Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.
Aviary by Deirdre McNamer (Milkweed). In this mystery novel that tenderly explores the characters’ emotional lives, both old and young try to maintain human connection even as their lives are disrupted by corporate greed and social breakdown.
Variations on the Body by Maria Ospina (Coffee House Press). Unusually creative short stories illuminate life for women and girls in Colombia, often from a class perspective. In one story, a young woman who ran away from a group engaged in armed struggle against the Colombian government clashes with a publishing house editor who keeps trying to reshape the woman’s account of her experiences.
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (HarperCollins). In this exceptionally well-written novel, an oil boom in west Texas draws men seeking to cash in but brings trouble for working class women and girls who depend on each other for support and survival.
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti (Hub City). The Partition – the division of India by Great Britain into two countries, one majority Hindu and the other majority Muslim (Pakistan) – left psychological and cultural scars that continue to be passed on from generation to generation. One main character in this novel is a Hindu woman who at age 16 is separated by the Partition from the Muslim boy she hopes to marry. The other main character is her granddaughter who lives today in Atlanta and yearns to learn about her heritage.
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (Viking). During the Great Depression the New Deal’s Packhorse Librarians program brought books to more than 100,000 isolated rural residents in Kentucky. This novel paints portraits of some of the women who rode horseback up remote hollows to deliver books, often over the objections of local coal magnates who worried that the spread of ideas would stir up trouble.
The Ocean’s Whistleblower by David Gremillet (Greystone). A fascinating biography describes the work of Daniel Pauly, a leading marine biologist whose groundbreaking research has documented the impact of excessive commercial fishing all over the world. It also follows his personal life, beginning with a most unusual and difficult childhood as the product of a brief affair between a white French woman and a Black American soldier.
Rich Thanks to Racism by Jim Freeman (ILR Press). Racism in education, criminal justice, and immigration policy is not just a result of individual white people’s attitudes. It’s also crucial to look at the ways big corporations and billionaires use their political power to maintain racist systems they profit from.
Fulfillment by Alec MacGillis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Through case studies showing the impact of Amazon on communities, workers, people of color, the environment, small businesses, and the political process, a skilled journalist provides a valuable intersectional picture of a society falling apart under the changes huge corporations are imposing.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (One World). A young journalist traveled the country to uncover dramatic stories of what being undocumented means to immigrants who toil far from the media spotlight.
Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World). Ninety writers explore Black experiences in America in the past 400 years through powerful essays, short stories, poetry, and other writing.
What We Mean by the American Dream by Doron Taussig (ILR Press). Liberal rhetoric about “leveling the playing field” and “rewarding work” reinforces the idea that the goal of society is to make sure that who wins and who loses is decided “fairly.” This examination of “meritocracy” argues that society’s goal should instead be to make sure everyone has what they need, and that most achievement or failure is collective, not just individual.
The Cult of We by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell (Crown). Two Wall Street Journal reporters look at greed at the upper reaches of capitalism today by recounting the story of WeWork, a commercial real estate company that had Wall Street dreaming of making huge profits until it crashed, leaving thousands unemployed while the founder walked away with enormous wealth.
Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum (Public Affairs). Written in the lively style of a columnist with an eye for memorable anecdotes, this is the story of Mexican American families who were displaced to build Dodger Stadium, the economic and political power structure that made that happen, and an activist who had hoped to build a public housing community on that land instead.
Drums in the Distance by Joe Mulhall ((Icon). A British researcher shares results of a decade spent investigating and at times infiltrating far right groups in the U.S., Europe, India, Brazil, and elsewhere. His report shows that the problem extends far beyond any single country or politician.
Girls Who Build by Katie Hughes (Black Dog & Leventhal). Interviews and photographs of 45 girls who use power tools for making things are combined with suggestions for 13 do-it-herself building projects and other tips.
The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble (Old Barn). When environmental apocalypse hits Australia, a young girl and her brother take their dogs on a harrowing journey in search of food and safety.
There’s No Base Like Home by Jessica Mendoza and Alana Mendoza Dusan (TU Books). Two sisters who were accomplished softball players themselves draw on their own experiences for this story about a Mexican-American girl in sixth grade who faces challenges in becoming a ballplayer and dealing with team dynamics and middle school.
Reservation Dogs. An irreverent 8-part TV series created by an all-indigenous team focuses on four indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma.
Summer of Soul. In the summer of 1969 (the same summer as Woodstock and rebellion in many urban Black communities), the six-week Harlem Cultural Festival featured outdoor performances by many of the most famous Black performers. This documentary combines footage of some of those performances with evocative interviews with attendees conducted at the time and more recently.
The Surrogate. A web designer for a nonprofit happily agrees to carry a baby for her best friend and his husband. But three months into the pregnancy, the results of a pre-natal test force the three of them to examine their values and their relationship.
Guie'dani's Navel. A Zapotec single mother leaves her small village to work as a live-in housekeeper for an upwardly mobile family in Mexico City, bringing her teenage daughter with her. While the woman does her best to please the family, her daughter rebels against the exploitation and indignities imposed on them.
Of Mind and Music. The lives of a Latinx Alzheimer's researcher and a Black street singer in New Orleans become intertwined as he tries to help her and her family recognize and cope with her condition.
My Wonderful Wanda. A poor woman from Poland takes a job in Switzerland providing care for the ailing patriarch of a wealthy, dysfunctional family to earn money she needs to provide for her own children back home. An unexpected turn of events challenges all concerned.
The Horses and the Hounds by James McMurtry. McMurtry knows how to tell a story in song, whether it’s about a rekindled old love or America’s recent wars or just a bad day made worse by not being able to find his glasses.
Family Reunion by Della Mae. We can’t go back, sings this all-women string band, to “The Way It Was Before.”
Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (Milkweed). While telling an engrossing story focused on one Dakota woman, this novel shows how traditions, resilience, and trauma are passed from one generation to the next. It takes place against a background of the crisis of Midwestern family farms faced with environmental destruction and the power of multinational corporations like Monsanto.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (Katherine Tegens Books). A skillfully written novel for middle grade readers is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl who is inspired by the Innocence Project to investigate whether her father really committed the murder that resulted in his long imprisonment.
No-Signal Area by Robert Perisic (Seven Stories). Part satire, part commentary, this complex novel is set in a small Eastern European town where factory workers impacted by war and the fall of communism still hold dreams of self-management and a better future than what raw capitalism offers.
Surfacing from Vietnam by Paul Kirk Haeder (Cirque). Reading these 14 pieces of fiction is like mainlining emotion as a wide range of characters careen through life in the U.S. after the trauma of the war in Vietnam.
Neverhome by Laird Hunt (Little Brown). During the Civil War, there were women who disguised themselves as men to join the army. This highly original novel tells the story of one such woman, and in the process presents a different picture of war than is found in many history books.
Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat by Ruth Milkman (Polity). The decline in quality of life for workers orchestrated by billionaires and big corporations is the cause of increased immigration, not the result of it. An insightful researcher takes a close look at today’s “brown collar” jobs, growing inequality in the service sector, and recent efforts by immigrant workers to organize.
Civil Resistance by Erica Chenoweth (Oxford). A leading analyst of civil resistance campaigns around the world uses a question and answer format to explain what civil resistance is, why it succeeds or fails, how it is affected by the use of violence, and many other issues that movements for progressive change have debated for many years.
Teacher Unions and Social Justice edited by Michael Charney, Jesse Hagopian, and Bob Peterson (Rethinking Schools). Across the country, more teachers are transforming their unions to organize not only for pay and benefits but also to address racial equity, the school-to-prison pipeline, climate change, privatization, student debt, fair taxation, and other issues that affect education quality, families, and communities. Like other Rethinking Schools publications, this useful book is packed with real-life examples and concrete how-to material.
Above the Law by Ben Cohen (OR Books). 16 short case studies show how “qualified immunity” laws shield police from accountability.
Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe (Bold Type). Today’s capitalism tells working people that they should find fulfillment in an economy with “gigs”, “flexibility,” and service work in the caring professions, nonprofits, and the retail sector. But unless they organize, workers are actually getting lower pay, less security, longer hours, and more stress.
Burglar for Peace by Ted Glick (PM Press). Glick was an active member of a Catholic Left group that emerged in the late 1960s to engage in direct action against the U.S. war in Vietnam, including breaking into the offices of draft boards, the FBI, and war-profiteering corporations to destroy or liberate files. He describes how his activism led to 11 months of imprisonment, during which time his eyes were opened to race and class issues. His memoir draws heavily on diaries, testimony, letters, and other documents that show what he and other movement activists did and thought at the time. Now active in the climate action movement, he concludes with some lessons learned in hindsight.
Canyon Dreams by Michael Powell (Penguin Random House). A New York Times reporter spent time following a season of the boys’ basketball team at Chinle High School in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He combines their individual stories with a broader look at the impact of colonization.
The Wealth Hoarders by Chuck Collins (Polity). A researcher who as a young man gave away his inherited wealth explains how billionaire family dynasties maintain economic and political power and avoid paying taxes on trillions in hidden fortunes through shell companies, trusts, and other schemes.
Greening Affordable Housing by Walker Wells and Kimberly Vermeer (Island). Case studies illustrate principles for creating affordable housing that take into account climate change, social cohesion, and community health and resilience.
The Way to Gaamaak Cove by Doug Pope (Cirque). An Alaskan writer and outdoorsman recounts stories of his family’s adventures in the backcountry, often involving bears, harsh weather, his own miscalculations, and his wife’s resilience.
Beans. A Mohawk filmmaker made this dramatic coming-of-age feature film based on her own experiences as a 12-year-old girl when powerful interests sought to build a golf course on a sacred burial ground and used the Canadian Army against her family and others who engaged in civil disobedience to stop it.
Diggers. In a rare feature film that tells a realistic story of working class characters, families that have made their living as clam harvesters on Long Island for generations are confronted by wealthy corporate interests that are buying up the rights to the locals’ traditional waters.
Vanaja. A poor teenaged girl in India is taken in as a servant by a wealthy matron who helps her pursue her dream of becoming an accomplished traditional dancer. The story takes a turn, however, when the matron’s 23-year-old son returns from America to run for political office.
Supernova. Two men, played by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, have been partners for 20 years. Now, one has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and will soon not recognize the other. What will they do?
Night Catches Us. An ex-Black Panther returns home to Philadelphia, years after he left under a cloud of community suspicion that he collaborated with police in the death of another party leader. What happened, we learn, was not that simple.
Aquarius. A Brazilian grandmother has made her home for years in a beautiful old apartment building. Profit-hungry developers are ready to tear down a beautiful old Brazilian apartment building and replace it with luxury housing as soon as all the tenants have vacated. The last holdout, against the advice of her family, is a grandmother who has made her home there for years. As the conflict heats up, both sides play hardball.
Into the Ground by Beth Whitney. A lyrical and melodic album by a roots singer-songwriter from Washington State.
Devil in the Hills by Mary Hott. Drawing on oral history accounts by former coal camp residents in West Virginia about exploitation, sexual assault, and anti-union violence, a 7th generation resident of the state wrote story songs about the region’s often ignored history.
Partly on Time by Kinloch Nelson (Tompkins Square). Soothing guitar instrumentals with titles like Kittens, Company Leaves,, and Partly on Time.
This photo and text were published by New Verse News on Dec. 16, 2020:
By Matt Witt
It used to be
that if you walked along Bear Creek
that runs next to town
you could see the stream
only in a few moments
because the view was blocked
by brambles of highly flammable blackberries
and tangles of branches.
Then this summer’s inferno
burned everything to ash,
clearing out the old understory
and leaving only a sprinkling of
charred tree trunks,
like ghosts from the past.
Now you can walk freely
across cleared black ground
and see how the stream community works,
the side creeks feeding it,
the ducks and coots and geese
finding food and
shelter from predators.
It used to be
that if you walked through town
you could see the money stream
only in a few moments
because the view was blocked
by fairy tales about
rugged individuals and
the generosity of the rich
without ever asking
who all that wealth was
Then the fire burned everything to ash,
leaving those who could least afford it
to scramble for survival
while developers and bankers met
to discuss how they might profit
by grabbing up the close-in valuable land
and moving “their” workers,
many with brown skin,
to the valley’s outskirts,
all in the name of charity.
Now you can see
how money and power flow
from bottom to top
filling giant pools for a few
with not much left to trickle down.
Along Bear Creek,
just weeks after the fire,
small sprouts of green
bring the possibility of
a new community
better than the old
with each plant and bird and animal
doing its part.
new sprouts of community
are taking root too
as people work together
to make sure everyone has
food and shelter and hope
and to ask what we can do
so what grows back
will be better for all of us,
now that we can see.
Powerful poetry by eight women is contained in the latest edition of Radar, an online poetry journal that publishes a photograph or other image with each poem.
I'm lucky enough to have six of my photographs published along side poems by Amy Miller.
If you haven't seen RadarPoetry.com before, check it out.
The Executioner's Face
By Matt Witt
We load the car --
two sets of clothes and
a lifetime of memories --
as skyscraper flames are destroying
hundreds of homes of
friends and neighbors
a mile away.
Did they get out in time?
And then what?
We hit the back roads,
searching for safety,
with Bob Dylan howling through car speakers:
"The soles of my feet,
I swear they're burning."
Decades of reports said
this was coming
without climate action.
"More frequent and more intense fires."
"Urgent transition needed to solar."
"Rapid investment in energy efficiency."
We can already picture
the photos the media will feed us
of some scraggly guy with stringy hair
who may have dropped a match --
with headlines: “What caused the fire?”
There will be no photos of
whose puppets for years said
let's double down on what got us here
or who gave us half measures
and asked for applause.
We drive through the smoke,
and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:
"The executioner's face,” he wails,
“is always well hidden."