Book Review | The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward

book reviews

the-fire-this-timeThe Fire This Time |  edited by Jesmyn Ward | ECW Press | Pub: 8/02/2016 | Goodreads 

Toward the end of his The Fire Next Time, Baldwin emphatically states that the inability to resolve its “racial nightmare” is a sin for which America will eventually be held accountable. Race, and whether American can ever overcome its legacy, isn’t something about which Baldwin comes to an simple conclusion. Jesmyn Ward begins her anthology The Fire This Time by pulling this specific quote from Baldwin’s meditation:

“…If we do not dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by the slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sigh, No more water, the fire next time!” 

Thus, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, discusses one of America’s greatest sins*: its refusal to substantively address race as an intractable aspect of its history. These essays fill that gap, with essays that address America’s past, present and future. The majority of the pieces were written specifically for this compilation, making them entirely new content. Writers like Edwidge Danticat, Claudia Rankine, Kiese Laymon, Daniel José Older, Isabel Wilkerson make this an anthology that demands attention.

If our book club wasn’t on hiatus, this would be my number one pick for next meeting, because it begs for conversation. Many are authors we’ve encountered before, whether it was Citizen, The Farming of Bones, or The Warmth of Other Suns; their incredibly personal pieces in Ward’s anthology provide new context for their previous discourse. Wilkerson’s contribution, for example, is an uplifting (yet still far from upbeat) reminder that a population that survived the Middle Passage and all that followed–including the Great Migration– is more than able to survive contemporary atrocities.

Personally, I’d recommend reading this book in segments to fully digest each chapter. For me, it was impossible to quickly move past Wendy S. Walter’s piece detailing the discovery of manhandled African American remains under the modern infrastructure of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Finding records of bodies damaged by sewage pipes and construction meant, simply put, that parts of the town had quite literally been constructed over the bodies of the enslaved. While I didn’t have the time, essays like Walters’ ask more questions than they answer, and beg to be researched further. It’s easily one of the most academic of the series, but not unique in being one that inspires a need for engagement beyond reading.

Read this book. Bring a pencil to mark it up if you’re a heathen like myself. This isn’t a book you read once and give away– like Between the World and MeCitizen, Salt, and Baldwin himself, The Fire This Time is an undaunted examination of America’s racial nightmare and a much-needed endorsement of those it subjugates.

*I say “one of” in order to avoid minimizing atrocities committed against Native Americans. Ideologically, treatment of both groups stem from the same convoluted thinking, but they are very different instances that shouldn’t be lumped together.

Any other great recently published compilations that I should be reading? Have you read anything else by the people featured in The Fire This Time? Have you read Baldwin’s The Fire Nextt Time and have burning commentary? Let me know in the comments!

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17 Comments

  1. I havent read Baldwin yet. The review sounds promising. I think I should do some pre requisite work before attempting to read these essays

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re up to date on US current events as it relates to race, then I think you’ll be fine!

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  2. Thank you for such an engaging introduction to this work! A definite addition to the TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Ward | Last week, I posted about Ward’s freshly-published The Fire This Time, which was a fantastic anthology inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Many of you […]

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  4. I read Baldwin’s Fire Next Time last year and was floored (and saddened) by how contemporary and resonant it felt. I also read Ward’s Men We Reaped last year and loved it. When I heard she was editing this I knew I had to read it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d owned it for a while, but I really dug into The Fire Next Time earlier this year. So glad I did. And this book makes me want to check out all of Wards other stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This one is so at the top of my tbr and your review was everything I was expecting!! Can’t wait to read these different essays and wouldn’t it be amazing to get to peak at your notes in the margins?😁 I will take your advice and get my pen ready. But first the Baldwin!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! First the Baldwin. You can definitely read Ward’s without it, but it does provide necessary context and opportunity for thematic comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Of Poetry and Protest is a compilation I picked up last week. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it would pair up well with TFTT.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard of that– just searched it though, and it looks like it’d be a GREAT companion piece!

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  7. I’m really looking forward to reading this collection — so many wonderful authors! I’ll keep in mind that it’s best read one essay at a time. I usually have at least one nonfiction book that I read chapter by chapter before bed, and I’m guessing this would fit the bill perfectly!

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    1. Chapter by chapter before bed sounds like such a good method for getting through some nonfiction. I can’t do that, though because once I’m in bed… I’m asleep in 2 minutes flat!

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  8. Yeess, I need this book!
    I was waiting for more reviews, so thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes you DEFINITELY need this book. With haste!

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  9. This looks amazing. Like you, I’ve encountered many of these authors separately, and Jesmyn Ward is one of my favourites (Salvage the Bones – oh my God!), so I would really like to read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read NEARLY enough of Ward’s stuff, but this whet my appetite for more. Such a well rounded compilation in this book that I can’t help but be a fan now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Salvage the Bones would be my first recommendation for Ward. Men We Reaped is also beautiful and made me cry, but Salvage the Bones has that crazy power that fiction has.

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