The 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 Me, Citizen, 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!