As I get older, and the world gets worse, or gets differently bad, or stays the same but my understanding of its badness deepens and broadens, I grow ever more dependent upon books like Akwugo Emejulu’s Fugitive Feminism. This short, sharp text reminds readers that, like the rattling door in a haunted house or the concerned face of a friend who understands well the way a lover is slowly bringing about your annihilation, it is good to leave that which does not serve you. Fleeing, as in the case of the enslaved from the plantation, is no act of cowardice but a tremendous gesture toward liberation.
The flight Emejulu encourages is not from a place but from a conceptual space. Referencing the work of Black critical theorists like Sylvia Wynter, Fugitive Feminism troubles the notion of the “human,” arguing that it is not a neutral, objective term for one type of mammal but a philosophical and political category informed by colonialism that, from its invention, excluded Blackness and Black people. For years, many have fought (to no avail) to be, for once, called and acted upon as humans, but for Emejulu, there is nothing to be reclaimed in that cursed white supremacist taxonomy. When we stop seeking inclusion into a category built on genocide and eugenics, there is freedom to explore other ways of being, seeing, and doing.
Emejulu’s writing is clear, evocative, and concise, and while readers with no background in the subject material may find places where they need to spend more time, Fugitive Feminism is an extraordinarily accessible text that will touch many of those left behind by society without sacrificing complexity and critical rigor.
—Rivers Solomon, author of “This Is Everything There Will Ever Be”
A few Januaries ago, I spent a week in Sheringham, a coastal town in Norfolk, England. The friend who’d invited me said that in the summer, the town swells by thousands as pleasure-seekers descend. In the winter, it is cold, rainy, pleasantly desolate. Perfect for writing, which is what we were there for. I’d decided to use the time to write a short story, something I hadn’t done since childhood.
When I don’t know how to do something, I research, so I’d been reading many short stories, new and not so new, by Emma Cline, Shirley Hazzard, Gina Berriault, Deborah Eisenberg, Lucia Berlin, Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen, and Yiyun Li. For that week, I brought with me Sylvia Townsend Warner’s selected stories. On the train from London, I read “Oxenhope,” first published in 1966. I’d read it before and liked it. This time it settled on me like an atmosphere. As did Sheringham, when I arrived, with its crash of waves against the seawall on nighttime walks, its empty arcades, and its signs advertising candy floss. Before we arrived, a cliff had crumbled into the sea, taking with it a holiday cottage. (We had to imagine the collapse; we could see only land’s unspectacular absence.)
In “Oxenhope,” a sixty-four-year-old man named William returns to the rural Scottish village where he spent a transformative month at seventeen, when, overstudied and exhausted, he’d suffered what he calls a “brain-mauling.” He’d been on a disastrous walking tour when a family of farmers saved him from a storm and insisted he stay. The dailiness of Oxenhope restored him. After departing, he’d undertaken the life he was supposed to have: university, good career, marriage, et cetera. Decades later, though, he feels “like a castaway on the remainder of what life was left to him.” So he returns to Oxenhope. Townsend Warner captures the intricacies of coming back to a place that once changed you, carrying with you all the changes that have happened since. Such a return forces the resisted, unavoidable concession “that the past was draining away out of the present, that Oxenhope, lovely as ever, was irrecoverable … He had grasped at the substance, and the lovely shadow was lost.” As he leaves Oxenhope for the second time, the past unexpectedly comes charging into the present: a young boy shares a bit of local lore, not knowing that the tale features the teenage William. Being a story, having “tenancy in legend,” consoles him. Narrative redeems the fact that the past is uninhabitable.
The story I wrote that week in Sheringham—which appears in the Review‘s Spring issue—does not resemble “Oxenhope,” except, perhaps, in its attention to what is said and what it’s possible to say, and to the force that narrative exerts on the future, not just on the past.
—Elisa Gonzalez, author of “Sanctuary”
Recently I watched Klostės (Folds/Pleats), a black-and-white stop-motion art film directed by the Irish artist Aideen Barry and based on the stories and myths of Kaunas, Lithuania. The film brings together hundreds of local writers, dancers, musicians, and artists in an ambitious collaboration that explores the histories of the city and its interwar architecture. Barry, influenced by her early exposure to Russian, Czech, and Lithuanian stop-motion film on eighties Irish television, revels in the surreal. From the opening shot, a kaleidoscope of abstract, origamiesque pleats of black paper, the film masterfully folds stories upon stories into a dizzying, nonverbal world where colorful characters and the architecture of the city collide. A woman walks into a restaurant; shortly after she orders from the menu, a cake assembles itself in the shape of a building, right by her table. From there we are swept into the magic of Kaunas. In Klostės, Barry suggests that we can reimagine a postcapitalist world, and the citizen as artist in it.
—Elaine Feeney, author of “Same, Same”