by Teddy Holt ’22

Books on a table

Community building is the name of the game this semester at Macalester. It’s hard to create informal relationships between students, or students and professors, when we aren’t in physical space together! One way the English Department is looking to create those bonds is by holding space in the Lounge for various “book talks” hosted by bookstores, journals, and universities online. We want to support English majors and other students in finding books and topics that excite them—just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean that we can’t gather together to enjoy and think about writing.

So far, the English Department has provided access to and a discussion around two book talks. The first, held on September 14th, was a conversation between Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen and The White Card, and Robin di Angelo, author of White Fragility, about Rankine’s new collection, Just Us (out September 8th, 2020). The conversation felt ironically relevant to the structure of Just Us, a series of essay-conversations where Rankine responds to the racism present in her everyday life; Robin di Angelo is infamous for the way she condescends to explain race to Black people, and this discussion was no different. All that said, Rankine’s discussion of craft and her ability to witness critically captivated me—the discussion quickly derailed from talking about Rankine’s new book, but I still left wanting to read it.

The second book talk the English Department attended was a reading and Q&A session with Minnesota Hmong author Kao Kalia Yang, held on September 23rd. Due to technical difficulties, English students didn’t get a chance to debrief with each other, but I found her vulnerability during the talk deeply powerful. Yang has a singular talent for holding space for all of the myriad ways of experiencing humanity, a skill that is showcased in her new collection, Somewhere in the Unknown World, to be released fall 2020.

Both talks featured women of color reflecting on how race has shaped their lives and the lives of others, but the English Department’s book talk series doesn’t have an explicit theme. That’s because we’re hoping to hear from you readers about what authors, books, and topics you’d like to see represented every week or so! Have a favorite living author? Maybe they have a new book out, or they’re moderating a discussion? Maybe you just really want to learn more about beekeeping or grief, or love middle grade fiction or experimental poetry (list of my interests, much?). Send those suggestions and more to [email protected].

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at our next book talk discussion space: Isabel Wilkerson discussing her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, on October 13th from 7:00-8:00pm CDT with time for discussion afterward, held in the English Lounge.