The monthly link-o-rama is on the late side because I’ve been busy writing 30 Poems in November as a fundraiser for the Center for New Americans, an immigrant literacy and job training nonprofit in Northampton. I’ve got another $134 to go towards my target amount. Chip in today and receive a cute picture of my cat Theodore in your inbox, plus a handmade thank-you note (USA addresses only).
In this month’s issue of The Baffler, Joshua Craze examines the pitfalls of foreign humanitarian aid in “The Angel’s Dilemma”. Why have conditions not improved in war-torn, impoverished South Sudan despite billions of dollars in aid since 2011? The NGO industry creates a permanent underclass of refugees who are not allowed to migrate where the work is, let alone have a say in how donors’ money is spent. Craze challenges the aid community’s assertion that their work is apolitical, noting that American disaster relief was a major instrument of foreign policy to create client states during the Cold War. Later, during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NGOs became a shadow government in destabilized countries, answerable to the US or the EU rather than the locals.
While helping my son research a history project on Henry Ford, I discovered historical novelist Allison Epstein’s hilarious Substack, Dirtbags Through the Ages. In the irreverent style of Daniel Lavery’s Texts from Jane Eyre or Dr. Eleanor Janega’s Going Medieval, Epstein adopts a gossipy modern voice to talk trash about notable figures from the past. “The Dearborn Ultimatum”, Her post on the spiritual forbear of Elon Musk is subtitled “The Top 10 Reasons I Would Punch Henry Ford in the Teeth if I Saw Him in the Street and Nobody Would Blame Me”. Besides his notorious anti-Semitism, Ford is “why work sucks so bad”:
Henry Ford’s auto factories were pioneers of the assembly line, which took us from an artisan-based economy where skilled workers could perform fulfilling labor to a dehumanized system where you do the same repetitive task over and over until you want to drown yourself in the sea…
The assembly line is also to blame for mass production and by extension consumer culture. What I’m saying is, it’s Henry Ford’s fault that companies are hounding your every breath trying to make you buy things you don’t need, and that there’s an island of garbage in the ocean three times the size of France.
And don’t get her started on his square-dancing fetish!
Electric Literature recently shared an excerpt of editor Zeke Caligiuri’s intro to the prison writers’ anthology American Precariat: Parables of Exclusion (Coffee House Press, 2023). A former inmate at Minnesota’s Stillwater Prison, Caligiuri describes how a writers’ group thrived and revived itself behind bars, despite opposition from the authorities
It was exhilarating, until decision-makers in the facility realized the threat that artists and poets pose to the ideas of the captivity business. After only a year and a half, the group was disbanded. It was my first lesson in how easily good things in prison get discarded. Watching art and culture go away can create a bleak and hopeless landscape that will jade and obscure a person’s faith in creative community. It was a pattern shown to us repeatedly…
[The Stillwater Writers’ Collective was] created because our small cohort agreed that, at some point, someone or something was going to come along with opportunities that we had been waiting for throughout the long stretches of our collective incarcerations. There was agreement that as a community we would need to be ready so that the blessing we felt was supposed to be ours wouldn’t get passed along to somebody else. We believed it would be a crime for the story of writing in the Minnesota state prison system to be told, or written, without us. Just as the foundations of these old structures had been laid by the hands of the imprisoned, we were trying to lay a new literary and intellectual foundation.
…Time in the life of a writer, or a prisoner, is an emergency. Incarcerated writing communities provide for us what we can only assume they offer to non-incarcerated writing communities: peer support, friend- ship, competition, rivalry, and shared stakes in the success of their members. These communities offer reminders of time and the emergencies time represents. Classes get canceled and cut. In 2005, our whole education department shut down for months and every computer in the joint was wiped and scoured. Stories, essays, poetry, and even an anthology of our work disappeared from the universe. There are lockdowns, seizures of materials, intentionally, and sometimes collaterally. There are surprise transfers that leave us without computer access, and we must figure out how to keep the things we need most. We, who are working hard to mend some of the wounds in the social and familial fabric of our lives, live with a stopwatch to create evidence that will show something redemptive within us.
Nigerian-Canadian writer Vincent Anioke’s flash fiction “At World’s End” in Fractured Lit fulfills the promise of its unbeatable first line: “I’m giving Kayode Last-Name-Pending a pretty accomplished blowjob in the back of my rented Subaru when Jesus Christ returns.” That’s all I’m going to say.
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, so get inspired by OutHistory’s “Introduction to Transmasculine People in the U.S. Press, 1876-1939”, provided by Emily Skidmore, author of True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (NYU Press, 2017).