Red Hen Recommends, Author Edition: Mask. Social distance. No party.
Yu-Han Chao, author of Sex & Taipei City
I’m a Red Hen author and a hospital nurse who also does some contact tracing for public health. I won’t pretend to be an expert or try to tell you what to do with your life, but if you care about the future of the human race, please help us.
Yes, you–Dear Reader–can personally save the world.
All you have to do is stay at home as much as possible, wear a mask when you leave your home, maintain a 6 feet distance from other people if you can, and not host or attend that upcoming 4th of July block party in your neighborhood.
I would rather not see you and your loved ones in a rubber-banded stack of “4th of July party outbreak” positive case files and have to call all of you about isolation or quarantine, and worry when someone cannot answer the phone because they are already in a hospital. I would love to support you in the hospital if you need medical attention for any number of health matters (please do come in if you need help), but would rather not see you or any of your loved ones come in with difficulty breathing and end up having to be transferred to the ICU and placed on a breathing machine, especially if it is preventable. And it is preventable. Not 100% preventable, but preventable in the way that if you skip that party or wear a mask consistently, you might save someone’s grandma or baby or mother, father, sister, or cousin, through the butterfly effect. We could discuss the R number or exponential algorithms on a graph, but I think most of us understand the subtlety of the butterfly effect better. One small action by you can change the fate of the universe.
You can do this. You can change the world. Mask. Social distance. No party.
Feel free to check out my story collection, too, which has nothing to do with health topics or the rona. Your act of purchasing any Red Hen book will have the butterfly effect of supporting Red Hen’s amazing staff and diverse authors, and hopefully help us all stay in print for another year (and what a year it has been)!
Author of Sex & Taipei City
Matty Layne Glasgow, author of deciduous qween
I spent the first weekend of February driving through the Midwest for a couple of readings with one of my mentors, Deb Marquart, and her two floppy-eared pups. At our last stop in Madison, Deb bestowed upon me Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Donna Haraway’s most recent book on reconfiguring our relationship with the Earth and all its inhabitants. In short, Haraway abandons the hip, human-centric term of our era—the Anthropocene—for a vision grounded in multiplicity known as the Chthulucene. A process integral to the Chthulucene is sym-poiesis, or making-with, because, as Haraway explains, “Nothing makes itself.”
Perhaps nothing renders the interconnectivity of our world and our time, of the Chthulucene itself, in starker relief than a pandemic—both in how a virus spreads and what we lose when we isolate ourselves physically from one another and the outside world. The current pandemic is certainly among the many crises we face in our epoch, in addition to multispecies extinctions, genocides, and exterminations, which Haraway describes as urgencies. She prefers the term urgency to emergency because it avoids the implication of apocalypse and all its mythologies. Still, we live in an epoch of urgency, and these crises alter the way we experience time itself.
Since reading Miller Oberman’s The Unstill Ones last fall—an exquisite poetry collection that explores queer temporality and translation—I’ve grown increasingly interested in and fascinated by the queering of time and space. Perhaps this interest in alternative understandings and experiences of time and space is what makes Haraway’s work so fascinating for me these days. Haraway writes “Urgencies have other temporalities, and these times are ours. These are the times we must think; these are the times of urgencies that need stories.” For Haraway, these are stories of trees and symbioses, of diners and restaurateurs alike. For today, I’ll add poems and poets to the list, too.
I feel the urgency of our epoch in so much fine queer poetry today. In recent months I’ve turned to poets who inspire me through their rendering of queer temporalities, environments, and histories. Their respective collections embrace racial justice, queer ecology, multiplicity, desire, and an interconnectivity inherent to making-with:
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Red Channel in the Rupture by Amber Flora Thomas
Next up on my reading list are Roy Guzmán’s debut Catrachos and Eduardo Corral’s forthcoming Guillotine.
Wishing y’all a queerly joyous Pride. Stay with the trouble. Make kin. And remember, the first Pride was a protest. If we can imagine a system that is not grounded in white supremacy and toxic masculinity, we can make it—together.
June 19 – Juneteenth
Douglas Manuel, author of Testify
As we wait for justice for Rayshard Brooks, as we wait for justice for Tony McDade, as we wait for justice for George Floyd, as we wait for justice for Breonna Taylor, as we wait for justice for Ahmaud Arbery, as we wait for justice for all those slain since 1619, (The list is a long scroll that I’d like to unfurl across the country from sea to shining sea.) as we wait for more funding for BIPOC communities instead of more funding for the police departments, as we wait for white folks to recognize our humanity or at least not kill us so casually with hands in their pockets or by shooting us in the back, I am thinking about all those slaves in Texas working the land, longing for freedom, and only thinking it would come in an afterlife. So much of our history here in this country is about waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. But that’s not the whole story. We’ve been resisting. We’ve been revolting. We’ve been raging. We’ve been yelling. We’ve been demanding. We’ve been punching power with the truth. We’ve been marching. We’ve been in these streets since Crispus Attucks. We have survived.
So this Juneteenth, as I wear red, eat barbecue, watermelon, and red velvet cake, and sip my red pop, I will revisit Ralph Ellison’s novel and know that we will never have to wait for some white man to tell us that we’re free again. This Juneteenth, I will remember those slaves who were working, not waiting, and do some work myself to ensure that we not only survive but also thrive. And I kindly demand that you do the same.
Cai Emmons, Author of Weather Woman
This is an anguishing watershed moment in our nation’s history. It’s almost impossible to find someone who isn’t angry right now—and for justifiable reasons: intransigent racism, widespread injustice, economic inequality, climate devastation, along with a wannabe autocrat at the helm who fuels hatred. And, of course, the threat of a deadly virus that might not be mitigated with a treatment or vaccine for years.
I wish I could deliver some wise and hopeful maxims about how our country will emerge from this tumultuous period for the better, but it’s much too early for me to make predictions or draw conclusions. Besides, that is not the purview of a fiction writer; I will leave such soothsaying to the journalists. I can only say that all these overlapping crises are certainly linked.
This challenging time has taken a toll on our attention. Even before the last couple of weeks of police brutality and protests, many people I know were having a difficult time writing and reading.
Like many fiction writers, most of my waking hours are spent alone, holed up in my study, working and reworking sentences to build stories, so when the pandemic hit, I did not regard the shelter-in-place order as a crucible, but rather as an unexpected gift. A new book of mine came out in early March, just when the stay-at-home orders were coming down. All my bookstore readings were canceled along with the book festivals and conferences I was scheduled to attend. Social obligations fell away too. I was free to do nothing but write. In the first few weeks I was euphoric as I finished a draft of a new novel without being called upon to do much else.
But as time passed, and one month turned into two and then three, things changed. I began to understand that my stories require more than the machinations of my solitary brain. They require forays into the “real world” where I interact with other human beings. During those experiences, however brief, I am stimulated, and my perspective widens, and I return home bearing tidbits of what I’ve seen and heard like a bird bearing twigs and grass for a nest. Those gathered bits are stashed away to become elements of my future fiction.
Seeking new sources of stimulation, I’ve found it, naturally, between the covers of books. I am always reading, but during the pandemic I’ve been wanting more from what I read. More stimulation, more escape, more exposure to minds different from mine. My reading habits have changed. I’ve been abandoning the books that don’t speak to me rather than dutifully reading them to the end. I’ve also found myself reading more than one book at a time, switching back and forth as my mood and attention shifts. In my pre-pandemic life, I occasionally read two books at a time, but I am currently immersed in five (5!) books. Each of them addresses a different aspect of what I’m missing in confinement. Two of the five books are nonfiction, an anomaly for me, whose reading diet is usually 95% fiction.
Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station—which I picked up after loving The Topeka School—is a short novel, his first. About a poet on a fellowship in Spain, the novel addresses the anxiety and awkwardness of being human and trying to find an authentic identity. I love Lerner’s penchant for analyzing all possible interpretations of social interactions and his characters’ insatiable drive to understand what’s going on inside other people’s heads. Being inside Lerner’s smart and anxiety-ridden brain makes me feel a little less anxiety-ridden myself.
Cathleen Schine’s novel The Grammarians, has been another perfect book for removing me from day-to-day pandemic and demise-of-democracy angst. She writes about twins who become obsessed with language with a sly humor and witty dialogue that goes right to my funny bone. As a lover of language myself—what writer isn’t?—I attached to these precocious girls, Laurel and Daphne, immediately.
Mary Beth Keane’s newest novel Ask Again, Yes transports the reader to 1970s New York City where the story follows the lives of two cops and the high drama that divides and enmeshes their families. It is an immersive, page-turner of a book and has helped me step out of today’s turmoil into the more comforting turmoil of other people’s lives.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness is written by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher who specializes in the history and philosophy of science and has spent many hours deep-sea diving, studying the uncanny behavior of octopuses and their startling intelligence. The book is calling into question many of my previous assumptions about what being sentient means.
Another—scarier—foray into thinking about brains is Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. This is the least escapist book of the five, full of shocking research and statistics about how cruising the internet on a regular basis is robbing us of the ability to do sustained reading, to think deeply, even to remember. Each time I return to this book I must brace myself to face things a writer least likes to hear about how people are not only reading far less than they used to (on the average of sixteen minutes per day, dramatically less if you exclude old people), but they are also losing their ability to focus on and absorb texts.
Despite that bleak perspective I continue to read and write, hoping my work not only tells engaging stories, but also poses questions about how all of us can bring our talents to bear in improving the world.
Next on my reading list are three books about racism in America: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, A More Perfect Reunion, by Calvin Baker, and How to be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.
I hope you all continue to read too, even in the midst of our national turmoil.