08
Dec 17

Another Kind of Fiction: Ed Falco and Wolf Moon Blood Moon

Wolf Moon Blood Moon is a debut poetry collection, but I’ve been reading and writing poetry since I was a teenager. It wasn’t until grad school at Syracuse University, in my mid- to late- twenties, when I came under the influence of the writer George P. Elliott, that I fell deeply in love with the short story and started focusing most of my writing energy on fiction. Even during those years, I wrote very short stories—pieces ranging from a paragraph to a few pages—and much of that work was published in literary journals as prose poems. For a long time, I thought of fiction as writing that emphasized characters living through, and usually being changed by, a significant moment or event or series of events in their lives; and I thought of poetry as writing that emphasized the use and arrangement of language in patterns of meaning, with the focus on language and meaning rather than on character and event. I still find that largely true, but these days I’ve come to think of all writing as one kind of fiction or another.

For me, the act of writing is always an act of invention shaped by a set of constraints, is a daily meditation, a way of thinking about my relationship to the world. Always, I’m trying to say something that’s true by listening to what I’m writing as I’m writing, by discovering the direction of the writing and being directed by my discoveries. And when things are going well, this seems to come from someplace below the level of consciousness. That’s the great pleasure of writing, the immersion in that creative space. Truth in that space, for me at least, is never the truth of what actually happened, but rather the truth that evolves out of the relationship between invention and design. A play has one kind of design (or set of constraints), poetry another, short fiction another, the novel another, etc., and each genre, each form, leads to a different kind of dreaming and another kind of fiction. Poetry is an especially intense kind of dreaming, which is why I read it with exponentially greater regularity than I attempt writing it.

I have scores of favorite poets and favorite poems, and I read them first of all for the experience I find in the reading, and second for what I can learn from them about how to write. The great poets are, of course, also the great teachers. (I don’t know how many times I’ve read and reread Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son, but I’ve worn out a least a couple of editions.) The list below, however, is made up of ten contemporaries, all of them, with the exceptions of Ai and Claudia Emerson, still living and writing. They’re poets I read because I admire their work, and because I like trying to figure out just how they achieve such powerful effects with such regularity. I’ll highlight one of their books, but in every case the whole body of their work is worth exploring. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room or time to list every contemporary poet I admire, let alone even a smattering of the magnificent voices that still speak to us across the ages, but hopefully this will be a good starting place.


Ai, Sin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986). A magnificent story teller, Ai’s poems are daring explorations of the complex and often troubling recesses of the self, told through the appropriated voices of others. She’s a poet to read for her riveting dramatic monologues as well as the forthright, powerful, and convincing use of plain, austere language.

Denise Duhamel, Two and Two (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). It’s hard to pick one collection of Duhamel’s to single out for praise, but I’ll go with Two and Two for the stunning 9/11 poem, “Love Which Took Its Symmetry for Granted.”  Duhamel’s mastery of poetic forms, received and invented, is on display in this poem’s weaving of multiple voices into a chaotic narrative that captures the essence of that shocking moment and its effect on the American psyche. Duhamel is a wonder, and this is one of her best collections.

Stephen Dobyns, Black Dog Red Dog (Carnegie Mellon UP, 1990). Another terrific story teller, Dobyns is a writer to read for his use of the long line in poems that straddle the boundary between poetry and prose. With language that is subtly musical and bold, Dobyns’ poems speak with the power of the best, most concise, fiction.

Claudia Emerson, Late Wife (LSU Press, 2005). Late Wife is a book of poems that somehow manages to harness the narrative scope of a novel and the precise, compact language of a sonnet in chronicling the dissolution of a first marriage and start of a second. This is a book I’ve returned to again and again both for its imagery and its insight, for the way it speaks about the personal and makes it universal.

Alice Fulton, The Powers of Congress (Sarabande Books, 2001). Fulton is a magician who writes complex, multifaceted poems that explore a daunting range of subjects in a variety of poetic voices. There seems to be absolutely nothing she can’t do or won’t try. One hardly knows where to start praising the poems or the striking intelligence that informs them. I’m singling out Powers of Congress because it was my introduction to Fulton’s poetry, but since that collection she has continued to produce a body of stunning work. Start anywhere.

Stephen Gibson, Self-Portrait in a Door Length Mirror (University of Arkansas Press, 2017). I haven’t yet encountered a formalist poet more accomplished than Stephen Gibson. In this, his most recent collection, selected by Billy Collins as winner of the Miller Williams Prize, he writes carefully constructed poems of stunned outrage at the violence humanity has always endured and commonly condoned.  The deep interest of Gibson’s poetry through all his collections is the chaos of the human heart; and here, in Self-Portrait in a Door-length Mirror, he writes in full command of his subject and its formal expression.

David Kirby, House on Boulevard St. (LSU Press, 2007). Kirby’s big, inclusive, generous voice is irresistible. I love what the National Book Award committee wrote about Boulevard Street and happily repeat it here: “Digression and punctiliousness, directed movement and lollygagging, bemusement and piercing insight are among the many paradoxical dualities that energize and complicate the locomotion of his informed, capacious consciousness.” I especially like the use of “locomotion” in describing Kirby’s work. His poems often move like a locomotive rumbling across some new territory: you never know what you’ll see next out the window, but on Kirby’s train you can bet it will be entertaining and informative and you won’t be able to turn away.

Sharon Olds, Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980). With a frankness that can at times be shocking, Olds explores states both emotional and sexual with great intensity. Her control of language, her magisterial manipulation of the line and image, her powerful figurative language as well as her direct, forthright speech, her skills both narrative and lyric—all are impressive and moving.

Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard (Mariner Books, 2007). In Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner wrote his two most commonly quoted sentences: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” He might well have been talking about Natasha Trethewey’s poetry, a body of work that explores the historical and personal in meticulously constructed, deeply affecting poems. These are poems to read for their craft, their power, and their insight into the many ways in which the past clings to the present.

Robert Wrigley, In the Bank of Beautiful Sins (Penguin Books, 1995). Wrigley’s sensual language is often so exact and accurate in its depiction of the natural world that the experience of reading feels visceral. I first read In the Bank of Beautiful Sins more than twenty years ago, but I return to it often to remind myself of the immense power of carefully chosen words to render a story unforgettable.


Ed Falco lives in the mountains of Blacksburg, Virginia. He teaches in the MFA program at Virginia Tech and edits the New River, an online journal of new media writing. A poetry contributor to the Southern Review, he has also published novels, short stories, and plays.

Buy Wolf Moon Blood Moon today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


01
Dec 17

Military Occupation, Emancipation, and the Civil War: Essential Scholarship

Historians of the American Civil War have authored an impressive and increasingly complex history of the common soldiers who waged the conflict. Explaining soldiers’ motivations to enlist, charting their steadfast commitment to the respective national causes, unfolding their multifaceted views on race and emancipation, and placing citizen-volunteers within their mid-nineteenth-century world, the rich scholarship on soldiering during the Civil War seems remarkably comprehensive. My new book In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America draws on this resonant scholarly tradition to investigate how United States soldiers understood the era’s wars of military occupation, the layered conflicts waged well beyond the front lines. The book contends that military occupation—a central and contested component of our modern military tradition—is not a dead artifact of the American past.

In the Wake of War engages the perspectives of United States soldiers who served in three separate yet intimately connected military conflicts: the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and Reconstruction. The book thus aims to link the American Civil War to its broader cultural context, revealing how the events of 1861 to 1865 were shaped by a military ethos that preceded secession and which continued to influence the dawn of peace after Appomattox. The book argues strongly for the continuity of republican military culture from which historical actors gauged military occupation at once against the citizen-soldier tradition and the long-standing fears of standing armies, each of which posed significant implications for the conduct of occupation, the composition of volunteer armies, and the processes of state-sanctioned social and political change.

Approaching military occupation through the eyes of the occupier—rather than the occupied— reveals a war within a war, a conflict fraught with its own unique traits and spirit. These wars of occupation were just as complex, dynamic, and consequential as those waged on the front lines. Exploring how United States soldiers, who reflected the broader society from which they came, interpreted occupation on both ideological and practical grounds reveals an in-the-ranks perspective on an unprecedented role of American armies in international and domestic wars and crises. This history of military occupation thus reveals how occupation brought soldiers face-to-face with a host of critical problems in nineteenth-century America: the relationship between citizen and government; the balance between republican corporatism and democratic individualism; faith in the exceptional nature of Union; the complications of race in a white democracy; the intricate negotiation of gender roles; the limits of free-market capitalism; the boundaries of restricted warfare; the military’s simultaneously celebrated and ambivalent place in international affairs and domestic life; the role of standing armies in the American imagination; and the uncertain scope of the federal state in the nebulous transition from war to peace.

In the Wake of War contributes especially to a time-honored conversation on emancipation—particularly Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies. Race emerged as a central feature of the occupation experience. The book engages how the Proclamation spoke to white anxieties about military occupation, which shaped how African American men were integrated into federal armies and how they designed their own conceptions of military service and the purpose of military force.  The mass enlistment of African American soldiers pushed white leaders to define service in auxiliary forces along lines of race. The politics and rhetoric of emancipation served to confine black troops to limited roles, including the “dishonorable” duties of service behind the lines. Yet in so doing, black soldiers emerged on the front lines of occupation, using their new-found martial authority to great advantage in unbalancing traditional power dynamics in the South. African American occupiers defied the racial status quo and, from the points of their bayonets, destabilized the very society once guilty of their enslavement, underscoring the stunning impact of wartime emancipation.


While the act of writing history is often a solitary and sometimes lonely exercise, I am grateful to the community of scholars who have so richly influenced In the Wake of War. The following books (in addition to so many others) have shaped my own historical philosophy and have underwritten many of the arguments in the book.

Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011). Perhaps no other scholar has shaped my thinking on Civil War history more than Gary Gallagher. Emphasizing the idea of Union—the loyal citizenry’s conception of the American republic as the world’s unique experiment in democratic republicanism—Gallagher’s work reminds us that the Union’s war was conducted on the basis of limitation, guided by a degree of restraint, and always measured with an eye toward peace and a restoration of the republic. Emancipation, death of the “Slave Power,” and the enlistment of African American soldiers emerged as unanticipated but critical elements in this war for Union. Gallagher’s insistence on the contemporary power of Union in the loyal imagination, coupled with his belief that military institutions and affairs should assume a central place in our narratives, guide the intellectual basis of In the Wake of War.

Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1995). Grimsley’s book was one of the first to treat Civil War-era military occupation as a problem of federal policy. Exposing the complex nature of waging wars against hostile civilians, Grimsley demonstrated the profound challenges of employing volunteer soldiers in nineteenth-century wars of invasion and occupation.

Stephen V. Ash, When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Published the same year as Grimsley’s Hard Hand of War, Ash’s treatment of occupation focuses primarily on the social and political changes incurred at the southern grassroots. Like Grimsley, Ash compelled scholars to see how Union occupation unleashed rival power dynamics in the Confederate South and layered the region with competing loyalties contingent on proximity and reach of federal armies.

Mark E. Neely, Jr. The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007). Like Grimsley and Ash, Neely’s work sought to rewrite old Lost Cause narratives that indicted the Civil War as an unlimited total war. Placing the conflict within broader hemispheric, cultural, and racial contexts, Neely encouraged readers to see that the Civil War’s white combatants placed remarkable restraints on their conduct, limiting and reducing the scale of wartime devastation. The book, like In the Wake of War, suggests that American conduct during the invasion of Mexico was far different from that which occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

William W. Freehling, The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2001). While I relied on the expansive literature concerning the processes of emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies, no book sparked my thinking on the Emancipation Proclamation like Freehling’s work. Freehling pushed me to read deeply into the Proclamation, locating obscure and subtle meanings in Lincoln’s call for black troops, the implications of which shaped how occupation unfolded during both the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). Like Gallagher’s work, Summer’s treatment of Reconstruction understands the concept of Union as the driving force of mid-nineteenth-century life. Occupation in the transition from war to peace thus inhabited a foreign space for loyal citizens who looked with skepticism at a powerful, expensive military state managing political affairs and regulating social conditions in the guise of what they imagined as an imposing standing army. Such institutions were antithetical to the very idea of Union preserved during the war.

Gregory P. Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2015). Arguing that the war continued in a legal form in the months and years after Appomattox, Downs sees United States Army that occupied the southern states as the central institution in preserving the promise of emancipation. Only the army, as an extension of the federal state, could manage the chaos of Confederate defeat and provide critical safety to freedpeople embarking on new lives of liberation. But Downs recognizes, much like Summers and myself, that the very military power necessary to manage a robust occupation was stripped by a broader culture of democratic republicanism that looked askance at powerful domestic military institutions.

Andrew S. Bledsoe, Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Junior Officer Corps in American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). I went to graduate school with Drew Bledsoe, with whom I have spent untold hours discussing the culture and ideology of the citizen-soldier in the early American and Civil War experiences. My understanding of citizenship, volunteer soldiering, and the republican military ethos—hallmarks of both his and my books—are drawn from our many conversations about the existing literature.

Numerous scholars recently have published excellent books on military occupation during the American Civil War. I have benefited greatly from their work and our mutual conversations. They all deserve mention here because their scholarship assumes a prominent place in the framing and conclusions of In the Wake of War.

  • Judkin Browning, Shifting Browning: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2011)
  • Bradley R. Clampitt, Occupied Vicksburg (Louisiana State University Press, 2016)
  • Joseph W. Danielson, War’s Desolating Scourge: The Union’s Occupation of North Alabama (University Press of Kansas, 2012)
  • H. Dilbeck, A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)
  • Earl J. Hess, The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
  • Michael D. Pierson, Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Andrew F. Lang is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.

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30
Nov 17

November Roundup: News, Events, Reviews

November was quite a month here at LSU Press! Visitations by Lee Upton was a finalist in the short story category of the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards. A poem from Ed Falco’s new book was featured on Poem-a-Day. Samuel C. Hyde wrote an article for the Washington Post. Brannon Costello, Lisa Hinrichsen, Gina Caison, and Stephanie Rountree, and Sally Van Doren wrote fantastic posts for the LSU Press Blog. And we published new books by Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter, Peter O’Connor, Lisa Hinrichsen, Gina Caison, and Stephanie Rountree, Susannah J. Ural, Kristen Brill, David R. Slavitt, and James Applewhite.

Below you’ll find a list of our December titles, upcoming events with our authors, and some recent publicity and reviews of our books. If you want to keep up with the press in real time, follow us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

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Selected Publicity and Praise

 Promise: Poems by Sally Van Doren

“St. Louisan Sally Van Doren’s third collection Promise features smart poems that bring a cheeky edge to the theme of domestic bliss. By-and-large tender poems of praise for familial love, they accomplish this celebration by telling the truth about it, dirty laundry included.”—Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

Voodoo and Power in New Orleans: The Politics of Religion in New Orleans, 1881-1940 by Kodi A. Roberts

“His careful study contributes to on-going scholarly efforts to better situate African diasporic religions within their immediate social settings and in the context of practitioners’ everyday struggles and desires.”—Nova Religio

Maintaining Segregation: Children and Racial Instruction in the South, 1920-1955 by LeeAnn G. Reynolds

“This ambitious study sheds light on how Jane and Jim Crow circumstances conditioned the South’s black and white younger inhabitants to manage racial inequality in the decades preceding the Civil Rights Movement. . . . The author displays an excellent familiarity with existing scholarly literature, and her arguments are cogent. . . . the narrative reads well, is engaging, and adds depth to the current understanding of a complex place and time.”—CHOICE

Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation by Earl J. Hess

“In Hess’s study one can find both a sound survey history of Civil War military transportation and a revealing quantitative analysis leading readers to the inescapable conclusion that the Union logistical network outperformed its foe’s in every possible way. Civil War Logistics is highly recommended.”—Civil War Books and Authors

Cityscapes of New Orleans by Richard Campanella

“Anyone with a library of books on New Orleans will want this one. And unlike some other reference books, Campanella’s is destined to be one that comes off the shelf over and over again.”—New Orleans Advocate

Remembering Reconstruction: Struggles Over the Meaning of America’s Most Turbulent Era edited by Carole Emberton and Bruce E. Baker

“Taken together, these deeply researched and cogently written essays comprise a kind of magic lantern that illuminates how many of today’s contentious social issues, like equality before the law, concepts of race, and rights of citizenship, were born during those tumultuous years.”—America’s Civil War

The Army of the Potomac in the Overland & Petersburg Campaigns by Steven E. Sodergren

“This is a solid, major contribution to our understanding of why men fought and how they were affected by and adapted to changing wartime conditions.”—NYMAS Review

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color by Hank Trent.

“Trent excels in re-creating the world of antebellum fortune-hunters like Tait. Lynchburg and the Richmond slave trade are diligently explored. A reader curious for more details as to how the trade worked (especially in terms of the operation of slave jails or “pens”) will find this small book an excellent resource. Trent makes it easy to imagine a grimy place of petty cruelties and vast injustices, where virtually every interaction possible within the boundaries of the peculiar institution might be found, all within a city block.”—Civil War News

Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War by Catherine Clinton

“Clinton reminds us of the significant work that has been done as well as the significant work that remains to be done in original research, textbook publications, and college lectures. Those invited to give Fleming Lectures are known for their bold and original scholarship, and Catherine Clinton is no exception.”—Journal of Southern History

John Pendleton Kennedy: Early American Novelist, Whig Statesman, and Ardent Nationalist by Andrew R. Black

“Andrew R. Black has deftly taken the memory of a man who has lain dormant in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery since 1870 and has breathed new life into Kennedy’s legacy as an important American literary and political figure.”—Journal of Southern History


17
Nov 17

Finding Promise in Poetry

It’s rare that I write a poem that doesn’t in some way draw upon the work I have read by other poets, writers or artists, be they living or dead, famous or lesser known. Throughout the house, small stacks of books and magazines of poetry, essays, art catalogs, fiction and non-fiction, entice me to spend time with them every day.  While reading, I keep a running list of words and phrases that inspire me, spark my interest or look like they might be good source material for one of my own poems.

In my third collection, Promise, the titles of several of my poems owe debts to other writers’ works. For instance, “Housewife as Poet” came about after I read “Poet as Housewife” in a 2009 issue of Poetry magazine written by contemporary Dutch poet Elisabeth Eybers. For another poem title, I borrowed the phrase “The Book of Usable Minutes” from the first line of the poem, “Train Rising Out of the Sea” by late great John Ashbery. After reading the artist Jenny Holzer’s truisms in her “The Living Series” and “Laments,” I re-purposed her words and phrases in two of my poems. As Trent Brown noted in his recent LSU Press Blog post, Tennessee Williams is a vibrant source and my poem “The Kindness of Strangers” lifts its title and other diction from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It feels often like I’m making word collages as I add layers of text and images that I have discovered through reading others.

Over the years of building my poetry library, my gratitude has increased for the many presses committed to publishing poetry, LSU Press being one of them. In graduate school, I was introduced to the work of Jay Wright in his collected poems Transfigurations (LSU Press, 2000) and continue to be intrigued by his distinctive depictions of the poet in place and time. I have earmarked about half the pages in Liesel Mueller’s Alive Together (LSU Press, 1996) in admiration for her deft ability to describe living lyrically and unabashedly. In Bonneville, from Elixir Press (2007), Liesel’s poet daughter, Jenny Mueller offers poems of introspection in varied landscapes. In Matt Rassmussen’s Black Aperture (LSU Press, 2012) I was jolted from the comfort of my morning reading chair into these bold and tender variations on a sibling’s suicide.


In addition to reading poems in books, magazines and online, I also rely upon anthologies and collections of essays about poetry and art to support the creation of my work and broaden my knowledge and experience. Here are just a few of the many resources I hold dear.

Mary Oliver, Upstream (Penguin, 2016). Encouraging essays about writing and paying attention.

Carl Phillips, The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014). Chock full of compelling reasons to write poetry with emphasis on assertion and resistance.

Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr, American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan, 2002). Excellent revelations about craft and theory from the perspective of ten featured writers.

J.D. McClatchy, editor, Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth Century Poets (University of California Press, 1989). Intoxicating essays about art from diverse poetic points of view.

Ed Hirsch, How to Read a Poem and Fall In Love With Poetry (Harcourt, Brace 1999). An engaging love to song to poetry in all its forms with an indispensable Glossary.

Molly Peacock, How to Read a Poem . . . and Start a Poetry Circle (Riverhead, 1999). Illuminating lessons on how to look, hear and make poetry part of your life.

Susan Stewart, The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Lucid examinations of the creative process in contemporary art.

Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperPerennial, 1998). Exacting and sensitive accounts revealing the magic, mystery and power of poetry.


Sally Van Doren has published two previous poetry collections with LSU Press: Sex at Noon Taxes (2008) and Possessive (2012). Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, including American Poet, Boulevard, the Cincinnati Review, the New Republic, and the Southern Review. She has taught poetry at the 92nd Street Y in New York and curates the Sunday Poetry Workshops for the St. Louis Poetry Center.

Buy Promise today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


26
Jul 16

Black Lives and the Conundrum of Unimaginable Grace

The United States is suspended in an extended state of crisis. The very meaning of citizenship and the promises of protection from private intrusion in the Fourth Amendment and the promise of equal protection within the Fourteenth Amendment remain in jeopardy today just as was the case during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of de jure racism in the Jim Crow South and de facto racism throughout the rest of the nation. The twenty-first century is an era in which many—across lines of race and ethnicity—insist race no longer matters, that everyone has a fair chance if she or he just works hard and is a good person.

There are many examples of structural racism—historical practices that are actually embedded in the political, economic, and social systems of the nation—that refute the notion of a post-racial United States, just as there are countless legal claims and cases that prove the notion of a colorblind justice system a myth. Employment, education, healthcare, and housing are arenas in which African Americans have experienced unequal access since emancipation. This reality is inextricably linked to the growing national movement attuned to the problem of ordinary black lives holding no value to the nation once those lives were no longer enslaved and forced to labor without compensation.

We, the nation, inherited the sins of our forefathers and instead of correcting those sins many decades ago, the nation allowed them to fester and rot. Thus, today, the ramifications of unequal access to those four arenas central to citizenship and full incorporation into the nation—employment, education, healthcare, and housing—is playing out, literally, on all of our various screens, as one unarmed black person after the next is subjected to police violence (or mass incarceration). These violent altercations are shaped by both the historical racial inequities and the racialization and stereotypes imposed upon black citizens from slavery to the present.

What strikes me as most unbelievable about this phenomenon is not that certain law enforcement officers (by no means all) are racist—this is not new news. I am instead struck by the utter lack of empathy expressed, verbally or through silence, for the victims. I witness this daily on Facebook when the only posts expressing empathy for black people who have lost their lives or experienced grave bodily and psychological harm at the hands of law enforcement come from academic friends across race and ethnicity, African American family members and friends, and a few white liberal high school friends. The lack of empathy for the victims is indicative of what it looks like to be born into a nation where the remnants of denied personhood continue to inform present day notions of humanness, of what it means to be fully human.

I enter this warped reality from a conflicted position: I am the black mother of three black sons and the wife of a black law enforcement officer. As a mother, I am both fearful and infuriated that I am supposed to do more than is required of white mothers as I raise my sons. That I am supposed to teach them principles for the best chance of survival (success is not guaranteed) in a nation that marked them as a “problem,” as a menace to society, at birth. And, no, my sons’ middle class status does not protect them. It does not protect them from stereotypes in school and it does not protect them from ignorant notions that black people are simply “more violent” and black boys and men are “intimidating.” Just ask Senator Tim Scott.

While I am concerned about my boys, I also cannot help but think about the Facebook post of one of the most recent fallen police officers, Montrell Jackson. In the aftermath of the July 5th shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, Officer Jackson posted on Facebook on July 8th: “I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. . . . These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.” His statement and the recent targeting of law enforcement officers by African American men in Dallas and Baton Rouge made me feel nothing but dread when just a week later my husband volunteered to be one of the thousands of law enforcement officers working to ensure order and safety at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

My husband’s career choice has been a major point of contention in our household for the 10.5 years he has been in that profession. I have never personally had a negative experience with a police officer. In fact, the few experiences I have had have been professional and cordial on the part of the officer. But that fact does not stop me from being apprehensive about law enforcement (it also does not stop me and my children from hating the schedule and all that my husband misses in his absence). My apprehension is not about getting caught doing something wrong, but about how, by doing nothing wrong, I could still be accused of doing wrong, as I have witnessed in countless videos of police stops across this country.

This apprehension is not simply shaped by a troubled history of corruption and discrimination in many law enforcement units across the nation. It is also shaped by things I have observed as the wife of a police officer: wondering why so many officers policing urban cities live in rural communities; wondering why so many officers who never lived in urban cities want to police in those spaces; wondering what other words besides “Jew,” “gay,” and “fag” I would hear bantered back and forth at the holiday party if my husband and I were not there. I wonder why my husband and some of his white colleagues feel their diversity training is ineffective, not because the department does not care about the issue, but rather because it has fallen susceptible to the trend of believing that anyone who lays claim to doing diversity consulting is educated and competent on the subject.

Something else I recently had to wonder is how many times my husband could have “legally” shot a civilian. I knew and have written about one incident in which someone tried to unholster my husband’s partner’s firearm, and my initial shock when he explained that the only reason he did not shoot the perpetrator was due to having an unclear shot. I have since learned that he has nearly pulled the trigger countless times during traffic stops when people will not show their hands and are reaching around in their vehicles (usually trying to conceal drugs). These instances put me in a conflicted space: no one has the right to threaten the life of my husband for doing his job, yet equally no one, simply by virtue of having a badge and gun, has the right to determine that someone is a threat based on their skin tone.

There is an additional facet to my dread and apprehension. The two men who assassinated police officers were veterans. The mother of Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, has noted that her son suffered from PTSD and the military refused to treat him. There has been recent, but far from enough, media coverage of this pervasive problem. And the problem is not new. In my most recent book, When We Imagine Grace: Black Men and Subject Making, one chapter focuses on my grandfather, Major Gilbert Alexander Boothe, a retired officer of the US Army and a Buffalo Soldier. He was in the first unit of African American soldiers to fight in battle during WWII (as opposed to cleaning latrines and being sent to deliver supplies on battlefields with no firearms). What he accomplished as a black man in the military during that time, both through rank, medals and honors, and afterward by earning a master’s degree in psychology, is something few men of any race have done. But, as my father pointed out, the fact that my grandfather came back from Europe and Korea having seen what he saw, experienced vile discrimination, and managed to not only be functional but to achieve in spaces not previously open to black men, particularly sharecropping black men from rural Georgia, made my grandfather amazing.

But underneath my grandfather’s exceptionalism was rage. The rage was driven not just by the carnage of war he saw on the battlefields and the discrimination he experienced in the barracks, but also the reality of his blackmaleness in the nation he risked his life for and returned home to as a second-class citizen. His wife and children felt his rage in the private space of their home, while in public spaces he was given awards for community uplift. It is such a sad state of affairs that half a century after my grandfather returned home from offering his country the highest form of service, other black servicemen are returning feeling the same rage.

In her novel Beloved, which is a true national treasure, Toni Morrison writes about the trauma of slavery and the struggle for a community of free blacks in Cincinnati to not simply survive but to feel truly human when they were all once property. A matriarch of the community, Baby Suggs, implores these traumatized and disenfranchised human beings to “imagine grace.” She insists, “The only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”  Perhaps this is what Kendrick Lamar hopes, too, can be understood in the lyrics to “We gon’ be alright” and Beyonce hopes might be accomplished by having Sister Sledge style “all her sisters with [her]” in “formation.”  But more than just imagining grace, Baby Suggs speaks to black people’s humanness in a manner eerily relevant today and worthy of an extensive quote, because it intersects directly with many of the encounters between law enforcement officers and black people that have ended badly:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise then up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on our face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your moth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

The eloquent prose of our Nobel Laureate in fiction echoes real life. Ultimately, it boils down to black people being denied grace, or the Websterian granting of free and unmerited favor, because they still, today, are not seen as fully human. Whether it is fictive African American women imagining how ideologies borrowed from outside the US might offer them solace from raced and gendered experiences, which I study in Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity; whether it is real and imagined African American men working to define themselves against narrow stereotypes and embrace their multidimensionality, as I examine in When We Imagine Grace; or whether it is black people and allies across race and ethnicity marching and demanding that black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s; what is indisputable is that we as a nation will never be free or be a true democracy until we can grant free and unmerited favor to every human being calling this nation home, simply because they are human.

Simone Drake is assistant professor of African American studies at Ohio State University and the author of Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity.