Summer Reading Recs from Detroit Mercy English

Each summer, the Detroit Mercy English Department offers reading recommendations for the season of rest and relaxation. We hope you find time to curl up, stretch out, and read a whole stack of good books. Leave your own recs in the comments!

Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS

Stephen Pasqualina, Assistant Professor

“An equal parts experimental and political poetry collection written as a direct response to the “Apology to Native Peoples” in the 2010 U.S. defense appropriations bill. In her response, Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota poet, appropriates and reimagines the language of the federal government’s apology for its ‘long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies … regarding Indian tribes.'”

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

Liz Lulis, Adjunct Faculty

“Lahiri details the trials of understanding who we are against our backgrounds, our experiences, our parents, and our childhoods.  A family from Calcutta migrate to America and try to find the balance in shaping their home and children to be both Indian and American.  Their son Gogol searches for answers he thinks will change the trajectory of his life, or at bare minimum, find contentment.”

The short stories of Carol Emshwiller, especially “Pelt.” 

Stacy Gnall, Poet-in-Residence and Adjunct Faculty

“Emshwiller’s work is lyrical, “avant garde,” feminist sci-fi from the mid-twentieth century. A newer discovery for me, she belongs more solidly in the canon.”

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair

“This novel follows the crossing paths of two children in WWII Occupied France–Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German boy. It is beautifully written and haunting. I read it several years ago on a trip through southern Europe, so it transports me, doubly, through time and space.”

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

Nick Rombes, Professor

“The story of Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF) hired to be friends with an ailing girl. But this is Ishiguro, and so it’s about so much more than that! The book’s meanings unfold gradually and culminate in a remarkable ending.”

John Williams’ Stoner

Heather Hill, Professor

“This novel is so beautifully written. It is focused with precision, depth, and understated passion on its main character, William Stoner. At first, Stoner seems like an American success story – overcoming a very poor background to become a college professor. Yet, as his life proceeds, the novel becomes a deeply moving study of the painful progression of how we define success–perhaps especially in American culture. It is an amazing, deeply moving book.”

The poetry of Tina Chang

Stacy Gnall, Poet-in-Residence and Adjunct Faculty

“Especially check out her poem “Lion” which appeared as a March 2022 Poem-a-Day on the Academy of American Poets website. I wish that I had written this piece myself, which I’ve always considered the highest praise.”

Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life

Erin Bell, Adjunct Faculty and Assistant Director for Educational Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

“This beautifully-written novel explores how the small moments in our lives can lead to an infinite number of possibilities. Atkinson’s protagonist, Ursula Todd dies and is reborn again (and again) as major 20the century events unfold around her.”

Richard Powers’s The Overstory

Lauren Rinke, Adjunct Faculty and Director of the Writing Center

“A beautiful tribute to nature and the magic of trees! This novel features several multi-generational timelines woven together… a story about listening to our inner voice, appreciating the natural world, and joining forces to preserve something bigger than us. “

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

Rosemary Weatherston, Associate Professor

“The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Moves in unexpected and satisfying directions.”

Zora Neale Hurston’s You Don’t Know Us Negroes

Stephen Pasqualina, Assistant Professor

“A new collection of essays by the Harlem Renaissance icon and “Genius of the South,” Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston is best known as a novelist (especially of Their Eyes Were Watching God). Her essays are only recently gaining wider acclaim. This collection includes some previously unpublished/out of print gems: “Art and Such” (on the expectations placed on Black artists), “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” and Hurston’s coverage of the Ruby McCollum murder trial. This collection is punchy, political, controversial, and clever.”

Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence

Amanda Hiber, Senior Lecturer

“If you love Rebecca Solnit, this is a look behind the curtain, where and how that brilliant mind might have sprouted. The memoir’s interiority reminds me of Patti Smith’s M Train but is more cerebral than sensual–and shot through with Solnit’s trademark feminist analysis.”

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

Liz Lulis, Adjunct Faculty

“Perhaps the most beautiful memoir I have ever read, Kalanithi is a neurosurgeon battling terminal cancer. The emphasis is placed upon understanding how we construct our lives when dealing with death.  His journey is both philosophically reflective and objectively scientific–simply sublime.”

Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things: Essays

Nick Rombes, Professor

Cole’s essays and photos are so sharp and memorable and it’s a great book for dipping into at random.”

Rachel Kushner’s Telex from Cuba: A Novel

Erin Bell, Adjunct Faculty and Assistant Director for Educational Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

“I really enjoyed the sense of place and space in this novel as well as the multiple narrative threads. Kushner explores the complexities of colonialism’s end in Cuba through the eyes of numerous characters.”

Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs

Amanda Hiber, Senior Lecturer

“This amazing novel centers around a 1996 terrorist bombing in Delhi, India. The reader sees the before, during, and after of the attack through the eyes of a victim’s father, a survivor, and the bombing’s mastermind.”

Ben Mcintyre’s Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy 

Rebecca Tull (our English librarian!)

“I’m not usually drawn to spy stories, but this one, drawn from the subject’s diaries, correspondence and interviews with her two adult sons, was fascinating. It’s the story of German-born Ursula Hamburger, who goes on to become a Communist, secret agent, and colonel in the Red Army, living in China, the Soviet Union, and England, among other places, all while married and raising children. Ethical questions aside, how the subject could have kept the details of her life straight – not to mention secret – is completely beyond me!”

Angus Fletcher’s Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Rosemary Weatherston, Associate Professor

“We might not normally think of literature as a “technology,” but this book is a fascinating look at literary innovations like through the lens of the story science. From the book description: ‘Wonderworks reviews the blueprints for twenty-five of the most powerful developments in the history of literature. These inventions can be scientifically shown to alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui—all while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change.'”

Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate

Megan Novell, Adjunct Faculty and Interim Title IX Director

“The queen of all interwar British comic novels, Love in a Cold Climate is smart, light, and super funny.  Tell me you don’t hyperventilate at the chubb fuddling scene.”

Veronica Raimo’s The Girl at the Door

Heather Hill, Professor

“Told from the alternating perspectives of the two individuals involved in a romantic relationship and tinged with dystopian elements—the couple has moved to a country which has reinvented the rules of how people should live, work, and socialize with one another—this novel explores what happens when both the couple’s relationship as well as this alternative, utopia-seeking society are challenged by the misdeeds of the male half of the couple.”

Claude Steel’s Whistling Vivaldi

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair

Whistling Vivaldi is one of my favorite pieces of academic research written for a general audience. Dr. Steele’s work changed how I understand the cognitive toll of stereotypes, what he calls stereotype threat.”

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

Heather Hill, Professor

“I just love this book—full of depth and texture, and plants and herbs, and disruptive women and, yes, Shakespeare but Shakespeare from a wonderfully different and revealing angle. ” (Prof. Harrison seconds this recommendation!)

Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox 

Michael Barry, Professor

“Maggie O’Farrell makes the list twice!”

Ronald Takaki’s Strangers From A Different Shore

Megan Novell, Adjunct Faculty and Interim Title IX Director

“This history of Asian Americans is excellent.”

Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars

Michael Barry, Professor

“Essays by a neuroscientist, full of stories. I just read most of Musicophilia and really liked it, but it reminded me of how much I was intrigued by this earlier work.”

Andre Alexis’ s Fifteen Dogs

Rebecca Tull, English librarian

“Hermes and Apollo meet up at a pub in Toronto and speculate about how dogs would behave if given human intelligence. A wager and events at a nearby veterinary clinic drive the ensuing story. I can still remember that pit-in-my-stomach feeling as the short allegory unfolds.” 

Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars

Lauren Rinke, Adjunct Faculty and Director of the Writing Center

“Not your typical post-apocalyptic story. The story of a pilot, his dog, and the strangers surrounding him, and how they manage to survive a devastating sickness and recognize the remaining beauty in the world. Equal parts musings on human nature, gratitude, simple pleasures, and plenty of action, too!”

Happy reading, and don’t forget to support your local library or bookseller!

Adia Palmer–Moving

Adia Palmer’s poem “Moving” was a submission for the 52nd annual Dudley Randall Poetry Prize at University of Detroit Mercy. We were honored to have her as a member of the English department family.

Adia Janaye Palmer

Moving
Adia Palmer

Daggers scrape the floor she floats aimlessly
An arsenal of artificial light beams on the complexion of her tights
Brown, pink, tan, light pink, suntan, white
Black
Black girls ballet in the light

Click clack shoe taps have the most rhythm
A show of song
Eyes watch
Ears stalk following along

Bare pattern practice arches the soles
Celebrating a modern style with cultural currents
Movement ancestors known before they arrived
And became lineage of lives

Said it wasn’t real music
The sound was a beat box
Jump, skip, hop and bop

On “Moving”
Amanda Hiber (Senior Lecturer, Detroit Mercy English Department)

Early writers frequently miss the essential element of compression in poetry. They have so much to say, so much to express, and poetry gives them license no other form has. It’s not a five-paragraph essay, it requires no thesis, no citations, no topic sentence. And so, they write. Poetry is beautiful this way; it gives so many people their first hint that language can be a form of play, a release, not a prison. And so, they write. They take the license and keep. writing. 

What strikes me most about Adia’s poem is its compression. There are few spare words. She harnesses diction, syntax, punctuation, and lineation to say more with less. 

Most poems are meant to be said aloud, but some more so than others. This is one of those. Daggers scrape the floor. Sharp, scratching, rough, hard. She floats aimlessly (no comma: perfect). The repetition of Black. Ballet as a verb. This is just the first stanza. 

Adia moves through dance genres as she moves through complexions, as she moves through and to the gravity of all of this. Black girls ballet in the light. Movement ancestors known before they arrived. She moves, too, between rhythms. “Eyes watch/Ears stalk” are like syllables in a haiku but then the prose (but not too prose-ey) of “Said it wasn’t real music.” She leaves out words when necessary. She infuses sounds—click clack shoe taps—for effect and, again, to alleviate surplus.  

There’s so much to Adia’s poem. There’s the power of music; there are glimpses of her childhood as a dancer. But this is also a political poem. Some people write dance poems, some people write political poems. Adia wrote political dance poems. 

If you knew her, this would come as no surprise. Adia was fierce but also sensitive. She spoke her mind but listened closely, too. She was keenly perceptive but completely self-possessed. She was self-protective but capable of great vulnerability. She’d look at you with the utmost skepticism and then break into that laugh. If you knew her, you’d know that laugh. You’d never forget it. 

A framed copy of “Moving” is hung in the 2nd floor of the Briggs Building

The Crown Jewel, by Mehar Soni

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize Winner (1st Prize), 2022

Mehar Soni

The Crown Jewel

My mother used to braid my hair;
her seasoned hands untangling my dark waves.
The percussion of the rain against the window;
a perfect counterpoint to her lilting voice.

With each pass of the comb, she wove a fairytale.
Stories of how she met my father laced into my mane alongside
fresh jasmine, gleaming thread, and golden bells.

She talked fondly of my father’s love of pakora in winter,
the British pocket watch he carried by his breast.
She called him a young king preparing for the throne,
or better yet, a military captain saving Indian lives.

She said he’d armed himself with Mahatma Gandhi’s
words: Satya. Ahimsa. Tapasya. Jai Hind!
As if he could rub the crown jewel right out with salt!

Her palms glistened with coconut oil, the smell
of Darjeeling tea in the air, as my plait formed,
molded by my mother’s hands, like Lord Ganesha.

When I asked where Papa was, she sometimes
pulled my hair too tight or stuck a pin into my scalp.
Ouch, ma, you’re hurting me!

She never told me he moved to Bombay years before.
Childish,         what a fool was I!
My father                 everywhere but here.

About the poem:

I am currently enrolled in Intermediate Creative Writing, and each week, we were required to submit a poem for revision. I was feeling particularly stuck one day, and decided to revise a piece I had left in my drafts about a year ago. 

When I first began editing, it was an exercise in imagery. I attempted to convey the scene of a mother braiding her daughter’s hair while bonding through storytelling. After several comments from my peers telling me to add more to this story, I decided to include a backstory that delved into the Salt March in 1930s India. I decided to name this poem Crown Jewel both as a reference to India and Britain’s history, and also to convey how this child was meant to be her father’s jewel, but was not.

I wrote from the perspective of an individual reflecting on their childhood: recalling these fairytales about their absent parent, and now comprehending their incoherence. Often, we recall painful events from years past, and there is a feeling of loss at how we bitterly wish our truths were different. This poem attempts to embody the song of this gutting emotion, juxtaposed with a fond, loving memory.

Sponsored by the Detroit Mercy English Department, the Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes honor the late poet, publisher, and University of Detroit Mercy librarian and poet-in-residence. Find out more about the Dudley Randall Poetry Prize, and read recent prize-winning poems, at https://udmercy.edu/dudley.

What They Don’t Tell You About Suicide, by Aly Porcerelli

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize Winner (3rd Prize), 2022

Aly Porcerelli

I’ve spent my life being easily impressed.
So when I overdosed on my bedroom floor
On lamotrigine, blood and tears
I couldn’t help but admire
The way the room started to shake
Or how my frail fingers could still dial 911;
How life only exists in patterns,
O, what a wicked cycle.
I laid weary in my hospital bed
Counting the ceiling tiles one by one
Like it was some sort of game,
Some figment outside of reality
Consuming my brain like bad TV,
Teaching me how to halt time.

When I first awoke from my coma
My father had surprise on his tired face
But me, I had plans in my thumping brain
To return to the life I knew;
Because the urge to do nothing, to move on
Overpowered any desire to get better
So I told my mind, “Be quiet!”
Between the concrete hospital walls
Until the doctor deemed me
Ready to go home.

What he didn’t tell me is that
This will never go away
That I’ll wake up choking on air,
Feeling as close to death as I did
On that June afternoon
And what no one told me is how
My mother will worry until she’s sick
And then worry some more
More than she did when I was small
And the world was large

What they will never tell anybody
Is that the self-help books lied
That it probably won’t get easier
That what doesn’t kill you almost did
But through all the suffering
There will be moments of ethereality
Of stardust and beacons of sun
Laughter and magic and hope.
So I’ll run, or walk, it won’t matter;
Until there’s no blood left in the cut
Because today I saw the sun
And it was shining in celebration

Infographic by Aly Porcerelli, inspired by The Depression Project

About the poem:

Writing “What They Don’t Tell You About Suicide” caused me a good amount of pain and tears, which I think is actually a sign of good, impactful art. My goal in writing the poem was not just to explore my own trauma and find catharsis in doing so, but to make other people who have dealt with mental illness or suicidal ideation feel a little less alone. I sat down at my computer and typed out exactly what you read here; there was no revision, no backtracking. It all felt very natural and very necessary in terms of my mental health and my personal growth. I thank you kindly for reading my words, and I hope they can leave a positive impact on you in some way.

___________________________

Sponsored by the Detroit Mercy English Department, the Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes honor the late poet, publisher, and University of Detroit Mercy librarian and poet-in-residence. Find out more about the Dudley Randall Poetry Prize, and read recent prize-winning poems, at https://udmercy.edu/dudley.

A Monologue in the Drive-thru, by Jeremy St. Martin

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize Winner (2nd Prize), 2022

Jeremy St. Martin

I think that will be it. Just rub the chip, sometimes the card gets fussy…there it is. Thanks. Hey, can I get a couple of napkins? Also, my dad is dead. Like just now, dead. We pulled him off a vent–it wasn’t Covid related, so don’t worry, although he was on a designated Covid floor so I apologize for handing you plastic that could be Covid affected. Do you give discounts to those who recently lost someone? Like 15 minutes ago, someone died in your arms so here’s a free donut type thing? I like y’alls donuts–especially the Timbits. Not that I’m pandering to you for free stuff. I understand you have to treat everyone fairly, and that there are a ton of other people behind me who haven’t lost anyone or maybe they have, or they’re having a great day, but regardless, everyone needs to stop and acknowledge my grief. And I know it seems weird that I’m ordering an iced coffee in the middle of a Michigan winter-like ‘my car hasn’t even fully heated up and I’m peeking out of the small crevice of the cleared windshield because I am that guy’ kind of cold, but I just needed that thing to clutch on to and iced coffee was it. I had shit coffee in the hospital and now I at least want familiar shit coffee. And make no mistake, that’s not your fault. The shit coffee, I mean. Not my dad’s death. Though that wasn’t your fault either. Did you know his last words were double-A batteries? Who says that? I guess I was expecting some sort of rage against the dying of the light sort of thing, but you want what you want and say what you say in those moments. Well, anyway, Kelsey, you’re doing a great job. Here–take my debit card and pay for everyone else behind me. It expires in 3 days, so live it up in the meantime, right? Bad choice of words?

The poet and his father, circa 2000

About the poem:

            On January 29, 2022, I lost my father. His loss hit me with grief I had never felt before.  I sat in my car making phone calls to inform various people of the situation and to let them know I was not going to be present for rehearsals or meetings. When that was complete, I sat in my freezing car, not wanting to move, filled with a mixture of grief and resentment.

            The resentment is largely what inspired the work. I watched the world around me keep spinning–people were still walking in the hospital for various appointments and visitations, the restaurant across the street was serving lunch, and none of it felt fair. I wanted the world to stop and acknowledge my grief, even though I knew that it would not bring back my dad. Worse, I couldn’t just sit in a car that had not been defrosted, inhaling freezing air. I had to keep going.

            And that’s part of the absurdity of the whole grief process: having to move on in a world that is unaware. The dishes still have to be done, the pets fed, etc. It pains you not to be able to just tell a random person, going about their life, the terribleness you’ve suffered. Instead, you are required to keep up appearances (at least in public) and compartmentalize these feelings.

            There is a Tim Horton’s across the street from Wyandotte Hospital. I immediately hopped in the drive-thru to get myself an iced coffee because I needed some sense of normalcy. I exchanged brief pleasantries with the young woman working at the window as if nothing had happened, because, to her nothing did.

            This monologue is inspired by that exchange. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor I know my dad would appreciate and to that end, it is meant to be read in a casual tone, as if this event was just another part of the day, because, in some ways, it really is.

____________________________

Sponsored by the Detroit Mercy English Department, the Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes honor the late poet, publisher, and University of Detroit Mercy librarian and poet-in-residence. Find out more about the Dudley Randall Poetry Prize, and read recent prize-winning poems, at https://udmercy.edu/dudley.

Advocating for America’s Future: Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem

By Erin Letourneau

Amanda Gorman (Image via @amandascgorman/Instagram)

America’s youngest inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, captured the country’s attention on January 20th of this year with her exhilarating performance of “The Hill We Climb”. Gorman’s poem offered the nation a foundation of hope in a time where there has been a painful lack of guidance and unity. It acknowledged America’s historical progress -and its weaknesses- and commended the potential of our shared future.

In writing her poem for this historic occasion, Gorman used history and current events to her advantage. In a reference to Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning Broadway musical, she observes, “for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” This line speaks to the enduring impact of our nation’s history. Gorman manages to create a parallel between America’s past and present, while providing assurance that the country has made significant progress. Referring to herself as a Black girl descended from slavery who “can dream of becoming president,” Gorman invokes the distinctly American metaphor of the dream, a vision of the future that has accompanied the growth and progress of our nation throughout its history.

Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne, Amanda Gorman (2021)
Photo: Surface Mag: https://www.surfacemag.com/articles/amanda-gorman-painting/

Like many in our generation, 22-year-old Gorman is painfully aware of the current state of our union. Division has spread across the country, and injustice, violence, and defeat have settled for too long. From political discord to racial violence to the global pandemic, Americans have been impacted and outraged. Gorman urges her listeners to realize that, “to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside,” and implores that we fight for justice. Gorman is urging us not to settle, but to continue to fight for America’s future–for the present generation and generations who will follow.

From the poem’s title, “The Hill We Climb,” to its last line, Gorman brings us to acknowledge the highs and lows of America’s past, present, and future. Most importantly, she wields poetry as an instrument of change, representing our shared history to advocate for a brighter future: “For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it. / If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Erin Letourneau (Kylie Gotzfried Photography)

10 Tips for Success in your Online Classes!!!

Words of wisdom from the Detroit Mercy Student Success Center:
  1. Wake up early before your classes start! A “morning” or class routine before you get started can help you to get in the right state of mind for the day!
  2. Regardless of what time your classes start, get ready no less than one hour ahead of time to be sure your technology is working, and you feel prepared. 
  3. Get dressed in your actual clothes. Again, you will feel better prepared and be more productive. Scholars of “enclothed cognition” have even found putting on shoes can help you feel more alert and ready to learn.
  4. Be ACTIVELY engaged in class–turn on your video, take notes, ask questions, discuss with your classmates–treat it like an in-person class (and you are sitting in the front row)!
  5. If possible, put your cell phone in another room if it’s distracting you.
  6. Do not try to multitask by doing homework, texting, listening to music, etc. while in class. Focus on what your professor is saying and stay engaged. Studies show we really cannot multitask like we think we can! 
  7. If your class is asynchronous, schedule your own “class time” to get work done at the same time every week. For example, if you are in a 100% online asynchronous MTH 1010, you can work on it from 10-10:50 am on MWF. Create that class time for yourself! Your professional mentor can also help you stay accountable!
  8. Keep track of all your classes by using a physical planner–writing out assignments and deadlines by hand can make a big difference.
  9. If possible, don’t participate in online classes where you sleep or in front of the TV–create a working space with the least amount of distractions possible. You can also access your online classes in on-campus computer labs or sign up for private study spaces in the library.
  10. Remember, the Student Success Center is open and accessible! You can meet in-person or virtually with SSC tutors and professional mentors.

Find out about all of the support offered by the Student Success Center on their website: https://www.udmercy.edu/current-students/support-services/success-center.php

Success Coach Sr. Sarah Foster with her dog Bentley, the SSC therapy dog!
“Come visit us today!
Professional Mentor, Sr. Sarah Foster, RSM, Tommy Titan and the SSC Therapy Dog Bentley!

“They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib — Amanda Hiber

Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017) is like no other book I’ve read. In essays that combine pop cultural criticism, sociopolitical commentary, and memoir, Abdurraqib cuts to the core of his subjects with sensitivity and eloquence. He never oversimplifies. The book is written in the wake of 21st-century traumas— Hurricane Katrina, killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, the election of Donald Trump, and others—that have only augmented a historic sense of injury, loss, and defeat for black Americans like the author. “There is no moment in America when I do not feel like I am fighting,” he writes. “When I do not feel like I’m not pushing back against a machine that asks me to prove that I belong here.”

Several essays in the collection wrestle with Abdurraqib’s appreciation for cultural products and spaces made without regard for people like him. He exposes the paradox that certain artists and artistic movements act as refuge for some yet ignore or marginalize others. The essay, “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough to Find Afropunk” takes the reader through Abdurraqib’s complicated relationship with the punk scene, citing racism directed at him at shows, as well as themes in punk music that arise from privilege. “It is a luxury to romanticize blood, especially your own,” he says. “It is a luxury to be able to fetishize violence, especially the violence that you inflict upon others.” Another essay describes a Bruce Springsteen concert, beginning with the writer’s long appreciation of Springsteen’s music and its cultural impact, then shifts to the whiteness implicit in his romanticization of blue-collar work. Having arrived at the show directly after visiting Michael Brown’s grave in Ferguson, Missouri, Abdurraqib writes that The River “is an album of a specific type of optimism—one not afforded to everyone who listens to it.”

Chance the Rapper, Abduraqqib writes, “was the one who tapped into exactly what [2016] needed.”

Other pieces in the collection provide deep examinations of the ways that black musicians—from Nina Simone to Chance the Rapper—express and elucidate black Americans’ means of survival and refusal to give up what is theirs. “I have always held the legacy of Nina Simone close,” he writes, “because I know how easily it could be taken from me and served back to America as something more pleasing.” Framing the collection are fragments that add up to an essay on Marvin Gaye—as cultural icon, black hero, artist, and man—as well as his impacts on our country and the writer himself. All of Abdurraqib’s music writing demonstrates an incredible attunement to what is happening between the notes and beneath the lyrics. He is an endlessly generous listener, always regarding an artist on their own terms yet constantly probing the surface. 

“Black Life on Film,” one of the most affecting essays in the collection, starts devastatingly with the writer seeing video of the Rodney King beating on the TV news at age seven. The essay then turns to Boyz n the Hood but here, too, the analysis is about the listener as much as the music. Abdurraqib describes his impression of the movie as a twelve-year old, and now, in early middle-age. “Looking back…I think it’s less a movie about death…as it is a movie about loyalty that spans generations,” he writes.

Boyz n the Hood, directed by John Singleton, premiered in 1991.

Some of Abdurraqib’s most personal essays address teenage friends’ suicides and his mother’s death. In one essay, he takes us through the summer of 1997. He is 13 and just coming of age as a rap fan. Both Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. were killed only months earlier. Then his mother dies suddenly in her sleep. Grieving her as he is surrounded by hip-hop, he says, revealed to him the strong undercurrent of grief in hip-hop music at the same time that it provided comfort, escape, and a little joy. Another essay is a chronicle of the author’s process of mourning his mother alongside rapper Future’s grieving of his relationship with the musician, model and actress Ciara, as demonstrated in his lyrics. The comparison may seem shallow but music is deeply personal for Abdurraqib. Though he never says it outright, it is clear throughout the book that for him, music is a mirror, a microscope, a glue, and a salve, all in one.

Portrait of a Graduating Senior: Grace Kowalski

Grace Kowalski, English major with a Concentration in Professional Writing, Leadership minor 

Next steps: Gracie is pursuing her MBA at University of Detroit Mercy.

What is one class you took or book you read that you will remember when you are 70? Why?

One class that I will always remember was Diverse Voices in Literature. The class discussion and topics we covered were new to me. I had never had them in my education before, and this was a class I always looked forward to attending. During this class we had the opportunity to help sort books and help distribute literature to the community through Rx for Reading. There was so much love and care into both the education and service. I highly recommend this class! 

What noise or sound do you love? What noise or sound do you hate?

I adore the sound of water. The sound of the crashing waves from the ocean, raindrops dancing all around as they fall, and the sound of waterfalls. I don’t like the sound of swarming bees, I love bees but they sound so scary! 

What is your favorite quote/motto? 

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler


How have the English Department professors impacted your experience as an undergraduate?


The English department professors made my college experience so special. They truly cared and were invested in me as a person. The faculty encouraged me to research things that are of interest to me and that will aid me in my future endeavors. The English department has done more for me than I could have ever imagined or asked for. I will always be grateful for all that the faculty have done for me, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for all that they do. ♥️