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The Power of Voice

The Power of Voice

New narratives rewrite the world

In the early 1990s, Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami—then a graduate student studying linguistics in Los Angeles—found herself filling out administrative paperwork at the University of Southern California so she could teach Arabic and French to undergrads. She puzzled over a section that asked her to self-identify with one of a limited number of racial categories: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black; Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; and White.

It’s difficult to be interested in modern American culture and not be at least nominally aware of Miranda July. The New York Times Magazine has called her a “prolific polymath.” That’s often shorthand for “dilettante,” but July is in no way trifling: Her novel was a bestseller and her stories appear in the New Yorker and the Paris Review. She is a performance artist whose work winds up in museums. She’s an indie auteur whose films—Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future—win awards at Cannes and Sundance.

Kay Ryan’s new book, Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose, is a pleasing size: 200 or so pages, small enough to balance in your hand. The titles of the essays—“A Consideration of Poetry,” “I Go to AWP,” “Inedible Melons,” “To Be Miniature Is to Be Swallowed by a Miniature Whale” (taken from one of Ryan’s poems, “This Life”)—convey that same strange, funny, compelling intermixture of the large and the tiny, the sublime and the ridiculous, that marks Ryan’s marvelous verse.

Passage West author Rishi Reddi tells us what people take for granted about California.

 

 

Written: Friday May 8th, 1:29pm 2020