Book Review: “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race” by Jesmyn Ward

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By Miciah Bennett @miciahbennett

The Fire This Time is a diverse collection of essays and poems about the current black American experience. Inspired by beloved author James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, the editor, National Book Award Winner, Jesmyn Ward gathered today’s most visible black authors to talk about the black body in America in three parts: Legacy (the past), Reckoning (the present), and Jubilee (the future).

We can’t talk about the present or the future without acknowledging the past: the mythological origin story of America. The essays in Legacy were intriguing in a historical and anthropological way, but the most memorable and relatable essays are found in section two and three.

In the introduction, Ward said she was pregnant and working on Men We Reaped, a book about the violent deaths of five young black men she loved when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. She addresses the myth of young black males being violent, undisciplined, gangsters and shares her own experience with racism via a school trip to see former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.

The Trayvon Martin case is particularly important to me, as I remember writing a hasty article as a young, naive, journalist about how it could have been a wrong time, wrong place situation before the facts were revealed. That case matured me as a woman, as a writer and as a black human being in America. I understood oppression, slavery, and institutional racism, but I was not prepared for racially motivated murder in my 2012 America. Trayvon Martin, who the book is dedicated to, was my wake-up call. He is the ghost that will always remind me that I am black, visible and invisible. read more

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