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‘Radical Hope’ with Carolina de Robertis (Q&A)

An award-winning novelist and literary translator, Carolina de Robertis has donned a new hat for her latest literary effort, that of anthology editor. In the wake of the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, she put out a call for politically inflected love letters in the tradition of James Baldwin’s 1963 The Fire Next Time essay, “My Dungeon Shook: A Letter to My Nephew.” The result is Radical Hope, a series of epistolary essays that are bound to shore progressives in the months and years to come. We discussed this remarkable collection with de Robertis, who lives in San Francisco with her wife and children.

LISA ROSMAN: Let’s start with nuts and bolts. Is this book merely a response to the election of Donald Trump?

CAROLINA DE ROBERTIS: It’s not just about the election of Trump because I think it’s important to extend our gaze to something larger and deeper in our country, though he as an individual is certainly his own kettle of dangerous fish.

The idea came to me three days after the election. I was sitting at my writing desk unable to work on my own novel, and I was thinking about how writers might be able to respond and contribute to the dissent and resistance that was going to be necessary in the coming social and political climate. I have a big photograph of Baldwin hanging over my writing desk and I couldn’t stop thinking about that essay in which he addresses his nephew. It seemed to me that his form of letter-essay was particularly helpful for blending personal reflections with sweeping political analysis, a blend we very much need in these times. Continue Reading →

Dear Delia: A Reading List of Dissent and Love

Recently, my fourteen-year-old goddaughter, Delia, asked for a reading list. I knew she was serious because she sent the request by snail mail – the millennial equivalent of engraving a message in stone. “I didn’t even vote for this president and he’s ruining my future,” she wrote. “I need books to get woke.” Obviously, an equally serious response was in order – one that acknowledged the gravity of our national turmoil without exacerbating her fears. So with the help of far smarter friends, I assembled a primer of essential “consciousness-raisers” that are neither condescending nor obtusely phrased, and I organized them into three categories I thought might appeal to her. I think this list will support resisters of all ages, for one of literature’s greatest services is to re-rear the scared, angry kids we each carry inside us. But in the spirit of James Baldwin’s epistolary essay, “Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation,” the “you” to whom I refer is my goddaughter in the wake of the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Continue Reading →

The Nightmare Is Also a Dream

Last night’s dream:

A big corporation asks me to do a live performance since the one I gave in real life went well. This time I do not feel engaged enough to do a good job. I’ve brought along some index cards but can’t find them in my purse and every time I stop to dig for them I lose my thread and audience so I plod on. Everything and everybody is twitching. The crowd and I are standing in a big drafty old factory floor that’s not quite been transformed into something else. It’s the kind of building that used to abound in the West 30s and 40s when I first moved to New York. I am rambling while worrying idly that I’m not worrying when the roof begins to crumble and then bursts into flames. Again, I think, since the roof of Chelsea Market burst into flames earlier this month as I was getting fired. Everyone runs out but me and a tall woman with beautiful arms and copper skin and eyes. She and I are detached, watching the drama unfold. Then we turn to each other and Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy