Our literature came into a sense of purpose and identity after the Civil War, during the rise of the magazine as a widespread source of American writers. While there was an urgent need to see the United States as a unified nation, there was at the same time—among writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Kate Chopin, and Mark Twain–an interest in the variety of America’s culture, history and geography that came to be called the Local Color movement. “Americana” is a plural noun—naturally so, since it celebrates diversity in the histories, dialects, and customs of different areas of the nation.
Fields of Empire
My father, who meant well about some things and not about others, died at seventy, not that old. He’d been living in our house in New Jersey, with caretakers around him, and in the front window was a bumper sticker that said, Get US Out! !United Nations. He’d once been a member of the very far-right John Birch Society and maybe always was (we didn’t keep in close touch). In our years together, when the Cold War was still on, my father took pride in never being duped by the insidious plots of those trying to turn the US into a socialist hell, a pride that rode on urgency. Every day he woke up to important work. The sticker did not look that old, actually.
Poetry: David Kirby
The Woman in the Wall
The housekeeper is about to disappear into the room next
to mine just as I say, Wait, tell me a housekeeping story.
She’s a college kid with a summer job who doesn’t care
that she’s probably breaking the housekeeper’s code
of ethics, so she says, Sure and tells me about the guy
who was doing drugs in 204 last year and got it
into his head that his girlfriend was inside the wall,
so he tore the wall out with his bare hands. Okay,
it was the drugs. But what else was he trying to say?
That the world doesn’t work. Sometimes your baby
Life After People
“You’re late,” says Jesse on Tuesday, as I slide into a seat beside him.
“Traffic,” I say.
“Hmruphh,” says Jesse.
“And what did I miss?”
Jesse makes a shushing sound.
Lorraine is at the podium. She’s going on and on about it being March Madness and how that man of hers, Jerome, is bringing home beer to watch the basketball games. “Beer in my house!” she screeches. She’s a stone-cold wino and Valium addict, but beer is beer. It ain’t right, him puttin’ the temptation right in her own fridge! On and on she goes.
Charles Dickens’s Reading Copies
Literary success came to Charles Dickens with the publication of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836-37. Following Pickwick, he brought out in quick succession Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41), David Copperfield (1849-50), and Bleak House (1852-53), as well as A Christmas Carol (1843), four other Christmas books, three additional novels, two books of travel writing, and a history of England from the Roman conquest in 1688 intended for children. By the early 1850s, he was a world-renowned celebrity.
Visual Burlesque: Ralph Barton and Puck Magazine
Jazz-Age illustrator Ralph Barton sported an exaggerated urbanity. Elegant and handsome, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a slight frame, he dressed in flawlessly tailored suits with striped shirts, matching collars, a cravat, and suspenders. Often he carried a walking stick and in his wake left a trace of Chanel No. 22. He bought the finest champagne, wine, and cigarettes and in his work was particular about pens, paper, and ink. After his first visit to France in 1915, he returned a full-bore dandy, out-fopping the French. But his cultivated sophistication and aspirations were born of provincialism. Even when he lived in a penthouse filled with rare books and art, was one of the highest-paid illustrators in New York City, and married and dated an array of beautiful, rich women, he never stopped fighting his way out of the “Kansas City mud.”
For all too short a time we were blissfully at one with a white world, one that wasn’t “other” when it fell upon us, for it was, in fact, a world of bright white snow that blanketed our neighborhood just as it did all others. A white world to claim, possess, revel in, yet something elusive still, temporary, melting, like the stuff of dreams. A world awash in contradictions. Cold yet comforting; soft and soothing yet slickly hard-packed over time; pristine and virginal yet driven by weather change toward slush and mush, gutter-clogging and dirty, dark and unworthy. So quick, quick, while there’s time, me and my brother and our friends, shouting down the rolling hill through the trees on wooden Radio Flyer sleds, the snow flying up all around us. Black kids in a white whirl of snow in a black world surrounded by a white one. Magical, exhilarating snow. One of the few white realities we could safely touch, feel, get next to back then.
Poetry: Allison Hutchcraft
In my winter by the sea, I fashioned
a new habit:
each day walking to Crowley Creek through mud
and leafless alder, their branches
cupped by the plush green of mosses and rolling
beds of sword fern, whose serrated
edges thrust extravagantly into cold and humid air.
The creek fed the estuary,
Poetry: Chris Hayes
Hey Y’all Watch This
I yelled it for the first time standing on a roof’s edge
like all those other idiots you’ve seen in videos.
Shirtless, greased with sun, ready to jump
onto a four-wheeler idling below
to impress a girl, but not just any girl,
my brother’s, who became his wife, then his ex,
tired of his addictions, which he learned
from our dad, who once drove his motorcycle
through a high school gymnasium. He didn’t wreck,
didn’t drown when he jumped off a bridge,
cannonballing into the Cumberland
to snatch a water moccasin
while his wife looked away. This phrase
branded across my tongue. Uttered everywhere
in the South, I heard it hollered
Shar took the afternoon off work to sit in a circle of student desks with four of her daughter’s teachers. Mrs. Burrows, who had called the meeting, handed her an attendance record and pointed out the seven days her daughter had been late for first period just this month. Mr. Garcia added that her grades were slipping, and one by one the teachers showed Shar the zeroes in their gradebooks next to her daughter’s name. They passed her a few of the girl’s shoddy essays and unfinished homework assignments and talked about Jemma quitting her extracurriculars, which Shar considered mostly pointless clubs anyway—the dance decorating committee, the new-student welcoming club, the unseen branch of the pep squad that made posters to promote upcoming football games. Shar didn’t grieve her quitting those, but she couldn’t deny that something was off with the girl.