Summer Reading List | Jacquelyn Gleisner
Summer Reading List | Jacquelyn Gleisner
Sing, Unburied, Sing follows one family in a fictional town called Bois Sauvage in rural Mississippi. Death both opens and closes this novel: thirteen-year-old Jojo witnesses his grandfather, Pop, slaughter a goat in the opening scene and the story ends with the loss of Jojo’s grandmother, who is slowly dying of cancer throughout the narrative. In between, Ward unfurls Jojo’s fraught relationship with his mother, Leonie, a young black woman who struggles with drug addiction and co-dependency with Jojo’s white father, Michael. When Michael gets released from prison, Leonie packs Jojo and his toddler sister, Kalya, into her friend’s car to drive across the state. Throughout the story, the narrator switches from Jojo to Leonie (among others) and the reader learns about the presence of the ghosts who haunt various characters. These spirits are trapped in this world by the unresolved injustices that consume them. Ward’s fluid, poetic writing does not distract from the searing tragedies of the book and its message lingers as do her otherworldly characters.
Ibram X. Kendi
In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi dissects the history of racial thoughts, policies, and deeds, splayed out over five centuries. Sifting through the biographies of prominent Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and Cotton Mather, Kendi asserts that racist legislation has been enacted to preserve individual interests. Racist ideologies do not lead to their correlative policies; it works in the other direction. Kendi also points out examples of racial uplift, the theory that the inferiority of African Americans was a consequence of slavery or poverty, which he finds among many respected figures associated with ending slavery or segregation—William Lloyd Garrison and WED DuBois, for instance. “So many prominent Americans, many of whom we celebrate for their progressive ideas and activism,” Kendi writes, “many of whom had very good intentions, subscribed to assimilationist thinking that has also served up racist beliefs about Black inferiority.” Kendi’s radical re-examination shows how racial thinking permeates so much of this country’s founding and also elucidates how little progress has been made.
The ten short stories in George Saunders’s Tenth of December are strange and highly readable. “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” my favorite in this collection, is written in choppy, shorthand prose from the perspective of a dad with two young daughters. The narrative is a familiar one: the father wants to keep pace with his up-and-coming neighbors, who have recently installed several Semplica Girls in their yard. The SGs are a type of human lawn ornament and a symbol of status for those who own them. Yet this quirky story, appearing to its author in a dream, is not a simple metaphor about class divisions or the oppressed. “The artist’s job, I think, is to be a conduit for mystery,” Saunders explains in a New Yorker interview. “To intuit it, and recognize that the story-germ has some inherent mystery in it, and sort of midwife that mystery into the story in such a way that it isn’t damaged in the process, and may even get heightened or refined.”
Jacquelyn Gleisner is an artist, writer, and educator. Born outside of Buffalo, New York, Gleisner’s earliest memories of art are from inside Lucas Samaras’s experiential installation, Mirrored Room (1966) at the Albright Knox Gallery. She holds degrees from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (MFA, 2010) and Boston University (BFA, summa cum laude, 2006), and her work as a visual artist has been exhibited throughout the United States, especially within New England, and internationally, in Italy, Finland, and Botswana. In 2010, Gleisner was awarded a Fulbright grant to Helsinki where she researched surface design across art, fashion, and architecture. Five years later, she traveled around Botswana through an artist exchange funded by the Art in Embassies Program. As a writer, Gleisner has been published in Hyperallergic, Art New England, The Two Coats of Paint Blog, Arteidolia, Black Balloon Publishing, Glass Quarterly, among others. Gleisner was a regular contributor to four columns for the ART21 magazine for over seven years. Since 2017, Gleisner has worked at the University of New Haven as a Practitioner in Residence in the Art & Design Department and is currently teaching abroad in Prato, Italy. For the past six months, she has been half of the Creative in Residence team with her husband and collaborator, Ryan Paxton, at Ives Squared, the maker space at the New Haven Free Public Library. She is the founder of this blog, Connecticut Art Review, a writing platform for the arts in and around the state with the twin objectives of focusing on underrepresented communities and raising awareness of pressing social, cultural, and/or political issues.
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