How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.” It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance.

From the publisher:

For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.” It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love.

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl

I saw my first Blakiston’s fish owl in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia . . . No scientist had seen a Blakiston’s fish owl so far south in a hundred years . . .

From the publisher:

I saw my first Blakiston’s fish owl in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia . . . No scientist had seen a Blakiston’s fish owl so far south in a hundred years . . .

When he was just a fledgling birdwatcher, Jonathan C. Slaght had a chance encounter with one of the most mysterious birds on Earth. Bigger than any owl he knew, it looked like a small bear with decorative feathers. He snapped a quick photo and shared it with experts. Soon he was on a five-year journey, searching for this enormous, enigmatic creature in the lush, remote forests of eastern Russia. That first sighting set his calling as a scientist.

Despite a wingspan of six feet and a height of over two feet, the Blakiston’s fish owl is highly elusive. They are easiest to find in winter, when their tracks mark the snowy banks of the rivers where they feed. They are also endangered. And so, as Slaght and his devoted team set out to locate the owls, they aim to craft a conservation plan that helps ensure the species’ survival. This quest sends them on all-night monitoring missions in freezing tents, mad dashes across thawing rivers, and free-climbs up rotting trees to check nests for precious eggs. They use cutting-edge tracking technology and improvise ingenious traps. And all along, they must keep watch against a run-in with a bear or an Amur tiger. At the heart of Slaght’s story are the fish owls themselves: cunning hunters, devoted parents, singers of eerie duets, and survivors in a harsh and shrinking habitat.

Through this rare glimpse into the everyday life of a field scientist and conservationist, Owls of the Eastern Ice testifies to the determination and creativity essential to scientific advancement and serves as a powerful reminder of the beauty, strength, and vulnerability of the natural world.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson McCullers and a woman named Annemarie—letters that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language—but does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her.

From the publisher:

While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson McCullers and a woman named Annemarie—letters that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language—but does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her.

And so, Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of McCullers’s life: she wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at McCullers’s childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives McCullers’s days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and McCullers, she sees how McCullers’s story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results reveal something entirely new not only about this one remarkable, walleyed life, but about the way we tell queer love stories.

In genre-defying vignettes, Jenn Shapland interweaves her own story with Carson McCullers’s to create a vital new portrait of one of America’s most beloved writers, and shows us how the writers we love and the stories we tell about ourselves make us who we are.

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

In May 1830, the United States formally launched a policy to expel Native Americans from the East to territories west of the Mississippi River. Justified as a humanitarian enterprise, the undertaking was to be systematic and rational, overseen by Washington’s small but growing bureaucracy. But as the policy unfolded over the next decade, thousands of Native Americans died under the federal government’s auspices, and thousands of others lost their possessions and homelands in an orgy of fraud, intimidation, and violence. 

From the publisher:

In May 1830, the United States formally launched a policy to expel Native Americans from the East to territories west of the Mississippi River. Justified as a humanitarian enterprise, the undertaking was to be systematic and rational, overseen by Washington’s small but growing bureaucracy. But as the policy unfolded over the next decade, thousands of Native Americans died under the federal government’s auspices, and thousands of others lost their possessions and homelands in an orgy of fraud, intimidation, and violence. Unworthy Republic reveals how expulsion became national policy and describes the chaotic and deadly results of the operation to deport 80,000 men, women, and children.

Drawing on firsthand accounts and the voluminous records produced by the federal government, Saunt’s deeply researched book argues that Indian Removal, as advocates of the policy called it, was not an inevitable chapter in U.S. expansion across the continent. Rather, it was a fiercely contested political act designed to secure new lands for the expansion of slavery and to consolidate the power of the southern states. Indigenous peoples fought relentlessly against the policy, while many U.S. citizens insisted that it was a betrayal of the nation’s values. When Congress passed the act by a razor-thin margin, it authorized one of the first state-sponsored mass deportations in the modern era, marking a turning point for native peoples and for the United States.

In telling this gripping story, Saunt shows how the politics and economics of white supremacy lay at the heart of the expulsion of Native Americans; how corruption, greed, and administrative indifference and incompetence contributed to the debacle of its implementation; and how the consequences still resonate today.

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X—all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world.

From the publisher:

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X—all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.

The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.”

In tracing Malcolm X’s life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965, Payne provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher who was run over by a street car in Lansing, Michigan, in 1929, and his mother, Louise, who continued to instill black pride in her children after Earl’s death. Filling each chapter with resonant drama, Payne follows Malcolm’s exploits as a petty criminal in Boston and Harlem in the 1930s and early 1940s to his religious awakening and conversion to the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts penitentiary.

With a biographer’s unwavering determination, Payne corrects the historical record and delivers extraordinary revelations—from the unmasking of the mysterious NOI founder “Fard Muhammad,” who preceded Elijah Muhammad; to a hair-rising scene, conveyed in cinematic detail, of Malcolm and Minister Jeremiah X Shabazz’s 1961 clandestine meeting with the KKK; to a minute-by-minute account of Malcolm X’s murder at the Audubon Ballroom.

Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future

The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge—decades before Facebook, Google, and Cambridge Analytica. Jill Lepore, best-selling author of These Truths, came across the company’s papers in MIT’s archives and set out to tell this forgotten history, the long-lost backstory to the methods, and the arrogance, of Silicon Valley.

From the publisher:

The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge—decades before Facebook, Google, and Cambridge Analytica. Jill Lepore, best-selling author of These Truths, came across the company’s papers in MIT’s archives and set out to tell this forgotten history, the long-lost backstory to the methods, and the arrogance, of Silicon Valley.

Founded in 1959 by some of the nation’s leading social scientists—“the best and the brightest, fatally brilliant, Icaruses with wings of feathers and wax, flying to the sun”—Simulmatics proposed to predict and manipulate the future by way of the computer simulation of human behavior. In summers, with their wives and children in tow, the company’s scientists met on the beach in Long Island under a geodesic, honeycombed dome, where they built a “People Machine” that aimed to model everything from buying a dishwasher to counterinsurgency to casting a vote. Deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Washington, Cambridge, and even Saigon, Simulmatics’ clients included the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign, the New York Times, the Department of Defense, and dozens of major manufacturers: Simulmatics had a hand in everything from political races to the Vietnam War to the Johnson administration’s ill-fated attempt to predict race riots. The company’s collapse was almost as rapid as its ascent, a collapse that involved failed marriages, a suspicious death, and bankruptcy. Exposed for false claims, and even accused of war crimes, it closed its doors in 1970 and all but vanished. Until Lepore came across the records of its remains.

The scientists of Simulmatics believed they had invented “the A-bomb of the social sciences.” They did not predict that it would take decades to detonate, like a long-buried grenade. But, in the early years of the twenty-first century, that bomb did detonate, creating a world in which corporations collect data and model behavior and target messages about the most ordinary of decisions, leaving people all over the world, long before the global pandemic, crushed by feelings of helplessness. This history has a past; If Then is its cautionary tale.

The Undocumented Americans

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own.

From the publisher:

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own.

Looking beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMers, Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives of the undocumented—and the mysteries of her own life. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects.

In New York, we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the ubiquitous botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we learn of demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, Cornejo Villavicencio, childless by choice, finds family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.

In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American. Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own.

Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

The crime of rape sizzles like a lightning strike. It pounces, flattens, destroys. A person stands whole, and in a moment of unexpected violence, that life, that body is gone.

From the publisher:

The crime of rape sizzles like a lightning strike. It pounces, flattens, destroys. A person stands whole, and in a moment of unexpected violence, that life, that body is gone.

Award-winning writer and public health executive Michelle Bowdler’s memoir indicts how sexual violence has been addressed for decades in our society, asking whether rape is a crime given that it is the least reported major felony, least successfully prosecuted, and fewer than 3% of reported rapes result in conviction. Cases are closed before they are investigated and DNA evidence sits for years untested and disregarded

Rape in this country is not treated as a crime of brutal violence but as a parlor game of he said / she said. It might be laughable if it didn’t work so much of the time.

Given all this, it seems fair to ask whether rape is actually a crime.

In 1984, the Boston Sexual Assault Unit was formed as a result of a series of break-ins and rapes that terrorized the city, of which Michelle’s own horrific rape was the last. Twenty years later, after a career of working with victims like herself, Michelle decides to find out what happened to her case and why she never heard from the police again after one brief interview.

Is Rape a Crime?
 is an expert blend of memoir and cultural investigation, and Michelle’s story is a rallying cry to reclaim our power and right our world.

The Age of Phillis

In 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry that challenged Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Based on fifteen years of archival research, The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters.

From the publisher:

In 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry that challenged Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Based on fifteen years of archival research, The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters. Woven throughout are poems about Wheatley’s “age”―the era that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. For the first time in verse, Wheatley’s relationship to black people and their individual “mercies” is foregrounded, and here we see her as not simply a racial or literary symbol, but a human being who lived and loved while making her indelible mark on history.