“Sovereignty: A Play” and a landmark legal decision for Native Americans

by Mary Kathryn Nagel

On July 9, in the case of McGirt v. Oklahoma, the US Supreme Court issued a watershed decision for Native American legal rights. The 5-4 decision acknowledged that the US government must honor its 1866 grant of nineteen million acres to the Muscogee Nation. In her 2018 play, Sovereignty, Native American lawyer and playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle dramatized many of the exact issues that McGirt v. Oklahoma addressed. Below is a scene from her play.

SARAH is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and a graduate of Yale Law School who returns home after a long absence. WATIE is her brother. He works for the Cherokee Nation police force. BEN is a Special Victims Unit police officer in present-day Oklahoma. MITCH is non-Indian lawyer living in Oklahoma and a childhood friend of Sarah and Watie.

BEN: So crazy to be standing there—you know, two sets of police, and neither one of us could do anything.

SARAH: Because of Oliphant.

BEN: An elephant?

MITCH and SARAH: Oliphant.

MITCH: Supreme Court case.

WATIE: Oh no. Two attorneys in the same room.

SARAH: In 1978 the Supreme Court said Tribes can no longer exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who come onto tribal lands and commit a crime.

BEN: That’s just wrong.

SARAH: Tell that to your United States Supreme Court.

BEN: You don’t like the court?

SARAH: I respect it.

BEN: So you’re like a Catholic that hates the Vatican.

SARAH: It’s hard to worship an institution that always decides against you.

BEN: You’ve never won a case?

SARAH: Worcester v. Georgia.

WATIE: We won a case in 1822.

SARAH: Thirty-two.

WATIE: Thirty-two, excuse me.

BEN: Rooster v. Georgia?

SARAH: Yes, but pronounced “wooster.”

BEN: Indians have weird names.

WATIE: Worcester was white.

SARAH: We won that case. And we’ve lost ever since.

BEN: So you’re telling me that because of this Elephant case, I could steal your car, I could steal your yoga mat—

SARAH: I don’t do yoga.

BEN: But if you did—

SARAH: You could set my house on fire, graffiti our courthouse, kill someone, basically do whatever you want, and Cherokee Nation could never prosecute you. But, if Cherokee Nation were to actually get off its butt and implement VAWA, we could prosecute domestic violence crimes perpetrated by non-Indians.

WATIE: Va what?

SARAH: Violence Against Women Act. You don’t know about the Violence Against Women Act?

WATIE: I’m a man.

SARAH: Just six years ago, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act with a tribal jurisdiction provision in it.

WATIE: You lost me at authorized. Can I make a suggestion? Skip anything above two syllables.

BEN: VA-WA, that works.

SARAH: In VAWA, Congress restored a piece of our criminal jurisdiction. The criminal jurisdiction that Oliphant took away.

WATIE: Jur-is-dic-shun. You lost me at dick.

SARAH: You know jurisdiction.

WATIE: I know we don’t have it. Over white guys.

SARAH: And I’m telling you that VAWA restored it. A piece of it.

WATIE: Oh. Wow.

SARAH: Yeah.

WATIE: Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?

SARAH: I swear. Sometimes I want to hit you.

MITCH: You’re not the only one.

BEN [to SARAH]: Are you this passionate about everything in life?

MARY KATHRYN NAGLE is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Her play Sliver of a Full Moon has been performed at law schools across the United States, and she has received commissions from Arena Stage, the Rose Theater, Portland Center Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Yale Repertory Theatre, Round House Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She served as the first executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program from 2015 to 2019. Nagle is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. She has authored numerous briefs in federal appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Sovereignty unfolds over two parallel timelines. In present-day Oklahoma, a young Cherokee lawyer, Sarah Ridge Polson, and her colleague Jim Ross defend the inherent jurisdiction of Cherokee Nation in the US Supreme Court when a non-Indian defendant challenges the Nation’s authority to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence. Their collaboration is juxtaposed with scenes from 1835, when Cherokee Nation was eight hundred miles to the east in the southern Appalachians. That year, Sarah’s and Jim’s ancestors, historic Cherokee rivals, were bitterly divided over a proposed treaty with the administration of Andrew Jackson, the Treaty of New Echota, which led to the nation’s removal to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. Taking as its point of departure the story of one lawyer’s passionate defense of the rights of her people to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on reservations, Sovereignty opens up into an expansive exploration of the circular continuity of history, human memory, and the power of human relationships.

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“Miss Muriel”

ALMOST EVERY DAY, Ruth Davis and I walk home from school together. We walk very slowly because we like to talk to each other and we don’t get much chance in school or after school either. We are very much alike. We are both twelve years old and we are freshmen in high school and we never study—well, not very much, because we learn faster than the rest of the class. We laugh about the same things and we are curious about the same things. We even wear our hair in the same style—thick braids halfway down our backs. We are not alike in one respect. She is white and I am black.

Yesterday when we reached the building that houses my father’s drugstore, we sat down on the front steps—long wooden steps that go all the way across the front of the building. Ruth said, “I wish I lived here,” and patted the steps though they are very splintery.

Aunt Sophronia must have heard our voices, because she came to the door and said, “I left my shoes at the shoemaker’s this morning. Please go and get them for me,” and she handed me a little cardboard ticket with a number on it.

“You want to come with me, Ruth?”

“I’ve got to go home. I’m sure my aunt will have things for me to do. Just like your aunt.” She smiled at Aunt Sophronia. I walked partway home with Ruth and then turned back and went up Petticoat Lane toward the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Bemish, the shoemaker, is a little white man with gray hair. He has a glass eye. This eye is not the same color as his own eye. It is a deeper gray. If I stand too close to him, I get a squeam­ish feeling because one eye moves in its socket and the other eye does not.

Mr. Bemish and I are friends. I am always taking shoes to his shop to be repaired. We do not own a horse and buggy and so we walk a great deal. In fact, there is a family rule that we must walk any distance under three miles. As a result, our shoes are in constant need of repair, the soles and heels have to be replaced, and we always seem to be in need of shoelaces. Quite often I snag the uppers on the bull briars in the woods and then the tears have to be stitched.

When I went to get Aunt Sophronia’s shoes, Mr. Bemish was sitting near the window. It is a big window and he has a very nice view of the street. He had on his leather apron and his eyeglasses. His glasses are small and they have steel rims. He was sewing a shoe and he had a long length of waxed linen thread in his needle. He waxes the thread himself.

I handed him the ticket and he got up from his workbench to get the shoes. I saw that he had separated them from the other shoes. These are Aunt Sophronia’s store shoes. They had been polished so that they shone like patent leather. They lay alone, near the front of the table where he keeps the shoes he has repaired. He leaned toward me and I moved away from him. I did not like being so close to his glass eye.

“The lady who brought these shoes in. Who is she?”

I looked at him and raised one eyebrow. It has taken me two months of constant practice in front of a mirror to master the art of lifting one eyebrow.

Mr. Bemish said, “What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you hear what I said? Who was that lady who brought these shoes in?”

Excerpted from “Miss Muriel,” the title story in Miss Muriel and Other Stories.

Ann Petry

ANN PETRY (1908–1997) was a reporter, pharmacist, social worker, and community activist. She illuminated the range of black and white experience in her novels, short stories, and other writing. Her book The Street was the first novel by an African American woman to sell more than a million copies. Her novels The Narrows and Country Place are also available from Northwestern University Press.

This edition published in 2017 by Northwestern University Press with a new by foreword by Jamilah Lemieux. Copyright © 1945, 1947, 1958, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971 by Ann Petry. Foreword copyright © 2017 by Jamilah Lemieux. Published 2017 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

“Crossing”

By Sterling Brown

This is not Jordan River
There lies not Canaan
There is still
One more wide river to cross.

This is the Mississippi
And the stars tell us only
That this is not the road.

We do not know
If any have reached that Canaan
We have received no word.

Behind us the belling pack
Beyond them the hunters
Before us the dismal swamp.

We do not know. . . .

We have exchanged Louisiana for Mississippi
Merely
Georgia for Florida
Carolina for Tennessee.

We have passed, repassed
So many rivers
Okmulgee, Chattahoochee,
St. Mary’s, Mississippi,
Alabama, Tennessee,
Mississippi.
We have leapt
From swamp land
Into marshes
We have won through
To bloodred clay
To gravel and rock
To the baked lands
To the scorched barrens.

And we grow footsore
And muscle weary
Our faces grow sullen
And our hearts numb

We do not know. . . .

We know only
That there lies not Canaan
That this is no River Jordan.

Still are we motherless children
Still are we dragging travelers
Alone, and a long ways from home.

Still with the hard earth for our folding bed
Still with our head pillowed upon a rock

And still
With one more river,
Oh, one wide river to cross.

BROWN.inddSTERLING A. BROWN (1901–1989) was one of the most important and influential figures in the development of African American literature and criticism in the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C., he was not only a poet but also a distinguished folklorist, anthologist, critic, and reviewer. Brown was a professor at Howard University for forty years.

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown; edited by Michael S. Harper, foreword by Cornelius Eady. Copyright © 1980 by Sterling A. Brown. Published 1989 by TriQuarterly Books/Another Chicago Press by arrangement with Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. This edition published 2020 by arrangement with the John L. Dennis Revocable Trust.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place

by Lee Bey

An excerpt from Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

John Moutoussamy was the first black architect to make partner at a majority white Chicago architecture firm. His Johnson Publishing Building on South Michigan Avenue is still the only downtown skyscraper designed by a black person.

Bey_Fig_5_6
John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place
Architect Moutoussamy designed this elegant one-story home for himself and his family

Lesser known is the refined modernist home Moutoussamy designed for himself, his wife, and three children at 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place in the South Side’s Chatham community. Built in 1954, the blonde-brick residence is elegant in its simplicity; the home and its integrated garage greet the street as a single rectangular piece.

The Moutoussamy House is part of a notable cluster of modernist houses that were built in Chatham as the neighborhood became a prime spot for solidly middle-class and well-off African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bey.headshot

LEE BEY is a photographer, writer, lecturer, and consultant who documents and interprets the built environment—and the often complex political, social, and racial forces that shape spaces and places. His writing on architecture and urban design has been featured in ArchitectChicago magazine, Architectural Record, and many news outlets. His photography has appeared in Chicago ArchitectOld-House JournalCITE, and in international design publications, including Bauwelt and Modulør. A former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, Bey is also a senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and served as deputy chief of staff for urban planning under former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.

southern-exposure

From SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side. Text and photographs copyright © 2019 by Lee Bey. Foreword copyright © 2019 by Amanda Williams. Published 2019 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

Available in our Summer Sale! Click below to visit.

“The Star”

by Reginald Harris

Her closet is a universe
made for trying on
the brightly colored dresses,
a standing field of flowers
wider than the cramped stamp
of dirt behind the house.

Ignored every day starched white,
reached back into a past
still laced with big band music,
rationed cigarettes, Chanel No. 5,

Stepped into shoes and grew to
adolescence, the clock clock clock
of heels Time racing down the hall
to when he too would be tall, cool,
desirable—an adult—just like
Lena Horne.

How could they not love him as
he made his grand entrance, posed,
placed a trembling hand on narrow hip,

waited breathlessly, sure of their applause?

reggie HReginald Harris, the director of library and outreach services for Poets House, won the 2012 Cave Canem / Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for Autogeography. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a recipient of Individual Artist awards for poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council, and his debut collection 10 Tongues: Poems was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year. He is an associate editor for Lambda Literary Review and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

autogeographyFrom Autogeography: Poems. Copyright © 2013 by Reginald Harris. Published 2013 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

“I Don’t Think for a Second That We Won’t Survive This”

By Abdul Ali

 

She starts running. I call cheater as she
gains on me, wobbling uncontrollably.
That bloody fruit in my chest sags low.

I want to tell her. My palm sweats through
a manilla envelope holding court papers;
I blow an invisible donut hole.

My chest is a flat worn-out mattress. Her eyes,
A blurry river— promises to cry for me when I’m gone
But I remind her I ain’t going nowhere!

Time loses seconds; I make a silly face to break the gravity.
I pick her up and we’re flying. Her arms stretch across the sky
With crayola lines of fleshy pinks and browns.

Her body grows small, reversing time as she runs down the hall,
A little rocket, shooting towards light where karate, jump rope,
The sound of her feet beating the swollen ground,

Her learning ancient colored girl chants
Let’s get the rhythm of the hot dog

The air thins, my thoughts lift me to outer space,
I don’t worry
I mouth something to the gods

And I don’t think for a second that we won’t survive this.

 

 

abdul ali_by Mig Dooley
Abdul Ali. Photo by Mig Dooley

ABDUL ALI is the author of Trouble Sleeping (2015), winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize selected by poet Fanny Howe. His poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Gargoyle, A Gathering of the TribesNational Public RadioThe Washington Post magazine, New Contrast (South Africa), Poets Lore, on the websites of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and in the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington DC (2009), among other publications. He has received grants, awards, and fellowships from the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, American University, College Language Association, and the Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival at George Washington University. He has taught writing at Towson University, Goucher College, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

furious-flowerFrom Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry. Edited by Joanne V. Gabbin and Lauren K. Alleyne; foreword by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2020 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. Published 2020. All rights reserved. “I Don’t Think for a Second That We Won’t Survive This” previously appeared in A Gathering the Tribes magazine. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

 

 

 

 

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.

“HAPPY?”

by Vievee Francis

List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, / home of the happy.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”

HAPPY?

I would not say so. Rather, settled
in this moment where no axe falls.

And one might wonder why
not happy in such an idyllic place—

with more trees than might be named
and the blooms ever blooming

in a heat seemingly ceaseless
as the red-throated woodpeckers,

as the tree frogs mating endlessly
on the same limbs a black bear might

loll from, indolent and berry-full.
You have heard me say, Nature

will have its way. That we build
only way stations. I was proud.

I thought I understood, but
now I have come to this ridge,

which wrests its toll: my sleep
grows longer, my dreams follow

into my days. I have begun to name
the birds by their feathering, their calls

and clamor: nightjar, flicker, plover, shrike.
Before the mountain I knew the incinerated

cities. I knew another South. But that
was before I was another. The one

I am becoming as roots reclaim
this soil, as what is felled takes on

a form it could not have imagined,
whose seeds had always rested below

like a sorrow of banjoes.

vievee-fancis-810
Vievee Francis. Photo by Eli Burakian

VIEVEE FRANCIS is the author of Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark, and Forest Primeval, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. She is an associate professor at Dartmouth College and an associate editor for Callaloo.

From Forest Primeval: Poems. ©2016 by Vievee Francis. Published 2016 by TriQuarterly/
Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

A Juneteenth review of “neckbone: visual verses” by avery r. young

On Juneteenth 2019, Northwestern University Press was proud to publish neckbone: visual verses by avery r. young. On the first anniversary of the collection’s release, we’re pleased to re-blog a review of the book by Chicago poet Mike Puican, which first appeared in Another Chicago Magazine on May 11.

neckbone cover

avery r. young’s neckbone: visual verses is a challenging, wildly creative book. Gorgeously printed as an art book—hardback cover, full color, larger trim size—it features photos of young’s artwork, mostly collages that combine text and visuals. In his artist’s statement, young says that the pieces in this book required performance and/or some level of physicality beyond poetry’s usual ink, paper, and language. The physicality of these verses is palpable.

Young’s work brilliantly moves beyond the limits of either language or visuals to evoke a deeper, more visceral audience response. He does it to illuminate the experience of black life “navigating through a grid of whiteness.” The subject matter ranges from scathing, thought-provoking attacks on racism, past and present, to deeply personal details of growing up on Chicago’s West Side. Even the materials he uses connect with black life. Along with paint, ink, tape, paper, cardboard and plastic, young employs hairdressing oil, Kool-Aid, an African American Barbie doll, chicken grease, and synthetic hair to create the works of art reproduced in neckbone.

The significance of the book’s title is made clear in the piece “titletrac(k)” where a rope has a discussion with a neck. The rope says, “yo body will do it to u. I jus(t) res(t) round trachea.” neckbone is a disturbing double entendre referring not only to the soul food staple but also to the part of the body that was encircled by the lynching rope.

averyAs defiant as this work is, a surprising amount of humor runs through it. In one piece, he creates a Drug Facts insert for a skin lightening product that, instead of drug facts, describes a crush the speaker had on a boy (Kwaku) in school. Under “Inactive Ingredients,” he lists various times he met Kwaku, including a moment alone in a locker room when Kwaku drops his towel while talking to him about James Baldwin. The “Directions” are listed as follows, “1. Wash face. 2. Rub on skinRite. 3. Let sit. DO NOT wipe off. 4. Help Kwaku with his Statistics homework.”

In another, he shows a restaurant receipt that, in place of the food items ordered, is a description of an argument at the speaker’s home. Reading down the receipt, we learn about a confrontation between someone who ate all the neckbones from a pot on the stove and the irate cook who stole twenty dollars from that person’s wallet to cover the cost of the food.

A phony test for a Black Studies course asks students to rank the reasons why “You will no longer be hosting the family reunion.” The choices hilariously unveil the problems a family has with a successful relative who seems to have forgotten her roots. One of the seven choices reads:

You mad Mama brushed Chloe’s hair down and pulled it into a ponytail. Yes, Chloe is your child, but you reminding everybody about what you pay for and who owes you what, is disrespectful, at best. 1. You forget them checks cut to get you through Yale. 2. You forget Daddy gave you the down payment on that condo. (All that money and you living on top of people, like Wilona and them did on Good Times). And 3. You forget you still owe me and Junior for the check we ran down to the lawyer office to get you out of Cook County. Solicitation of prostitution was the case they gave you. Lady Marmalade.

neckboneThe dialect, personal experiences, family interactions, and incidents of racism have not been cushioned or interpreted for a non-black audience. Early in the book, someone in a writing workshop says to him, “first you have to create this code & then We will follow suit.” He responds with, “summa us don’t need a “t” to say wallah-mellon or DECODER: not necessarily fo(r) de NON-BLACK folk readin dis book.”

He follows this with a one-page “Grammar Glossary,” a scholarly, tongue-in-cheek aid for deciphering his idiosyncratic code (which this white reader found helpful). Young ends many of his pieces with an exclamatory, “blk!” The glossary defines it as, “blk = 1. Black as in a color. 2. Black as in the people. . . .”

This collection bristles with a work-in-progress energy. From page to page, there are cross-outs, handwriting in the margins, and editorial notes as though everything is continually in the process of being reworked and rethought.

One electrifying example of how that approach aids young’s expressiveness is a thirty-two-page sequence that begins with a handwritten note addressed to a child who was beaten up. Each subsequent page then reworks what came before with cross-outs and additions as though the author is trying to uncover his subject. After a few pages, the text centers on Billie Holiday. It starts with a dream of her appearing on the TV show, Soul Train (which first aired twelve years after her death).

As the pages progress, the story moves from Holiday not being able to properly lip-sync her songs on Soul Train, to the lips of a neighbor who attempted to rape her when she was eleven, to nuns who had her soak in a mustard bath for a back-room abortion, to her teen life in a brothel, to her ability to fight as she beat a white man who extinguished his cigarette on her arm. There’s even a collage that includes her revoked New York cabaret license (revoked due to a drug conviction).

All this culminates at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, during which, while pinning a gardenia to her hair, she accidentally pierces the side of her head and bleeds for the remainder of the performance. Young’s piece ends with a paragraph that is mostly crossed out. The few, jarring words remain are, “a song spose to have a blood nobody can see on de blk.”

The crossed-out words are still readable. They give fragments of the singer’s hard-scrabble life—the rape, the abortion, the fights, the racism, the drugs. Through Young’s work-in-progress approach, we develop a deep appreciation of the complex life of Billie Holiday. All this leads to her triumphant Carnegie Hall concert in which she wows the audience through three encores as she bleeds, literally and figuratively, in a way that “nobody can see.”

Young uses his command of language, materials, and space to tell heartbreaking stories of young people who’ve been victims of violence. In the piece “June 4, 2012,” three narrow poems appear side by side. In the first poem, the speaker tells of seeing a drug dealer on the street three years after he taught that boy poetry in the seventh grade. The next poem repeats the first poem, but continues with an account of a two-year-old boy with his arms out who runs to the dealer as the dealer calls him “lil man.” The third poem repeats the second but adds that the dealer then kisses the little boy on his forehead as he tells the speaker that he remembers something from his poetry class, that “ery boy shud see him father read.”

By repeating the poem, then adding unexpected details, young challenges the reader to examine the stereotype of someone dealing drugs on the street. We see that person, still a boy himself, as a father who shows love to his son and a student who remembers advice from his teacher. We see him as complicated and individual.

This is followed on the next page by a collage of paper, ink, acrylic paint, Vaseline and thread. It depicts a memorial flyer for the same young man, showing him in his graduation regalia. The speaker tells of sitting in a back pew of the funeral when, in the middle of the preacher’s eulogy, the “lil man” who is now older, stands up, walks to the casket, and gives his father a kiss on the forehead. Young ends with, “ery boy shd see him father breve.” The statement of the utter waste of a human life could hardly be made more strongly.

The determination to expose and overturn expectations runs through the core of neckbone. This is especially on display as the speaker reflects on growing up black, gay and disabled. He recounts a number of sometimes humorous, often disturbing, incidents while coming to terms with his sexual orientation. They include bullying from those in his neighborhood, along with well-intentioned but clueless advice from family members.

In a masterful poem called “thirteen,” the speaker describes the effects of many surgeries and treatments he underwent for a crippling illness and how for five years he celebrated his birthdays in one hospital or another. The poem begins at the speaker’s thirteenth birthday and describes the events and interactions that occur each month until his next birthday. Finally, when he turns fourteen, he announces that there will be no more surgeries. His cousins tell him, “yo gonna be walkin wif yo crook(id) club feet till u cant walk no mo.” He declares that he’s going to find a discotech and dance. Because, he says, “u cant breve if u cant dance . . .” Despite the obstacles, he continually finds ways to embrace his identity and celebrate the person he is.

Whether fearlessly calling out acts of racism, humanizing the effects of senseless violence, or describing dysfunctional yet loving stories of family life, young’s shapeshifting work overflows with boundless creativity, the determination to say the truth, and, above all, a restless, infectious spirit. neckbone is a wild, go-anywhere ride that welcomes all readers, black and non-black, to climb in, buckle up, and hang on tight.

✶✶✶✶

Puican Author Photo (1)Mike Puican’s debut book of poetry, Central Air, will be released by Northwestern Press this August. He has had poems in PoetryMichigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review among others, and he won the 2004 Tia Chucha Press Chapbook Contest for his chapbook, 30 Seconds. Mike was a member of the 1996 Chicago Slam Team, and is a long-time board member of the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. Currently, he teaches poetry to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals at the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center and St. Leonard’s House.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

Nikky Finney’s “HOTBED 224”

nikky-finneyNIKKY FINNEY is the author of five books of poetry, including Head Off & Split (NU Press, 2011), winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. She is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. Finney has received the Art for Change Fellowship from the Ford Foundation and currently serves as an ambassador for the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Art for Justice Project.

ALRONDA URIBE is a National Scholastic Gold Key Winner, 2018 Urban Word Slam Poetry Champion, and DreamYard Bronx Poetry Project member.

From Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems & Artifacts. Copyright © 2020 by Northwestern University Press.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

“Daily Conscription”

by Kyle Dargan

We can no longer afford that particular romance.
—James Baldwin

Brother Rickey halts me before I cross East
Capitol. He trumpets that we are at war.

I want to admit that I don’t believe in “white”
—in the manner that Baldwin did not—but Brother

Rickey would simply retort that my disbelief
is no immunity from the imaginations of those

who think themselves “white.” As we await
the stoplight’s shift—so I may walk and he may

holler “Final Call!” between lanes of idle traffic—I
think of race as something akin to climate change,

a force we don’t have to believe in for it to undo us.
I once believed in the seasons. (I fantasize

fall as Brother Rickey’s favorite—when
his suits, boxy and plaid, would be neither too hot nor

thin.) But we are losing spring and fall—tripping
from blaze to frost and back. And what’s to say

we won’t soon shed another season, one of these
remaining two, and live on either an Earth

of molten streets or one of frozen light? That’s when
worlds end, no—when, after we’ve eradicated

ourselves, we become faint fossils to be exhumed
by the curiosities of whichever life-forms follow

our reign? I still owe Brother Rickey two dollars
for the paper he last placed in my hand, calling me

“soldier.” I don’t have to believe that I am enlisted
in order to understand he’ll forgive my debt

so long as this idea of “whiteness” sorties above us—
ultraviolet, obliging an aseasonal, unending deployment.

Released by the signal, I advance—my head down,
straining to discern the crossfire from the cover.

Kyle-Dargan
Kyle Dargan. Photo: Marlene Hawthorne Thomas

KYLE DARGAN is the author of four collections of poetry—Honest Engine (2015), Logorrhea Dementia (2010), Bouquet of Hungers (2007), and The Listening (2004). For his work, he has received the 2019 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. His books also have been finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize. Dargan has partnered with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities to produce poetry programming at the White House and Library of Congress. He has worked with and supports a number of youth writing organizations, such as 826DC, Writopia Lab, and the Young Writers Workshop. He is currently an associate professor of literature and director of creative writing at American University, as well as the founder and editor of POST NO ILLS magazine.

From Anagnorisis: Poems. ©2017 by Kyle Dargan. Published 2018 by TriQuarterly/
Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

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