Essays on Race, Family, and History
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
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I would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which these essays first appeared: Bookpress, for “A Love Note: A. R. Ammons as Teacher”; English Department Newsletter , for “Hungers: Reflections...
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I began writing essays when my brother, Paul, died of alcoholism in 1982. By then, I had published six books of poems and had found poetry to be a safe harbor for my enthusiasms. Before 1982, I didn’t like sentences; they tended to go awry...
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At age seventy-nine, my father has a remarkable way of remembering things. In his full-blooded narratives, he is often dutifully beating up someone who has been unfair to my mother, has threatened my sister, or has been contemptuous of someone—or something—he deems worthy of his protection. These...
The Mitchell Movement
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All of us, I imagine, recall dreadful moments from our schooling. In my case, I attended a venerable, brutal, allboys school in New York City which was—and proudly so— the oldest private school in the United States. When I was a student...
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Some years ago I decided to leave my university teaching job in upstate New York to pursue other soon-to-be discovered interests. I was tired of academia, I feared I had become stale, and I wanted to see if I had the courage—and the imagination—...
A King's Holiday: A Personal Reminiscence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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In his famous essay “Reflections on Gandhi,” George Orwell argues that “saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent,” which makes good sense to me. Rarely have I met a saint, or a would-be saint,...
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In 1977, when my mother was in her early sixties, she needed to produce her birth certificate to apply for Medicaid, a rite of passage fraught with enormous trepidation, especially for someone of my mother’s near-ecumenical disengagement: she simply..
Hungers: Reflections on Affirmative Action
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Some months ago a good student of mine, during a luncheon to celebrate his fine stories, told me angrily that he had not been accepted to Harvard because of “affirmative action...
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Although I do have a trace of the romantic about me, which, of course, is the poet’s stock-in-trade, I try not to succumb to the obvious attractions of sheer otherworldliness— that is, though I understand the obvious allure of believing in the shamanistic or the inherent integration of all things...
A Love Note: A. R. Ammons as Teacher
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I first met A. R. Ammons at the behest of a woman I was dating when I was a freshman at Cornell in 1969. As a black student from Harlem who missed the City, I had begun to write what I then considered to be poems. To be brutally...
The 13th Juror
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Life rarely confirms one’s preoccupations, but last summer, after three successful evasions of jury duty, I finally had to produce myself for jury selection. It was not in New York City—where everything teems with intrigue and humanity— but in a small town in upstate New York, with a college and a well-known...
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I have put off writing this for some time, largely because it was too painful for me to write about my parents, and largely too because I was worried that my experience—which is purely that, my experience—might cause others undue consternation...
Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2009