I’ve written an new essay for the Bulwark on the abhorrence and menace of antisemitism in the United States, focusing on how it is rising in the form of deranged conspiracy theories, hate crimes, and threats of violence. The reaction from the media, the political left and right, and broader culture is a collective yawn. Referencing the work of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, David Baddiel, Dara Horn, and Ben Tanzer, I examine the why and how. Read at the Bulwark.
I’ve written an essay on the last completed work of the brilliant and masterful writer, David Foster Wallace. The novella is not only a great read, but has much to teach a nation that has become one big “wastoid.” Read at CounterPunch!
I recently had the immense pleasure of interviewing recent National Book Award winner, Martín Espada. We discussed his life and work, including poetry and radical politics, and right wing book bans, which have twice eliminated his work.
My lengthy profile of Espada is available to CounterPunch subscribers: “‘Put the Blood Back In’: Martín Espada on Poetry, Book Banning, and Radical Politics”
I have a new essay at Salon about the political writing of the recently deceased Joan Didion. It is obvious that Didion was one of the greatest literary artists in the US, but most people do not realize that she was also one the country’s most astute political analysts. Like few others, she sliced through the layers of lies in our public discourse, exposing how racism, middle class fear and complacency, and oligarchic oppression sabotage genuine democracy.
Read the essay at Salon.
It was my pleasure to, once again, interview one of America’s greatest novelists – the prolific and brilliant, James Lee Burke. At 84, he has authored an outstanding new novel, Another Kind of Eden. We discussed the new book, along with many related sociopolitical issues, including organized labor, the corporate destruction of “traditional America,” and the plot to dumb down America. Read our conversation at CrimeReads.
In a new essay for CrimeReads, I write about one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years, Willy Vlautin’s The Night Always Comes. Not only a riveting story with characters who feel as alive as your next door neighbors, it is also a brilliant exploration of class struggle and the abuse of the working class in present day Portland, and more the broadly, the United States. In addition to reviewing The Night Always Comes, I also explore the rich tradition in crime literature of dealing with class struggle in the United States, and the dearth of contemporary stories that present the financial precarity of life in the “world’s wealthiest nation.”
I’ve recently written two essays for the outstanding literary website, CrimeReads. The first is a review of Hemingway’s underrated novel, To Have and Have Not – an essay that doubles as an exploration of Hemingway’s radical politics.
For lighthearted fare, I joined the CrimeReads tradition of recommending getaway movies for the pandemic. My choice is the 2003 potboiler starring Denzel Washington, Out of Time.
In his masterful blend of biography and novel, Marilyn, Norman Mailer invented the word “factoid” to describe untrue ideas many people accept as real only because they have appeared in the mass media for many years. “It is possible,” Mailer wrote, “that Richard Nixon has spoken in nothing but factoids for his entire political career.”
Donald Trump, like no other president of American history (not even Nixon), is a factoid politician.
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.
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.