There was a lot being said about many things in the literary world this year, and we want to keep those conversations going. Therefore, in no particular order, 2015’s best online transformative literary essays:
1. “In Retrospect”
by The Offing
“My advice would be that queer spaces can be anywhere. They can be in your backyard. They can be on your bookshelf. They can be wherever you are. Even somewhere as simple as in a letter to a penpal. Queer spaces don’t have to be in a club or bar.”
2. “How the Literary Class System Is Impoverishing Literature”
by Lorraine Berry
“And while class disparity manifests in all sectors of society, for those who seek careers in literature, class differences have a huge impact on who gets hired and who gets published. This, in turn has a real effect on the portrayal of class in literature, and in media depictions of the writer’s life.”
“Literature should not function as a dividing line between the haves and the have-nots, just as the expansion of the literary world to more fairly represent a world in which people are more than white or male or straight has added untold riches to the canon, so too would the stories of working-class folk go a long way toward improving our representation of and understanding of the greater world.”
3. “Like It Never Happened: A former editor and columnist on why they left Revolution John”
by Savannah Sipple and Stacia Fleegal
“I need not remind my reader our violent history of calling anything female “hysterical” or “crazy,” which these words tap into for its sap. To be feminine is to be out of one’s mind. That’s what this poem, and tragically the editor-in-chief Revolution John, said to its readers, both male or female, masculine and feminine…. Be gone. Erase yourself. Revolution John was telling critics that it doesn’t matter what’s problematic with the poem—the problem was, again, with the female. Indeed. RJ did stand beside ‘Scowl.’”
“It’s Sizemore’s god-given RIGHT to re-traumatize sexual and domestic assault survivors with words, but for me to freely express myself on RJ, about that topic or any other my little heart desired? That was a gift, from a man to a woman—one for which I am expected to be grateful, as long as I shut up and don’t criticize that man or his publication.”
4. “What Is Literary Activism?”
by Amy King
“…one needs to hear about the lived realities and ideas of ‘the Other’ so that we might begin to empathize, approach understanding and be willing to relinquish certain privileges, including risking our own safety, in order to demand the safety and platforms for others not automatically entitled or granted it by birthright. Of my own medium, poetry, I have much hope, despite the ongoing attempt to colonize and capitalize its very existence via white supremacist tendencies in the academy and mainstream publishing world especially. Poetry has been a vehicle unmarried, so far, to any ultimate “official” authoritarian definition, and therefore, it retains its powers of vastness, affordability and adaptability.”
5. “Letters to Best American Poetry”
by Craig Santos Perez
“The reason why we advocate for people of color in positions of editorial power is not about nepotism, it is about protecting against institutional racism, which has shaped the literary world for too long.”
6. “80 Books No Woman Should Read”
by Rebecca Solnit
“…I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means.”
7. “Men Explain Lolita to Me“
by Rebecca Solnit
“I just made humorous remarks about some books and some dead writers’ characters. These guys were apparently so upset and so convinced that the existence of my opinions and voice menaced others’ rights. Guys: censorship is when the authorities repress a work of art, not when someone dislikes it.”
8. “To Being Unreasonable in 2015”
by Jennifer Tamayo
“i will embrace not just disagreement but conflict, if necessary.
i will embrace conflict; when i see something fucked, i will call out its fuckery in a respectably loud voice.
i will embrace conflict; when i do something fucked and get called out, i will reflect on my fuckery.
i will support efforts following the trajectory of articulated vitriol and pain without exception. this is a good place to start: THE MONGREL COALITION AGAINST GRINGPO”
9. “A ROUND OF NO’S: LAMENT FOR THE DEAD: NO DEAR email@example.com”
by The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo
“SOME POETRY EDITORS BELIEVE ONESIDED HEALING WILL BRING JUSTICE.
SOME POETRY EDITORS BELIEVE THE POLICE NEED TO TAKE UP AS MUCH SPACE AS THOSE THEY’VE MURDERED.
SOME POETRY EDITORS CAN GIVE UP THE MICROPHONE FOR A FUCKING MINUTE; WHO ARE YOU THE POET LAUREATE OF BERNIE SANDERS
SOME POETRY EDITORS NEED TO USE THEIR LIBRARY CARDS
SOME POETRY EDITORS NEED TO STOP IT WITH #NUANCE
SOME POETRY EDITORS ASK FOR CIVILITY INSTEAD OF ANGER
SOME POETRY EDITORS READ BLIND, LIKE JUSTICE, BALANCE THOSE SCALES!
SOME POETRY EDITORS CURATE AS IF THEY’VE NEVER HEARD US SCREAM”
10. “BENEDICTION: a note on our sprawling disembodiment or, THE WEEPING FLESH OF THE MONGREL”
by The Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo
“the wound that never shuts. we know it as everyday: work or look for work or bear the knowledge of not working feed the kids call the medicare office and the bank to translate for mom wash the clothes play with the kids vacuum take out the trash from the kitchen take out your mementos from your grandparents home so they can short-sell the house take out the trash from our facebook wall make signs for the protest stay home and ache in our bodies pass out candles at the vigil watch the bullshit news coverage and ache in our bodies fill out an AR-11 Alien’s Change of Address form ache for a home put the kids to sleep. we get caught up; we forget sometimes how we are alive against all odds when we were never meant to survive, when having arrived here is a miracle.”
11. “28 Lessons Learned from a Year of ‘Being Unreasonable’; for Brown and Black Poets & Our Chosen Families”
by Jennifer Tamayo
“LESSON #3: Learn that your first English words, at the age of four, were HI! & PLEASE! & THANK YOU!—and that you were taught these words before you really knew what they meant. Learn that you performed them like a parrot to try to pass as American at an airport in Texas. Learn that from the moment you’ve entered this country, you’ve been excelling at passing, so this heartbreak you are feeling now, this unlearning that feels like death, this feeling that you’ve been a phony your whole life, is actually somewhat real, because, who are you? who have you been?
LESSON #4: You are a mestizx, yes. There are things that were taken from you that you are going to have to forcefully take back.”
12. “On Pandering”
by Claire Vaye Watkins
“I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.
I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look, I said with my stories: I can write old men, I can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an old man getting a boner!
Here are the lampposts, here is the single-screen movie theater. It’s all an architecture of pandering. It’s for them.
She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write.”
13. “Marlon James: ‘Writers of colour pander to the white woman’”
by Sian Cain
“James said that because white women readers dominate the market, ‘the male editors will only accept one type of story. Everyone knows what a New Yorker story will look like. I could have been published 10 times over – I knew that there was a certain kind of prose I could have written; intense scenes that hinted, rather than explored….If I pandered to a cultural tone set by white women, particularly older white female critics, I would have had 10 stories published by now,” he continued. “Though we’ll never admit it, every writer of colour knows that they stand a higher chance of getting published if they write this kind of story. We just do.’”
14. “Goldsmith, Conceptualism & the Half-baked Rationalization of White Idiocy”
by Joey De Jesus
“Ironically, nothing about appropriation and erasure is conceptually new or good; it is not an innovative mode of cultural production, but rather, the result of centuries of unfettered capitalism and the impulse it instills in people to commodify and consume everything, including your fellow human being.”
“The most notable example of “remixing” in his recent mess was Goldsmith’s intentional conclusion on the image of Michael Brown’s penis in the autopsy room. He read, ‘The remaining male genitalia system is unremarkable,’ which calls to mind that in the racist, objectifying paradigm, the black man’s penis is anything but ‘unremarkable.’ When rearranging the autopsy text to reveal what Goldsmith perceives is ‘objective truth,’ he is actually articulating his phallocentric gaze; his belief in the mandingo stereotype, and his anger and jealousy at the black male for what Goldsmith perceives to be the black male’s natural aptitude for sex. Brownness has a long history of being hypersexualized by the white gaze; by concluding this piece on the image of Michael Brown’s penis and reorganizing the text to semantically link his penis to the word ‘unremarkable,’ Goldsmith effectively stands over the body of the dead mandingo, who wasn’t quite, who lost.”
15. “Race and the Poetic Avant-Garde”
by Stefania Heim
“We asked these writers—all publishing in or alongside various contemporary experimental traditions—whether there is now space for and openness to the exploration of aesthetics and race; we asked about tokenism and our allegedly ‘post-race’ era; we asked them to compare public engagement with these ideas in so-called mainstream and avant-garde poetry circles.”