Mini-Review: The Fire This Time ed. by Jesmyn Ward

32920229Verdict: Uneven

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

A surprise New York Times bestseller, these groundbreaking essays and poems about race—collected by National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward and written by the most important voices of her generation—are “thoughtful, searing, and at times, hopeful. The Fire This Time is vivid proof that words are important, because of their power to both cleanse and to clarify” (USA TODAY).

In this bestselling, widely lauded collection, Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. “An absolutely indispensable anthology” (Booklist, starred review), The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.

Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, these contemporary writers reflect on the past, present, and future of race in America. We’ve made significant progress in the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essays were published, but America is a long and painful distance away from a “post-racial society”—a truth we must confront if we are to continue to work towards change. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about; The Fire This Time “seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward” (Vogue).

While I loved some of these essays, very many did not work for me all that much. I know I am not the target audience for this, so please do take my rating with a grain of salt. For one thing, I am not American and I do think that quite a bit of the cultural context will have flown over my head, for another thing, I am also not a person of colour. I can appreciate how important this collection of essays is without being blown away myself. I found the vast majority of these essays well-written enough but not particularly brilliant.

My favourite essays from this collection were Lonely in America by Wendy S. Walters and Black and Blue by Garnette Cadogan. These essays were just absolutely stunning and I will have to check out further work by the authors. I found the way Wendy S. Walters used her own research to illustrate her point really well done and wonderfully evocative. Garnette Cadogan juxtaposes his experience of walking in Kingston, Jamaica, with his experience of walking in New Orleans – and it bowled me over. If you only read one essay of this collection, make sure it’s this one.

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