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Poet Rita Dove: Photo © by Fred Viebahn. Copied, with permission, from Rita Dove’s homepage at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Rita Dove (from Testimony: 1968)

It’s been a minute. Or, many minutes over several days, minutes made long and weighty—even by coronavirus standards—by the turmoil raging across the U.S., in cities as close as Washington, D.C., and as close to my heart as Richmond, Virginia, and Cleveland. Racial turmoil that’s been roiling since, well, always in America, has erupted in protests.

And so the world grieves, again, more. But then, for many Black Americans grieving over human and civil rights injustices and violence is a constant. We writers like to tout our empathy, but while I’ve known grief, I’ve never known a grief that never subsides. So, what do I know?

As a reader and writer my instinct is to do just that: read and write. I read to know what I don’t know. I write to figure out what I do know and to raise new questions. And repeat. But between the reading and writing, we’re engaging—not just with text in an academic lit-crit way, but with the human being behind the words.

To engage with the community of readers and writers in the American Rust Belt and beyond is why I started this blog more than four years ago. I hope to keep this up, because I love connecting readers with the writers behind some of the literature I love most—poets (like Akron, Ohio, native Rita Dove, above), novelists, essayists, and memoirists—from a place I left behind but am still drawn to.

This blog is not a big platform, and my voice is small, but we bloggers do have the power to amplify the voices of Black writers and poets. There are many ways to do this. First, read Black authors. Thank you to novelist Courtney Maum for making me aware of a couple helpful hashtags to hone in on books for all ages by Black authors: #BlackBookReleases and #ReadingBlack.

If you’re looking to make taller your TBR, here’s a list of highly-anticipated 2020 releases by Black authors. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you might expect that the 2020 release I’m most excited about this year is Ross Gay’s Be Holding: A Poem. Put a new book on your TBR today. Buy books, and buy them from Black-owned bookstores, if you can. Review these books. Share the work of Black authors whose work you love. I’ve been doing that over at my FB page. Maybe join me there?

Most of the poets and writers I’ve interviewed for Rust Belt Girl I met at literary festivals and readings, oftentimes fairly homogeneous events, if I’m honest. For my part, I aim to seek out more Black voices from my native Rust Belt to feature here. If you consider yourself among this group, I hope you’ll reach out when you can.

Keep safe and sane, everybody, and keep the stories coming.

With hope,

Rebecca

28 thoughts on “Who comforts you now?

    1. I know. I had the same thought. My parents were living in Cleveland when the riots erupted in the Hough neighborhood in 1969, and while lots has changed, way too much hasn’t–in more than 40 years. I do think this moment feels like a groundswell, but maybe that’s being close to D.C.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I feel like I’m grasping at straws–what to say in the face of so much pain? Really, I know so little. But, if I can start there, at the wanting to know–and open a book, at least–so can anybody. And I appreciate you sharing that poem. Whew, that last stanza (especially the body / -guard) is powerful. I’m going to read and reread that one. So thankful you’re here, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s hard to know what to say and how to help and how to articulate thoughts about the injustices in the world.
    I like how you say ‘I read to know what I don’t know’. We can only try to grow.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing this…I agree there is much we can read and absorb to understand where the anger, frustration and despair come from – far more than a single horrific act, and there is so much we can do to learn more – I shared this yesterday – I am re-reading the powerful memoir “Black Like Me” – a white journalist poses as a black man and travels the Deep South in 1959 – trying to learn more about the past to help understand the present and mold the future…https://johnrieber.com/2020/06/03/the-powerful-memoir-black-like-me-a-timeless-exploration-of-race-and-racism-on-this-wednesday-bookmobile/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I read to know what I don’t know. I write to figure out what I do know.” I love that statement. Of course I like your entire thoughtful post, but those two sentences in particular. Reminds me of that old and variously-attributed quote, “How do I know what I think ’til I see what I have to say?”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful and provoking post. The only way we can begin to understand is listening to the voices of black experience. Spot on.

    It’s sad that this all still goes on. Hundreds of years of oppression and it doesn’t seem to end. Why so much hate and fear in this country?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this paragraph – “As a reader and writer my instinct is to do just that: read and write. I read to know what I don’t know. I write to figure out what I do know and to raise new questions. And repeat. But between the reading and writing, we’re engaging—not just with text in an academic lit-crit way, but with the human being behind the words.” Thank you for doing so and for sharing your words of wisdom! XXXX

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Shelley. The reading and writing thing is the only way I know how to tackle tough issues. Knowing that someone–like you–might actually read my little thoughts is really something! Now I need to make them count. Off to work, now–last day of my boys’ school year, such a strange one, but we’re going to school to drop off books and wave to teachers and maybe a few friends driving through at the same time. Stay safe and healthy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. You have gifts and I enjoy reading how you put them all together to touch/reach the readers of your blog (and other publications!). I hope the last day of school went well. It’ll be interesting to see how you make the summer ‘different’ from the school year?! Stay well, xx

        Liked by 1 person

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