Read This: Coretta Scott King’s letter

Coretta Scott King’s letter regarding the appointment of Jeff Sessions (full text)

Source: The Washington Post

This week, I’m asking you to read a letter. An old letter. A letter many people don’t want you to read.

In 1986, Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to deny the nomination of Jeff Sessions.

Yesterday, Jeff Sessions was confirmed. And this letter, this very same letter, in the hands of a different woman, was silenced.

You’ve probably heard about this incident. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tried to read this very same letter as part of her opposition to Sessions’ nomination. She was told to be quiet. She was silenced.

So, today, read this letter. The whole thing.

I won’t lie, it’s haunting. Knowing what we know now, being where we are now, Ms. King’s objections are truly, truly haunting. And it feels like we lost: Sessions is in.

But the least, the very least, we can do, is read what they don’t want us to read, see what they don’t want us to see, hear the words they don’t want us to hear. 


Thursday Recommendation: March

March” by John Lewis

Source: Graphic Novels

These books really need no words from me. But if you’ve managed to miss “March,” it’s a trilogy of graphic novels that recount some of what John Lewis himself saw, heard and experienced first hand during the Civil Rights movement.

It took me one morning to get through the first book.

Seriously, it’s that good. The writing is authentic and powerful. The details of Lewis’ life are incredible. It reads like an audio recording, making the experience of reading “March” something like watching Lewis’ memories play out before your eyes as he narrates them.

It’s worth reading. It’s worth learning. It’s worth sharing.

Lewis’ words feel extra impactful today. There is a scene that cuts abruptly from Lewis and other Freedom Riders getting beaten by the Ku Klux Klan to the inauguration of Barack Obama. The starkness of that contrast forced me to stop for a moment and compose myself.

It’s an incredibly powerful moment, and it’s just one of many in “March.” These are books I’m going to keep close at hand for the next few years, that’s for sure.

Thursday Recommendation: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

I missed my posts the past two days because I was sick. I’m not actually going to link to this book because I don’t think anyone should pay for it. Find it in a library if you can.

Stay with me on this one.

If you have only heard about this book, you likely think it’s a stirring anti-slavery manifesto. If you have read the actual book, you understand it’s something quite different.

Written by an abolitionist, the book claims to care about the lives and fates of slaves in the American south before the Civil War. Yet it does so by infantilizing them, treating them like children and slavery like a system that is in place for their own good. They can’t take care of themselves. If only they had a good master (the book demonstrates several such “good” slave masters who are adored – by their FUCKING SLAVES) then they might have perfectly wonderful lives serving white people.

It’s not the book you’re expecting from an abolitionist, in other words.

But I think that’s why it’s important to read it, if you have access to it (and the stomach for it). Because these kinds of ideas still exist. This book basically encompasses the entire attitude of “I’m not racist, but…”

It is difficult to get through, for sure, but if you can, I think it’s an illuminating perspective, particularly if you are a white American. Today, those sorts of “I’m not racist, but…” attitudes are sometimes so quiet and so sneaky that we can’t even see or hear them. Here they are in such a bold, loud form that most modern people are left shocked that Stowe considered herself a person fighting for the freedom and rights of black people.

The book makes me wonder if someday people will look back at this time period and wonder how we allowed such brazenly racist shit to be deemed totally ok, not that bad, made up, exaggerated or deserving of a “chance.”

Thursday Recommendation: A Pickpocket’s Tale

A Pickpocket’s Tale

Source: The New Yorker

This isn’t a piece of fiction, but it reads like one.

I started reading this yesterday out of sheer boredom. I had little interest in the subject matter and plenty of more interesting things I could have spent my time on.

But I recommend this very long article this week because the writing is so god damn good that I read every single word. It took a while. No doubt about that. But I defy you to start reading this and manage to stop yourself.

I also recommend this because the way the writer held my attention is the same way their subject, a master pickpocket, would hold my attention. They kept moving the “spotlight,” shifting from present day to backstory to recent past. It read like a string of increasingly interesting anecdotes. At the same time, the “moving of the spotlight” was executed so smoothly I hardly noticed, even with large, bold section breaks.

There’s a lot to learn from the way this article is written, regardless of your opinion on the subject matter (also fascinating, btw, but perhaps not for everyone). Most importantly:

  • How to make plain writing elegant and beautiful
  • How to say a lot in the minimum number of words possible
  • How to move people’s attention without losing, boring or annoying them