Here is our latest installment of “Dedicated To,” a series that looks at the dedication pages in recently released books and the stories behind them.
What can language do? Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin’s new anthology, “Who Will Speak for America?”, brings together a diverse group of poets, essayists, novelists and artists to address notions of American identity, voice and resistance in the time period following the 2016 presidential election. In the essays, illustrations and poems that result, themes of injustice and violence co-exist with messages of hope and resilience to form a unique collection that not only offers a frank look at the current political climate, but also imagines what the future of America might be.
Following in the tradition of American literary protest, the anthology, broken into two large sections — “Speaking to America” and “Speaking for America” — finds its roots in the Writers Resist events that took place throughout the country in 2017, and includes contributors such as Eileen Myles, Jericho Brown, Madeleine Thien, Carmen Maria Machado, Adrienne Celt, Veronica Scott Esposito and Nancy Hightower, among others.
We spoke with Feldman and Popkin about their dedication page and the role it played in shaping their anthology.
Please describe “Who Will Speak for America?” in a single statement or question:
The multi-genre anthology “Who Will Speak for America?” confronts the rising nativism and corruption of the Trump era with voices of reason, despair and hope.
What is the story behind the dedication, “To those unwilling to forfeit their voices, no matter the risk”?
The anthology’s title comes from the 1976 address by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan to the Democratic National Convention, in which she stated, in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam:
Many fear the future. Many are distrustful of their leaders, and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work — wants; to satisfy their private interests. But this is the great danger America faces — that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual; each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good?
The congresswoman used the question to inspire people to stand up for America’s cherished ideals of liberty and justice for all. A few of our contributors took the question this same way, while others addressed the corruption of those ideals. But to most, Jordan’s question was a call to be heard, as Trump and his allies seek to limit who can call themselves American — targeting refugees, asylees, immigrants and even naturalized citizens. For many, claiming American identity is an act of bravery.
This response inspired our dedication: “To those unwilling to forfeit their voices, no matter the risk.” We honor those who claim their own dignity — and, by corollary, the nation’s. This, after all, is the tradition of American writing: to widen the meaning of “American” by writing our freedoms, challenging their limitations and defining for ourselves the future.
How did this dedication influence your book?
The dedication sharpened our vision for the book: to give voice to those who are everyday being targeted. It helped us organize the work into to a progression of voices that first speak to ourselves, our families and our communities, and then gather into visions of the nation and its future.
Is there a book that you have read that you feel speaks directly to you? What is it?
NATHANIEL POPKIN: There are so many, dozens and dozens. In light of this moment and this book, I think of various things: how Nazism never dies (Bolaño’s “2666”); the moment when normal civic life collapsed in Germany in 1932-33 (Irmgard Keun’s “Gilgi”); the Palestinian insurgency (Elias Khoury’s “Gate of the Sun”); the despair of war and family (David Grossman’s “Falling Out of Time”).
STEPHANIE FELDMAN: There are some books that are so in tune with what I want as a reader — even before I know myself — that they feel like they were written for me, even if their subject matter is foreign to my experience. The voices just make complete sense. A few authors I always return to are Adam Johnson, Arthur Phillips, Sofia Samatar, Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterson.