The Beacon Best of 2001

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The Beacon Best offers in one volume the most exciting American literary experience available. This third edition guest edited by the acclaimed writer, Junot Díaz, hignlights the innovative voices of Agha Shahid Ali, Danzy Senna, and Zadie Smith, among others.

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Overview

The Beacon Best offers in one volume the most exciting American literary experience available. This third edition guest edited by the acclaimed writer, Junot Díaz, hignlights the innovative voices of Agha Shahid Ali, Danzy Senna, and Zadie Smith, among others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"I am a 34-year-old black woman, alive at the end of the 20th century and passing for sane. Believe me, that's saying something," writes Felicia Ward in "Good Night Moon," her restrained prose fraught with complex emotions as she describes her disintegrating marriage and her rage at her children. Seeking the "gap... between the Real Story and the Official Story," Dominican-American fiction writer Diaz (Drown) culled these 28 selections, primarily by writers of color, from periodicals as diverse as O, The Oprah Magazine; Transition; Granta; Gato Pardo; and the New Yorker. Many, like Elissa Wald's "Notes from the Catwalk," are first-person narratives. Wald describes her experiences as a Times Square stripper with bluntness and pungency balanced by emotional nuance. The host at work asks her why she looks sad one night: " `My cat died this afternoon,' I told him. Incredibly, his doughy face creased into a grin. `Aw look, honey, don't take it too hard,' he guffawed. `As long as your other pussy's holding up.' " Sex and/or love are at the heart of many of the pieces in the 16-line poem "Interglacial," John Frazier describes gay ex-lovers having sex and figuring out what their relationship is about. "How to Do," a poem by Cornelius Eady, begins "It embarrasses my niece to think of her mother/ Walking the street with a cart/ Picking up empties," and describes returning bottles to the local store for food credit. Diaz draws on noted names Lucille Clifton, Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich but many are less well-known. This excellent collection, billed as "the alternative literary annual," is an important addition to the wide world of literary anthologies. (Oct. 17) Copyright 2001 Cahners BusinessInformation.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The 12 poems and 16 prose pieces in this anthology represent diverse subject matter and narrative styles, and there are five wonderful selections with strong teen appeal. One is Nega Mezlekia's "From EXODUS: An Ethiopian Road Trip," in which a teen, armed with an M-R rifle, and his refugee family and friends are trying to survive in the war-torn Ethiopian countryside. Many YAs will also enjoy Dagoberto Gilb's "I Knew She Was Beautiful." It is narrated by the son of a woman whose tumultuous relationships with men caused him to feel alienated from her, especially while he was an adolescent. "Stuart" by Zadie Smith is about a scuffle between a teenaged boy and an adult hot-dog vendor that results in a freakish and serious injury to an unsuspecting passerby. James Ellis Thomas's "The Saturday Morning Car Wash Club" is a sharp, humorous tale about two 16-year-old boys who triumphantly stand up to a notorious bully who is legally an adult. Even the most reluctant readers will be spellbound by the dramatic tension and hip language of Thomas's writing. The poetry has less teen appeal, but the prose pieces offer rich material for lively class discussions and interesting written assignments.-Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807062395
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction by Junot Díaz
After Sleep the Wild Morning Angela Shaw
Aquifer Tim Winton
The Lover Reetika Vazirani
Water Child Edwidge Danticat
The Taiping Leaders Ha Jin
A Portrait of a Legend Josefina Báez
There Is No God But Agha Shahid Ali
From "Exodus: An Ethiopian Road Trip" Nega Mezlekia
You Call Me by Old Names Rhina P. Espaillat
The Color of Love Danzy Senna
How to Do Cornelius Eady
I Knew She Was Beautiful Dagoberto Gilb
Black Petal Li-Young Lee
A Poem For My Father Sonia Sanchez
Notes from the Catwalk Elissa Wald
Good Night Moon Felicia Ward
My Suburb: Ridgewood, N.J. Chang-rae Lee
Ode to Sesshu Ishle Park
Mexico DF Francisco Goldman
Stuart Zadie Smith
Revival Road Louise Erdrich
Interglacial John Frazier
The Saturday Morning Car Wash Club James Ellis Thomas
A Love Transaction Maile Chapman
The Revelation Museum Pedro Ponce
Following My Year-Long Absence Patrick A. Rosal
Lazarus Lucille Clifton
Contributors
Credits
Publications
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Introduction

Introduction Junot Díaz 1.
For the last couple of years I-a former five pages a day type guy-have not been able to write with any consistency. The reasons for my "block" are numerous and not particularly interesting, but as a result I've had more time to read newspapers and watch television, more time to notice how the world is being represented by those whom we shall call for simplicity's sake the powers-that-be. I've been aware since about the Reagan administration of the gap between the world that they swear exists and the world that I know exists. What I hadn't anticipated-I guess I should have been reading more Chomsky-is how enormous that gap had become. 2.
An example. I was recently involved in an "effort" to prevent a corporation from privatizing five public schools in New York City. The organization to which I belong began to work with one school very closely; unlike the Board of Education and the Edison Corporation, we visited the school, met with the teachers, the parents, the students. What we observed at the school was typical. It was a poorly funded, overcrowded institution with no playground, few textbooks, and in need of quality teachers. We encountered classes being held in the hallway, children sharing books, and an acute shortage of chalk. But these details are not in themselves interesting. What's interesting is that during the subsequent "coverage" of the privatization "debate" none of the papers or news programs seemed to have seen what we did. Rather than focusing on the school's material conditions or on the government structures that systematically underfund poor minority districts (you didn't think this was happening at a white school, did you?) or on the difficulty that overcrowded "inner-city" schools encounter when trying to recruit qualified faculty, the media, the pundits, the politicians, the community leaders, the Edison Corporation-everyone it seemed, but those of us in the community-started demonizing the schools instead. They characterized the schools as "failures," "the worst schools in the city." The parents (who weren't exactly thrilled that someone wanted to make money off their children's misery in order to send their own kids to private school) were called "misguided" and "foolish." As for the teachers (who thought that there was something perverse about a state abdicating its responsibility to provide quality education to its citizens), they were labeled "divisive," "machiavellian," and "obstructionist." The Edison Corporation, on the other hand, was accorded an amazing amount of respect. Despite the fact that the company was running a hundred-million-dollar-plus debt and had yet to achieve success rates better than the public systems it had displaced, it was called an "unsullied player," "innovative," a "new solution," and many an editorial positioned it as a "savior." Like I said, it's not the distortions, the silencing, or the erasure that astonished me (footnote one: Please, I grew up Dominican in the eighties). It was the increase in their power and scope. It didn't used to take so much work to pick out the Real Story; it tended to seep up through the Official Story like water. But in the this case, even someone like me, who had witnessed the Real Story (by which I don't mean My Story but instead the endless myriad of stories that include My Story and the Official Story and whose conflicting sums compose the Real Story) and who should have been able to spot it peeking up through the barbwire misrepresentations, was having trouble locating it. Where was it? And where by extension was the Real World it sought to describe, a world that is complicated and unsettling and tends not to correspond to any individual, nation, or corporation's vision of itself? That world, the powers-that-be seemed to be saying, does not exist. Never has.

3.
It is this gap, between the Real Story and the Official Story, that interests me. It is inside this gap that the best writers, or at least the writers that I admire most, often reside. You don't, despite what you might think, have to be a "radical" or a "revolutionary" to be a resident of the gap. You don't have to write about dictators or the slave trade or "issues." You don't even have to write about twenty-first-century earth (hello, Octavia Butler!) Simply present a vision of the world that is complex, multi-vocal, and contradictory, that does not seek to simplify, that does not succumb to what Bruce Lee called "fearful formulas," and you will find yourself with a new address, no questions asked. All the writers gathered in this anthology have, in their own way, made a home of the gap.

4.
Patrick Rosal's "Following My Year-Long Absence" is a poem underpinned by silences that reveal more than they hide, trapdoors through which your heart might fall. And Cornelius Eady, a writer whose work I've long admired and whose intelligence and humanity I seek to emulate, evokes in "How to Do" an entire family-no, an entire community-adrift in circumstances we do not write about enough, and "Beholden to nobodies luck/ But our own." If you have been away too long from the Real World you will be jarred by writers like Felicia Ward and Reetika Vazirani ("I became those who bent me"), shattered by the likes of Dagoberto Gilb and Rhina Espaillat (whose title, "You Call Me By Old Names," is a heartbreak in itself), reborn in the word-fires of Josefina Báez (who lays bare the fate of our ciguapa myths), and made to feel awe (the tremors produced by Tim Winton's "Aquifer" and by John Frazier's "Interglacial" I still feel, beneath my shirt, my skin; Mr. Frazier in particular has dominion over silences; he too can make them speak). Herein are found titans-Chang-rae Lee and Louise Erdrich-and the fiercest of the young talents-Angela Shaw (one of the finest poets on any coast, of any color) and Maile Chapman (whose Gothic tales are without peer in their suggestiveness and their power). Within you'll also find one of the finest "undiscovered" writers working in the United States: T. E. Holt. No book of his has ever been published and to discover him you have either to have been taught by him at Rutgers University (as I was) or to have searched the stacks of your library for his work (as I did). He is a dream of Melville and Borges and Poe made flesh. His story is a chilling account of a deadly "communicative" illness whose first symptom is the appearance of a mysterious word upon the skin; the simple act of reading the word is all it takes to spread the plague. I could go on-Zadie Smith's uncanny narrative legerdemain; Elissa Wald's powerfully written "descent" into stripping and into her own worrying predilections; Francisco Goldman's inspired praise-song to Mexico City; Edwidge Danticat's hurricane talent-but that would detract further from the joy of discovery. 5.
During the last week of the anti-privatization campaign, when Edison and the Board of Education and the media and the politicians were turning up the heat, I would occasionally feel myself losing heart. (There's only so much exposure to the Matrix one can take before it starts to wear on you.) I was very fortunate, however, for it was at this same time that I was reading these stories, these essays, these poems. While those of us against privatization were being knocked about in newspapers and on the news, while we were being erased and distorted into cartoons, I was sifting through journals, printing pages out from e-mail, thumbing through blurred photocopies. Would you think me sentimental if I said that the freshness and originality and humanity of these writers and their work renewed me? When billions and billions of dollars are spent trying to convince you to see the world in one particular way, isn't it something like salvation when you discover voices, brave and unwavering, who invite you to see it in another way? 6. I leave you with Rushdie, from "Notes on Writing and The Nation": "History has become debatable. In the aftermath of Empire, in the age of superpower, under the 'footprint' of partisan simplifications beamed down to us from satellite, we can no longer easily agree on what is the case, let alone what it might mean. Literature steps into this ring. Historians, media moguls, politicians do not care for the intruder, but the intruder is a stubborn sort. In this ambiguous atmosphere, upon this trampled earth, in these muddy waters, there is work for him (her) to do." Say word.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2002

    heart breaking

    this is a great anthology. the introduction alone hooked me, awakened a renewed sense of humanity for the work that writers do, the impact they can have on society should they choose to

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