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9781524732585

To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness

by
  • ISBN13:

    9781524732585

  • ISBN10:

    1524732583

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2022-12-06
  • Publisher: Knopf

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Summary

A genre-bending exploration of poetry, photography, and human migration—another revelatory visual expedition from the National Book Award–winning poet who changed the way we see art, the museum, and the Black female figure. • Winner of the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

“Lewis pushes the limits of language and image, composing lines alongside a cache of hundreds of photographs found under her late grandmother’s bed only days before the house was slated to be razed.” —Kevin Young, The New Yorker

Twenty-five years ago, after her maternal grandmother’s death, Robin Coste Lewis discovered a stunning collection of photographs in an old suitcase under her bed, filled with everything from sepia tintypes to Technicolor Polaroids. Lewis’s family had survived one of the largest migrations in human history, when six million Americans fled the South, attempting to escape from white supremacy and white terrorism. But these photographs of daily twentieth-century Black life revealed a concealed, interior history. The poetry Lewis joins to these vivid images stands forth as an inspiring alternative to the usual ways we frame the old stories of “race” and “migration,” placing them within a much vaster span of time and history.

In what she calls “a film for the hands” and “an origin myth for the future,” Lewis reverses our expectations of both poetry and photography: “Black pages, black space, black time––the Big Black Bang.” From glamorous outings to graduations, birth announcements, baseball leagues, and back-porch delight, Lewis creates a lyrical documentary about Black intimacy. Instead of colonial nostalgia, she offers us “an exalted Black privacy.” What emerges is a dynamic reframing of what it means to be human and alive, with Blackness at its center. “I am trying / to make the gods / happy,” she writes amid these portraits of her ancestors. “I am trying to make the dead / clap and shout.”

Author Biography

ROBIN COSTE LEWIS won the National Book Award for Voyage of the Sable Venus, her first collection of poetry. The book was also a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and it was named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker and The New York Times. Literary Hub named it one of the best books of the last twenty years. She is also the co-author with Kevin Young of Robert Rauschenberg: Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. The former poet laureate of Los Angeles, Lewis holds a PhD in Poetry and Visual Studies from the University of Southern California, an MFA in poetry from New York University, an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University, and a BA in comparative literature and creative writing from Hampshire College. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review and The Massachusetts Review. Lewis has taught at Hampshire College, Hunter College, Wheaton College, and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris. She is currently Writer-in-Residence at the University of Southern California.
 

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