“For Row, there’s an analogue [to white flight] in contemporary fiction: white authors fleeing the problem of race. . . . Row demonstrates this through astute close readings in which he analyzes postwar fiction with a loving sternness that avoids didacticism even as he pingpongs among cultural artifacts, decoding everything from Don DeLillo’s Underworld to emo music. . . . We should accompany Row through this important inquiry.”The New York Times Book Review
“[Jess Row] open[s] a dialogue about how white literature often ignores nonwhite experiences and narratives, and how to create a space for inclusivity that starts with the writing arena. . . . He’s brilliant and insightful.”The Washington Post
“Row’s humbleness makes [White Flights] possible, as he writes about a place of reconciliation we have yet to reach. . . . Row’s work is a step toward undermining this binary classification, and an opportunity to decode all that has come before.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“[Jess Row] tackles head-on the conundrums most of us like to deflect such as whether people have a ‘right’ to represent other races in fiction and he does so thoughtfully and gracefully, but without equivocation or evasion.”Vulture
“Row's writing is consistently compelling, a necessary read for anyone who wants their art to be challenging, not merely comforting.”NYLON
“Row has produced a thoughtful and timely meditation that serves as a call to white writers.”PopMatters
“With this groundbreaking book, [Jess Row] explores how literature can, but also could, shape the way we interact with people from different backgrounds.”Inside Hook
“This intelligent collection is often deeply engaged in realms of philosophy and literary theory. . . . There is something for every reader . . . in the message that fiction not only reflects but acts upon real life, and that each of us is obliged to act for justice, in reading and writing as in life.”Shelf Awareness
“Wide-ranging, erudite, and impassioned. . . . Row melds memoir, literary and cultural criticism, and philosophical reflection in seven essays that examine how whiteness is imagined and represented in ‘novels, short stories, films [and] plays.’. . . [White Flights] is a significant contribution to the cultural landscape. A disquieting, deeply thoughtful cultural critique.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Full of brilliant readings and beautifully written, this mind-altering work of criticism establishes Row as one of the preeminent cultural critics of our age.”Booklist, starred review
“Moving outside of white literature’s often isolated and emotionally numb terrain, [Row] discusses how reparative writing can effect reconciliation. [White Flights is] for readers fascinated by race and reparative writing, now and in American history, and the transformative potential of literature to change minds and emphasize our common humanity.”Library Journal, starred review
“Gutsy, capable, urgent, innovative, and timely: these elegant essays think and write across lines of race in American culture.”Judges’ citation, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant
“These are brilliant, sweeping, intimate delightsand afterward, you may never read the same way again.”Alexander Chee
“With these superb essays, Jess Row reveals himself to be an insightful critic of both literature and the American condition.”Viet Thanh Nguyen
“A major literary and intellectual intervention, clarifying the real stakes in what we too complacently call ‘identity politics.’”Pankaj Mishra
“We need this book, now and yesterday.”Kiese Laymon
“Jess Row performs a much-needed analysis. . . . The landscape of the imagination, like the country itself, he argues with rich insight and brio, is neither equal nor free.”John Keene
“White Flights will change my work, and my life, and for that I’m grateful.”Jonathan Lethem
“With care and complexity, White Flights furthers a crucial national conversation on whiteness, white spaces, and racism, and how these concepts define American literature. More than just provoking thought, this book will provoke dialogue and discussionexactly what we all need.”Beth Bich Minh Nguyen
Wide-ranging, erudite, and impassioned essays examine whiteness and literature.
Whiting Award winner Row (English/Coll. of New Jersey; Your Face in Mine, 2014, etc.) melds memoir, literary and cultural criticism, and philosophical reflection in seven essays that examine how whiteness is imagined and represented in "novels, short stories, films [and] plays." As a white writer with a complicated racial identity and father to two multiracial children, Row is troubled by the way fiction "reflects and sustains" notions of whiteness as "normal, neutral, and central." How do fiction writers, even unconsciously, perpetuate racism? Is it possible for fiction to contribute to a process of reconciliation and reparation? Reparative writing asks writers "to bring their own sadness or their own bodies into play when writing about race or racism," including feelings of "paralysis, isolation, or alienation." In his view, the white American literary community—which he reveals by examining a prodigious number of writers, scholars, and critics—rather than struggling to express these deep-seated feelings, takes on "postures of avoidance and denial." This avoidance, Row asserts, is a form of "white flight," a term usually associated with "abandonment of the ideals of integration" by whites fleeing urban African American, Latinx, or immigrant communities to suburban homes surrounded by "enormous lawns" that serve as "a buffer or barrier." Applied to writing, "white flight" encapsulates "the desire not to have one's visual field constantly invaded by inconveniently different faces—relationships that are fraught, unfixed, capable of producing equal measures of helplessness and guilt." Row's urgent desire to confront questions of race is compelled in part by his own background, which he shares in engrossing autobiographical vignettes. On one side of his family, his ancestors were among the first white settlers on land forcibly taken from the Lakota; on the other were immigrants from the racially mixed Azores. But his concern transcends his own background: Is it possible, he wonders, for white writers ever to escape "the horror of performing within the family romance of whiteness"? Though the lit-crit language may turn off some readers, this is a significant contribution to the cultural landscape.
A disquieting, deeply thoughtful cultural critique.
Row (Your Face in Mine) learned early on to love literature, and like so many possessed of—and by—creative fire, immersed himself in works by "the greats." Only later did the author experience an urgent need to learn why most of these creators and their worlds were predominantly white. Inspired to uncover and confront the costs of American literary voices ignoring diversity in their own land, Row embarked on an inarguably bleak journey. Yet bleak doesn't mean hopeless, and Row's lucid explorations of writing by James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, Toni Morrison, James Alan McPherson, and others venture beyond criticism, citing Albert Murray's counternarrative that "[t]he practice of improvisatory freedom in black culture is the essence of American culture itself." Row's arguments further range across film and music, noting that coolness, the hipster, emo, and white blues are derived from African American culture—which should be obvious but isn't. Moving outside of white literature's often isolated and emotionally numb terrain, the author discusses how reparative writing can effect reconciliation. VERDICT For readers fascinated by race and reparative writing, now and in American history, and the transformative potential of literature to change minds and emphasize our common humanity. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/19.]—William Grabowski, McMechen, WV