It’s summer reading season for my daughters, and my eldest is about to embark upon Philip Roth’s American Pastoral—a novel, I told her, that seems entirely of the moment, given the eruptions our country has suffered of what that novel’s author memorably dubbed the “indigenous American berserk.” To see footage of crowds sprinting for cover amidst a fusillade of assault rifle bullets while fireworks boom and bloom in the background, I can’t help but think to myself that if I were to paint such a scene in a novel, my editor would strike it as too heavy-handed a description of a society plunged into dysfunction and chaos. Meanwhile, Utah’s Great Salt Lake is so decimated by drought it may be well on its way to becoming a climatological disaster zone, a dust bowl that is the potential death knell for a great Western city. Yellowstone floods. Inflation infuriates, stagnation looms. The January 6 Committee, with no fanfare, trots out Republican after Republican with damaging testimony against our former president, evidence that—if I allow myself to be hopeful—has begun to peel off a growing percentage of folks who think Trump’s actions were seditious. The Supreme Court delivers a barrage of rulings that riddle the social fabric with even more holes, tugging at our divisions while also standing in such obvious contradiction (the state cannot deny a right, the state can deny a right) it feels as if that branch of government is, dare I say it, gaslighting its citizenry. I could go on. Or:
We could go on—determined, like my daughter, to continue to read and learn. We could go on—like this issue’s contributors, whose writing reflects a radical effort to make sense of it all. Every quarter we are blessed with the work of new voices to our pages, and we welcome poets Okwudili Nebeolisa, Chad Abushanab, and R. A. Villanueva for the first time. We also welcome ice-cream entrepreneur and cookbook author Lokelani Alabanza, who shares some of her work on the history of Black ice cream in America. Rounding out our new contributors is novelist Katie Kitamura, whose craft essay explores the borderless possibilities of collaborative art. We have an essay by Judith Claire Mitchell and a story by Ron Rash, both of which examine how social pressures affect the way stories get told. We welcome back Anna Caritj, with a story about sibling rivalry and love, and Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel, whose collaborative novel, Dayswork, is here excerpted, and is a hybrid wonder—part meditation on Herman Melville, part rumination about family life during a pandemic. There are two poems from poet Rebecca Wolff’s forthcoming collection, Slight Return, as well as an essay by longtime contributor Merrill Joan Gerber, and a trio of reviews by poet and critic Christopher Spaide, who will be giving the lecture on 2022 Aiken Taylor Award winner Garrett Hongo this fall in Sewanee.
Bring the issue to the beach. Enjoy it wherever you are partaking of the outdoors. Or with a cold beer, by a dock somewhere, to the sound of wavelap, seagulls, and the gonging of sailboat masts. But do not forget that this time of rest and relaxation of which you partake is, in part, a preparation for profound exertions this fall. Our future is unquestionably in peril. There is real work to be done, sooner than we’d like, to preserve and protect this beautiful American experiment.