The Afterlife of a Memoir

Aminatta Forna

Briton Rivière: Daniel in the Lions' Den, 1872

The writer of a memoir must necessarily reveal a great deal about herself or himself, and often about other people, too. You sacrifice your own privacy, and you sacrifice the privacy of others to whom you may have given no choice. To be the author of a memoir is also to become a confessional for other people. All over the world, people tell me their stories. Sometimes, sharing their stories with me is all they want, and it is enough. Sometimes, they want a wider recognition for their stories. To them, I say this: write, but only if you are sure you want to live with the consequences every day for the rest of your life.

Year One: When Black Women Lead

Steven W. Thrasher

Clockwise from the top left: director Ava DuVernay, 2017; California Representative Maxine Waters, 2017; performer Solange, 2017; Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, 2015; writer and professor Jesmyn Ward, 2014; writer and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, 2015

It was in 1991—the year legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality”—that Anita Hill came forward with sexual harassment allegations against a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. If Hill had been believed, it could have sunk his appointment. But such claims from a black woman were not taken seriously. Believing Hill decades ago could have changed access to the ballot and who occupies the White House. Americans should have listened to a black woman then. They should listen to black women now.

The Bells of Balangiga

J.p. Lawrence

US soldiers who survived a surprise attack during the Philippine-American war posing with one of the bells of Balangiga, Philippines, 1901-1909

To commemorate the forty-eight men they lost in the battle of 1901—or perhaps to avenge them—American troops brought the three bells of Balangiga home from the Philippines with them. When President Donald Trump travels to Asia this November, he will meet with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who recently called for the return of the bells. At the heart of the dispute is the question of how we ought to remember a little-known, inglorious war in which American and Filipino troops alike committed acts of valor and war crimes.

Hugh Edwards: Curator, Mentor, Friend

Danny Lyon

By the spring of 1962, when I met him, Hugh Edwards had been responsible for more than twenty exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, including a selection by Edward Weston and a survey of Alexander Gardner’s Civil War pictures. On a visit to the museum after we had met, he said to me, “Go downstairs and see that show.” It was Robert Frank’s first solo exhibit.

Year One: The Mad King

Charles J. Sykes

An illustration showing knights pledging their allegiance to Charlemagne from a Venetian codex, fourteenth century

“We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” said Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona). But the reality is that the GOP has, in fact, accepted the Trump New Normal. Even though other Republicans shared Flake’s views, few were willing to speak out, and the GOP’s surrender seems complete. Less than a year into his presidency, we hear the same question again and again: What will it take for Republicans to break with their Mad King?

Persia’s Hybrid Art

Robyn Creswell

“Technologies of the Image,” now at the Harvard Art Museums, is fascinated by precisely the thing that repelled many Europeans about art of the Qajar period (1779-1925)—its hybrid aesthetic, a combination of “native styles” with European sources and technology. The curators are especially interested in what they call “remediation,” that is, images made in one medium subsequently emulated in another: a painting that incorporates a photographic model, for example, or a lithograph based on a sculpture. The longer one studies them, the more absorbing they become.

Soap and South Africa’s ‘Fatal Intimacy’

Panashe Chigumadzi

Soap has been at the center of some of the most visceral private and public expressions of racism in South Africa. For all the “apart-ness” that the government tried to enforce through both “grand apartheid” and “petty apartheid,” which worked to control the public interaction between black and white bodies in public toilets, benches, trains, buses, swimming pools, and other facilities, a contradictory intimacy developed in everyday private interactions as black people still labored, and even lived, in the workplaces, kitchens, nurseries, bedrooms, and bathrooms of white South Africans. The uses—and alleged non-uses—of this ordinary household item are thus entwined in the country’s history.

Year One: Resistance Research

Judith Shulevitz

People attending a bilingual healthcare town hall, Phoenix, Arizona, July 5, 2017

Probably the greatest misconception about the resistance is that it’s a youth movement. By an overwhelming majority, the leaders of the groups are middle-aged women—middle-aged white women, to be exact. A great many of them have never been involved in electoral politics before. Many never even went to a protest before they got on a bus to the Women’s March back in January. “The Democratic Party is really good at misreading energy on the ground,” says L.A. Kauffman, the author of Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. I’m afraid that consultants will swoop in, vacuum up phone and email lists, import kids from Brooklyn to get out the vote, then vanish again. If people newly roused to political action are going to stay roused, then the Democratic Party had better pay attention and follow their lead.

Ricketts to Reporters: Drop Dead

Michael Greenberg

Former DNAinfo reporter Ben Fractenberg speaking at a rally at City Hall Park hosted by the Writers Guild of America to support the journalists and other staff members who lost their jobs after they voted to form a union, New York City, November 6, 2017

Was the shutdown of the online news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist purely an act of spite? Ricketts’s acquisition of Gothamist in March suggests that he had been determined to make the business work. He seemed willing to continue to try to “crack the code” of profitability at DNAinfo only if his reporters had no bargaining power. News organizations’ only recourse at present is to hope that Congress may enact antitrust legislation that takes into account the monopolistic evolution of the Internet.

Year One: It’s Up to Us

David Cole

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017

In a weak democracy, an authoritarian leader like Trump could do widespread and lasting damage. Such leaders often control the legislature, are immune from court oversight, and suppress civil society institutions. But our hallowed traditions of judicial independence, civil liberties, and a robust political culture have—thus far, at least—held Trump in check to an important degree. The courts cannot stand up to President Trump alone, however, and it would be a great mistake to think they could. In the end, the most important guardian of liberty is an engaged citizenry.