Volume 12 (Spring 2012)

Cover of "E3W Review of Books: Volume 12": Watercolor painting of a student protest

Edited by Lisa Gulesserian & Meredith Coffey

The thirty-first of October, 2011, was the United Nations-designated Day of Seven Billion. Three newborns—Danica May Camacho of Manila, Philippines; Nargis Kumar of Mall village, India; and Wattalage Muthumai of Colombo, Sri Lanka—were selected as very youthful representatives of this population milestone. All females born in Asia, these babies are significant not only because of their birthdays, but also because of their gender and location. In choosing these girls as symbols of our exponential population growth, organizations like the United Nations and child rights group Plan International shift attention to increasingly recognized demographics. Last year also witnessed the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to three women of the global south: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and activist Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. These women have worked to promote women’s rights, democracy, and peace amidst political tumult. The challenge of this century may well be the inclusion of billions of voices on the global stage.

In the way that these laureates voice the needs of their marginalized communities, this year’s issue airs the concerns of writers, artists, and activists who ask for recognition of their diverse claims. Bringing together reviews of new critical and fictional works, along with poetry collections and older seminal texts, the issue is part of an effort to include marginalized and silenced voices from around the globe. Featured University of Texas alumni scholar-poets Rachel Jennings and Susan B. A. Somers-Willett are invested in similar projects within our own country’s borders. Jennings’s chapbook Knoxville Girl: The Walk to the River opens our first section, “Voice, Location, and Form: A Poetry and Poetics Special Section.” From Appalachia to Palestine and even to outer space, the reviews of critical and poetic works in this section address common themes of class, ethnic, and gender politics. Reviews of UT professor Meta DuEwa Jones’s The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word and Robert Dale Parker’s Changing is Not Vanishing: A Collection of American Indian Poetry to 1930 offer new perspectives and new materials, respectively, for scholars of poetry. Bookending the issue is our last special section, “Contested Cities,” inspired by Somers-Willett’s The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. Like the urban movement of slam poetry, other pop cultural phenomena represented in this section—like graphic novels, comic books, and bicycles—provide novel avenues for analyzing the city. “Contested Cities” also questions urban access, authenticity, and identity. 

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Our second section, “Travel in Transit[ion],” investigates identity by following the voluntary and involuntary migrations of peoples and ideas. Reviews of texts like Underground Writing: The London Tube from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf and Paul Fussell’s classic Abroad: British Literary Travel between the Wars track middle-class movements both within cities and around the world. Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel and Movements, Borders, and Identities in Africa examine historical displacements of Africans and African Americans. Ethics, law, and war link this special section to our third, “The Logic of Violence.” Dedicated to the memory of University of Texas alumnus Aimé J. Ellis, the reviews in this section suggest the constructive potential of violence, while acknowledging its often destructive consequences. In addition to Ellis’s book If We Must Die: From Bigger Thomas to Biggie Smalls, Slavoj Žižek’s Violence: Six Sideways Reflections and Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance invite us to reconsider the meaning of violence in our contemporary political setting.

This year’s issue continues the E3W tradition of honoring the work of UT faculty, as our general section includes reviews of recent publications by faculty members Don Graham, Lisa L. Moore, and Julia H. Lee, as well as a review of professor emeritus Bernth Lindfors’s two-volume biography of nineteenth-century actor Ira Aldridge. In the way that Lindfors analyzes Aldridge’s use of theater to complicate assumptions about race, other books in this opening section, such as Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity, Race in American Science Fiction, and The Rhetoric of Racist Humour: US, UK and Global Race Joking also focus on race in popular culture. Other authors in the general section reread canonical texts (Unraveling the Real: The Fantastic in Spanish-American Ficciones and The Anatomy of Blackness: Science & Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment) and introduce new ‘texts’ (State of Minds: Texas Culture & Its Discontents and Sister Arts: The Erotics of Lesbian Landscapes), while Arab-American Women’s Writing and Performance: Orientalism, Race and the Idea of The Arabian Nights does both. In addition to Arab American experience, books like The People of The Eye: Deaf Ethnicity and Ancestry and Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937 redefine the American ethnic landscape. Ethnicity also plays a role in Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation on the Failures of Urban Education, which examines the inaccessibility of quality education. Similarly, Public Works: Infrastructure, Irish Modernism, and the Postcolonial and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks raise ethical questions about accessibility to basic utilities and medical care. 

Citizenship based on accessibility has been a crucial topic for many elections. Especially with ongoing debates in the United States about health care reform, in Russia about cronyism, and in Egypt about its new direction, the recent elections in many new and established nations will determine the futures of billions of voices. 

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