Since it is the Winter Solstice, a time for reflection and contemplation, I thought I would write about the past year, just like every other writer is doing right now! On a personal level, 2016 was a successful year for me. Waiting for the Dead to Speak was published with NYQ Books and earned a lot of reviews. I am especially grateful that the book is out there. I got to read in different pockets of Pennsylvania and NYC, Jersey, Boston, Philly, and elsewhere. Connecting to the larger poetry community maintained my spirit post-election, especially after spending months canvassing and phone banking for the Hillary campaign. For me, the election also changed the urgency of some of the poems. I’ve already commented plenty on the state of world affairs, and I don’t want to do that much with this post. I will say, however, that I have been inspired by the mobilization I’ve seen post-election. Even yesterday, I attended a rally in downtown Scranton, in front of Sen. Pat Toomey’s local office, urging him not to repeal the Affordable Care Act or vote to privatize Medicare and Medicaid. For a rally that was put together in about a week, it drew 50 or so people, many with personal stories about how the ACA or Medicare have impacted them personally. I predict a lot more direct actions taking place nationwide in the coming new year.
Shortly into 2016, I met Daryl, and we’ve had a wonderful relationship since. We also adopted a cat last March, Giselle. The cat photos have been endless!
Following in the tradition of other end-of-the-year posts, here is my list of my favorite films and books of the year. Last year, I included music on this list. However, I made fewer trips to the record shop this year than last, and, unfortunately, I didn’t listen to a lot of new music. I plan to change that in the new year.
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz: Okay, so this book came out last year, but I just read it last month. It is the most comprehensive book of Native American history that I’ve read. It begins with the early European encounters and concludes with the present. It is a must read for anyone interested in American history, specifically Native American history. In light of the Standing Rock protests, now is the time to check this out.
White Trash: A 400 Year History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This is also quite comprehensive, and it primarily begins with the Puritan era and ends shortly after the Bill Clinton era. My only real gripe with this book is that it only focuses on the white-working class, more specifically the Southern white working-class. Like An Indigenous People’s History, White Trash is a book that should be required reading for the times that we live in, especially if one wants to understand some of the anger that drove the Trump campaign.
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance: Vance was a poster boy for the white working-class during the election cycle, with frequent appearances on CNN and columns published in major newspapers. Vance’s book doesn’t cover the broad history class because Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir centered solely around Vance’s experience growing up poor in the Appalachian states. Vance gives sound insight into why people he grew up with often vote against their best interests.
The Philosophy of Horror: Edited by Thomas Fahy: Okay, so this book came out about four years ago, but I didn’t read it until this month, in preparation for a Horror Literature and Film class I am putting together for next fall. This is one of the strongest collections of academic writing that I’ve read on the horror genre. It is, in large part, a reaction to Noel Carroll’s writing on the horror genre, mostly his theories that horror stems from the supernatural, such as ghosts and demons, thus it is easier for us to return to our everyday world after the horror ends. The essays in this book, however, address the idea of horror in the every day and focus on the gritter, realistic horror films, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and Psycho. The writers find Carroll’s definition of horror too limiting. There is also a fascinating essay on Kubrick’s The Shining that sees the film as commentary on white imperial power and genocide against Native Americans and African Americans.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, this novel follows two runaway slaves as they visit different states in the South and encounter various forms of slavery. It is a book I am seriously considering incorporating into my African American Lit class, and I consider it a must-read for the year.
Wild Things by Jaimee Wriston Colbert: This linked story collection is devastating in that it focuses on towns where industry has dried up, its residents are down on their luck, and on top of all that, the stories address the perilous state of our planet.
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo: Richard Russo remains one of my favorite contemporary American fiction writers. Everybody’s Fool is a sequel to his breakout novel, Nobody’s Fool. It again follows the plight of Sully, who is ten years older as the novel opens. Like the rest of Russo’s work, Everybody’s Fool brilliantly captures the struggles of the working-class who are stuck in crummy situations. This book, however, also depicts the crushing power that the wealthy and corporations can have on a community, a new aspect of Russo’s work.
What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books) by Maria Mazziotti Gillan: Maria’s work is always beautiful and moving, and in this book, she sticks to one of her most-familiar themes, the immigrant experience. Fewer books felt more poignant for me this year, juxtaposed with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Cooper Canyon Press) by Ocean Voung: Believe the hype surrounding Ocean Voung. This is a wonderful debut collection, and the young poet deserves all of the credit he is getting. The heart of this collection centers around the immigrant experiences, Vietnam, and family history.
The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press) by Daniel Borzutky: I don’t think any collection of poetry better captures this current autocratic moment than this one.
Manchester by the Sea: This is my favorite film of the year. Casey Afflect deserves an Oscar for his role as a janitor who is emotionally disconnected after losing his children and divorcing his wife. The film is textured, layered, emotionally complex, and heart-wrenching. It is not without its humor, however.
Moonlight: I have never seen a movie that deals with black masculinity as well as this one.
Captain Fantastic: This movie follows the story of Ben Cash, played by Viggo Mortensen, who raises six kids off the grid in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, making them endure rigorous physical and intellectual tests. The film isn’t afraid to make fun of leftist purists, but it also has a lot of heart and laughs, while critiquing some aspects of 21st Century America, namely rampant consumerism. Check it out. It’s uplifting.
What am I looking forward to in 2017? I am hoping that world will break from its drift towards authoritarianism and nationalism that we saw in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere in 2016. I hope that we are kinder to each other and don’t treat those different from us as parasites who don’t belong in this country. I also feel optimistic that we will continue to see mobilization to counter some of the nasty geopolitical uprisings that occurred in 2016, fueled by a dangerous nationalism.
So, that is it, farewell, 2016. Be safe everyone. Take care of each other, and enjoy the holiday!