Book Review: The Fire This Time – Jesmyn Ward (Ed.)

The Fire This Time

Jesmyn Ward (Ed.)

Simon & Schuster

 

In 1963’s The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin spoke of ‘the Negro’s . . . doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it’. This denial persists: in 2015, young black men were five times more likely to die at the hands of police than their white peers in the United States. Yet the new collection The Fire This Time echoes not only Baldwin’s rage but his hope – hope that thoughtful resistance can ‘change the history of the world’.

Editor Jesmyn Ward powerfully counters the negation of black worth by bringing together award-winning poets and essayists to explore the past, present, and future of black experience in America. History is rewritten, and reclaimed: Wendy S. Walter’s excellent ‘Lonely in America’, for example, ties modern-day black alienation to the erasure of slavery – and even slave graveyards – in New England. Other essays probe family ties, and explore the hope art and literature can bring in times of hideous injustice. Though broad in scope, contributions are fiercely intimate. Multiple authors agonise over how to tell their children that people will see them as less human because of their skin colour. The Fire This Time offers one fundamental answer: to paraphrase Baldwin, ‘You matter. I love you. Please don’t forget it.’

Words – Mònica Tomàs White

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