Dyson during the Chicago stop on his book tour. We discussed a new book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, along with a wide range of issues pertaining to race, culture, and politics.

In my new column for Salon, I appraise the high value of Dyson’s analysis and rhetorical style, and offer some of the most provocative and poignant excerpts from our conversation.

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New Column for Salon: Vulgarians at the Gate

In my new column for Salon, I address how America’s increasingly vulgar culture will only coarsen under the influence of Donald Trump, a repugnant vulgarian himself. Sociologists often discuss the cultural process of “defining deviancy down.” Tolerance for the previously unthinkable is nearly impossible to reverse. It only creates room for further degradation of public standards.

Presidents exert as much cultural as political influence. Trump has and will continue to empower the crude and crass elements of society.

Read my entire examination of an unpleasant topic at Salon.

New Music Writing: Tribute to George Michael, Top Five Records of 2016

In my latest column for Salon, I pay tribute to the late George Michael, who not only wrote, produced, and performed excellent music of irresistible groove and soul, but elevated and celebrated an ethos of mutual pleasure in sexuality. Michael’s treatment of sexuality as an opportunity for reciprocal, erotic enjoyment assaulted both the suffocating Puritanism of Western Culture, and the desire for domination from too many heterosexual men.

Read the essay at Salon.

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Meanwhile, at No Depression, I provide my personal choices for top five records of 2016, featuring Metallica, Marcus King, Tedeschi Trucks, Blackberry Smoke, and Rival Sons.

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New Column at Salon: My College Students aren’t ‘Snowflakes’ – They are Tougher than their Critics

In my new column for Salon, I ridicule the sanctimonious and cowardly baby boomers who refuse to surrender their favorite hobby – demeaning young people.

My years of teaching experience at the college level have allowed me to meet many different students. I consistently find them smart, strong, and even inspiring. Studies of campus life demonstrate that “trigger warning,” “safe spaces,” and tantrums of “political correctness,” are actually quite rare, despite the alternative reality that boomers, and right wing media commentators, have invented.

I’ve had students who have survived cancer, recovered from the unexpected death of family members, lost their homes in natural disasters, and continue to work and study in the pursuit happiness, even while they suffer a financial burden for their education that previous generations never shouldered.

They are tougher, and better for the country, than their critics.

Read the column at Salon.

New Column at Salon: The Right Wing Bubble

In my latest column for Salon, I address the boring bromide, in constant broadcast since the surreal victory of Donald Trump, that liberal Americans live in a bubble, rendering them unable to access reality or relate to the “real America.”

Logic and reason, as antiquated as they might be, demonstrate that it is actually the “real America” living in a closed-minded cocoon. An excerpt from my column:

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that the rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble, and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of any criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

No one reasonable really expects the right wing Christian conservative to escape their own cocoon. People who applaud when a political candidate proposes banning Muslims from entering the country know nothing about Islam. Voters who support someone who called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs,” probably never knowingly met a Latino who emigrated from Mexico. The conservative bubble of bigotry and ignorance actually damages the country, and results in destructive public policy, while the liberal bubble results in nothing more that slightly damaged feelings. Insulated progressives might adopt snobbery when considering the daily routine of “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” but they actively support political leaders who aim to alleviate poverty. The rural whites who “cling to their guns and religion,” as President Barack Obama rightly said, benefit when the liberals they hate enter high office. One of the interesting numbers to track after Trump’s inauguration is how many poor white people lose access to health care if the President-Elect keeps his promise to “repeal Obamacare.”

 The coating of the conservative bubble is often so dense that it prevents inhabitants from accurately identifying their own interests.

Read the entire column at Salon.

Weekend Column with Salon: Art is not an escape – It is our most powerful weapon against apathy

I’ve always believed that art is more important than politics. In my new column for Salon, I celebrate art as communicable of the mysteries of the human spirit, generator of hope, and engineer of connection between seemingly disparate points of human experience.

It is for this reason that art becomes critical in times of political trouble. During the current era of American crisis, I reflect on the popular art that sustains and strengthens me – Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Gov’t Mule, and Kurt Vonnegut. Then, I pay tribute to the controversial collaboration between Beyonce and The Dixie Chicks.

Readers can substitute the names of their own favorite writers and performers.

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Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.