Books

Essential Anthologies: Poetry, Essays, and Letters in the Age of Trump

Sad. Huge. Sick. Bigly. Unproud. Covfefe. Despite the fact that President Trump handles the English language like a three-year-old wearing frozen mittens, his words, both spoken and tweeted, have proved alarmingly successful tools of bullying, misdirection, and blame-shifting, enabling him to shape reality into an alternate version in which he is infallible and his critics are – another favorite – pathetic. As a literary critic wrote in The Guardian recently, Trump has used (or abused) the English language to “undermine the notion of objective truth more successfully than most novelists can dream of doing.”

What can you do when your enemy uses your weapon against you? Starting a few years ago, writers around the world began publishing essays, speeches, stories, and even, in a few prescient cases, novels warning of what awaited us were Trump to be elected. He was, and the weeks that followed were marked by reaction pieces by those same writers and others, many of them simply asking, what the hell just happened? Some two hundred-odd days later, Trump remains in office, and writers keep fighting his regime with the most powerful weapon at their disposal, trusting, or hoping, in its essential efficacy.

The fact that writers keep writing, keep putting their faith in words to accurately describe reality, keep believing that there are still readers out there who will be moved, possibly even changed, by what they’ve written, is in some sense the most audacious act of protest against this singularly linguistically hostile president. So many writers are feeling moved to record and resist not just Trump’s abuses of Americans’ civil liberties but his more basic lack of respect for human decency and civilized discourse, that we are now seeing several anthologies of writers responding to the Trump regime.

  • The cover of the book Tales of Two Americas

    Tales of Two Americas

    Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation

    Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freeman, examines the growing economic and class divide in our country through lenses fictional, factual, and poetic. Thirty-six writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Edwidge Danticat, and Karen Russell contribute pieces set in Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and other divided regions of our increasingly conflicted country.

     
  • The cover of the book Flying Lessons & Other Stories

    Flying Lessons & Other Stories

    Flying Lessons, edited by Ellen Oh, one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books, takes a similar approach, but aimed towards a younger audience. These ten stories take on topics common to middle-schoolers – family drama, broken hearts, growing pains – but told by voices less commonly read in the traditional canon. Young readers may not realize it, but the collection is an implicit critique of Trump’s xenophobia, and an eloquent argument for the importance of immigrant voices and stories.

     
  • The cover of the book Radical Hope

    Radical Hope

    Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times

    In Radical Hope, editor Carolina deRobertis collects letters from writers, poets, novelists, and activists, encouraging readers not to lose faith in the face of these troubling political times. The writers, including Junot Diaz, Lisa See, and Jane Smiley, pen their missives to specific readers – a grandchild, a stranger, a friend – but their message is to everyone.

     
  • The cover of the book WHAT WE DO NOW

    WHAT WE DO NOW

    Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America

    Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians take a more straightforward, pragmatic approach in their collection What Do We Do Now, a book whose subtitle, Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America, clearly states its activist agenda. Writers and activists including Dave Eggers, Gloria Steinem, and George Saunders offer suggestions for how to actively and effectively resist Trump.

     
  • The cover of the book Policing the Black Man

    Policing the Black Man

    Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment

    One of the most visible groups fighting the Trump regime so far has been Black Lives Matter, and in the collection Policing the Black Man, Angela Davis brings together a series of essays by criminal justice experts and legal scholars about the ways the justice system has failed black men, and how the movement is responding to our country’s failure to protect its citizens.

     
  • The cover of the book How Lovely the Ruins

    How Lovely the Ruins

    Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times

    Finally, How Lovely the Ruins, the least overtly political collection on the list, provides poems and essays intended to inspire and provide solace during these difficult times. The introduction is by poet Elizabeth Alexander, who read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at the inauguration of Barak Obama.

    At very least, these books can remind us that there was a time, not that many years ago, when our leader respected language, and give us hope that many people still believe in the power of words to shape our lives, and our future, for the better.