Adverse Abstraction Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, Bonnie Jill Emanuel, and Virginia Vasquez * May 20, 2022, 6 pm at Otto’s NYC

Adverse Abstraction will be featuring poets and writers Rita Banerjee, Bonnie Jill Emanuel, and Virginia Vasquez during their next monthly reading at Otto’s Shrunken Head on Friday, May 20 at 6 pm Eastern. The Adverse Abstraction monthly artist series is curated in New York City by writers Kristine Esser Slentz and Matthew Gahler, and you can read more about the featured authors below.

Featured Authors:

Rita Banerjee is author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA from the University of Washington, and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at the George Polk School of Communications at Long Island University Brooklyn. Her work appears in Hunger Mountain, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is the co-writer and co-director of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France.  She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays.

Bonnie Jill Emanuel’s poems appear or will appear in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Passages North, The Night Heron Barks, SWWIM, The Laurel Review, Indolent Books Online, Ruminate, Love’s Executive Order, Midwest Review, Chiron Review,  and elsewhere. She earned a Creative Writing MFA at The City College of New York in 2020, where she was awarded the Jerome Lowell DeJur Prize in Creative Writing for her full-length thesis manuscript, and the Stark Poetry Prize in Memory of Raymond Patterson for a series of poems she wrote about Detroit. She holds a BA in Creative Writing & Foreign Languages from University of Michigan’s Residential College. Born in Detroit, she now lives in New York.

Virginia Vasquez is a cross-genre writer, multidisciplinary artist, and educator. She taught creative writing at the City College of New York, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on experimental and hybrid poetics. In her artist statement, she explains: “As a multiracial Caribeña, I honor my racial identities, ancestry, and lineage. In my work, I evoke ancestral spirits to give voice to those forgotten and unheard, to bring the ancestors into presence — exalt their pain and sacrifice, resistance and power. My writing is ritualistic, taking on various forms and shapes to challenge perceptions, perspectives, and assumptions about history, identity, and self.” Virginia is also a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, and has worked in mental health settings for over 6 years. She taught various workshops on mental health at 1199SEIU, and currently facilitates trainings’ for the Mentorship Training Program for Registered Apprenticeship in Healthcare at H-CAP, Inc.

Part III of Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

Photo still of Zowa and Ariane, a French couple from Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, tribalism, and intimacy in the United States and in France.

The third and final part of Rita Banerjee’s essay, “The Female Gaze,” an excerpt from her new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure debuts in PANK Magazine today.

In Part 3 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

III. I see you seeing me

In Town Bloody Hall, Germaine Greer engages in a battle of wills and wits with Norman Mailer as he argues that men are merely passive slaves to women, who are the ones who really hold power, in The Prisoner of Sex.

            The debate takes place at NYU in 1971.

            In the film, Mailer introduces Greer as the “lady writer” from “England,” although Greer is clearly exhibiting an Australian accent and despises the term “lady” to qualify anything.

            Her fur stole drags on the floor as she responds to Mailer:

            “I turned to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it. And I found that it fell into two parts. That we were either low, sloppy creatures or menials, or we were goddesses, or worse of all, we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.”

            Mailer doesn’t look up, Greer doesn’t pause:

            “I turned for some information to Freud. Treating Freud’s description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the psyche of the artist in our society, and not in any way as an eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who’ve had the misfortune to see it: He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame, and the love of women but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications.”

            Greer pronounces the words and the camera settles on Mailer’s worried face. The audience chuckles at his unease. She does not stop:

            “As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile, after all, to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time, was a severe check. The blandness of Freud’s assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame, and the love of men?

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 3) on PANK Magazine here.

Part II of Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

The second part of Rita Banerjee’s essay, “The Female Gaze,” an excerpt from her new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure debuts in PANK Magazine today.

In Part 2 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

II.  Be an Object of the Gaze

In Le deuxième sexe, Simone de Beauvoir throws down the gauntlet: On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.  One is not born a woman: one becomes it.

            Whatever it is or was or could be—female, feminine, feminist, second, subaltern, subordinate, submissive, other sex—Beauvoir asserts that an individual is actively trained, educated, and thus, indoctrinated on how to perform the role of the woman and eventually become it (neutered, masculine category).  La femme est une autre.  La femme est l’Autre.  Je suis l’ Autre.  The woman is an Other.  The woman is the Other.  I am the Other.  What did Rimbaud know?  Je est un Autre.  Godard, too, when he exclaimed, Une femme est une femme?  Is a woman just a woman?  Who makes a woman?  You?  Me?  Society?  A man?”

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 2) on PANK Magazine here.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

Happy Lunar New Year! Today Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine. “The Female Gaze,” an essay in three parts, is an excerpt from Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure.  In her essay exploring the female gaze, female agency, and female cool, Banerjee asks:

What if women, especially women of color, were the progenitors of cool?  That is, did women have to cultivate their own cool—their own sense of style, creative expression, and coldness—in order to survive patriarchy across millennia across cultures? If the male gaze aims subordinate and colonize, what does the female gaze, tempered by cool, desire?  What does the female gaze cherish or hold dear?  If a woman were fully aware of her gaze, would she use it to objectify and colonize, or could her gaze destabilize and decolonize?

Cover Image of Tripti Chakravarty’s memoir, Duur Nikat, Nikat Duur (i.e. Distant: Nearby, Nearby: far-away; Dey’s Publishing, 1995).

In Part 1 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

In 2016, at a master class at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jill Soloway, the director and producer of Transparent who recently comes out as transgender, tackles Laura Mulvey’s famous and electrifying essay, “Visual Cinema and Narrative Pleasure.”  In 1975, Mulvey introduces the term “male gaze” and describes how scopophilia fetishizes the female body on screen and transforms a woman into an object of pleasure, voyeurism, and eroticism for the male viewer. 

            Soloway wonders if the female gaze is simply the opposite of the male gaze.  That is, is the female gaze simply “visual arts and literature depicting the world and men from a feminine point of view, presenting men as objects of female pleasure?”

            Soloway digs further.  The female gaze might actually have an identity of its own.  An independence, an agency.  “The female gaze might be…

I. A way of feeling and seeing, which tries to get inside the protagonist especially when the protagonist is not cis-male.  A subjective camera.  Reclaiming the body and using it as a tool of the self with intention to communicating a feeling-seeing.
II. Demonstrate how it feels to be the object of the gaze.
III. Return the gaze.  Daring to say, ‘I see you seeing me.’”

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 1) on PANK Magazine here.

Rita Banerjee and Shanta Lee Gander Discuss Creativity & Writing in New Podcast

Visual artist and poet Shanta Lee Gander and multi-genre author Rita Banerjee sit down to talk about creativity, writing across genres, knitting, music & jamming, and what sparks joy during the pandemic in Shanta Lee Gander’s new podcast from her new series “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World.”

This premiere podcast from the latest issue of “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World,” a monthly newsletter that offers a behind-the-scenes of creating as we talk with creatives around the world. The January issue features Rita Banerjee who is a writer across many different genres including her work on an upcoming documentary, Burning Down the Louvre. In our first audio interview, Shanta Lee talks with Rita about the things that take hold of us and call us to create, some details about what it has been like to branch out into documentary filmmaking, how to continue to keep the fire going when one creates across so many different areas, and more. To learn more about the newsletter or sign up, visit: Shantaleegander.com.

About the authors:

Shanta Lee Gander is a visual artist, poet, and prose writer based in Vermont. She is co-author with her husband MacLean C. Gander of Ghosts of Cuba: An Interracial Couple’s Exploration of Cuba in the Age of Trump—Told in Images & Words (forthcoming). She has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College, and is completing her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her exhibition Dark Goddess combines  cultural anthropology, photography, and an individual’s personal vision as it relates to unearthing deeper aspects of the goddess. The Dark Goddess exhibition was featured at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT as a solo show from August 7 – September 26, 2021  and will be at the Fleming Museum of Art, February – May 2022.

Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at LIU Brooklyn. She is the author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. Her work appears in Hunger Mountain, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is a co-writer of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this new memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. You can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee!

December 3: Isele Magazine Inaugural Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, E.C. Osondu, Erin Stalcup, & others! * 12:00-1:30 pm EST

Isele Magazine will be launching its Diverse Voices Reading Series on December 3, 2021 at 12 noon EST, and some of the featured writers in their Inaugural Reading will include E.C. Osondu, Rita Banerjee, and Erin Stalcup!

Isele Magazine is celebrating one year of publishing diverse stories with ten leading writers from around the world. In July 2020, Isele Magazine published its inaugural issue of stories and poems by writers who hold a mirror to our society and who challenge conventional expectations about ways of being, how to be, and who decides who should be. One year after the genre-defining issue, the magazine has since published over 100 writers from more than 15 countries worldwide, who continue to uplift and shape our thinking. The reading series is hosted by Ukamaka Olisakwe.

Isele Magazine Reading
feat. E.C. Osondu,
Rita Banerjee, and Erin Stalcup

Friday December 3, 2021 * 12:00-1:30 pm EST
Join via Zoom!

Featured Authors:

E.C. Osondu is the author of the story collections Voice of America and Alien Storiesand the novel This House Is Not for Sale. He is a winner of the Caine Prize, a Pushcart Prize, BOA Fiction Prize, among other prizes. A professor of English at Providence College, his fiction has appeared in GuernicaThe AtlanticAGNIn+1The Kenyon ReviewMcSweeney’sZyzzyvaThe Threepenny ReviewThe New Statesman and many other places, and has been translated into over half a dozen languages.


Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at the George Polk School of Communications at LIU Brooklyn. She is the author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, her MFA from the University of Washington, and her BA in English Honors from Rutgers University. Her work appears in Hunger Mountain, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is a co-writer of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this new memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. Her writing is represented by Folio Literary Management, and you can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com. 


Erin Stalcup is Editor-in-Chief of Defunct. Born and raised and educated in Flagstaff, on occupied Diné and Hopi land, she first left to live in Brooklyn, and has never since changed her (917) cellphone number. Erin has taught in community colleges, universities, liberal arts schools, prisons, state schools, and MFA programs in Manhattan, Asheville, Denton, her alma mater in her hometown, Montpelier, and now she’s back in Brooklyn. She is a co-founder of Waxwing, and served as Editor of Hunger Mountain. Her books include the story collection And Yet It Moves, and the novels Every Living Species and the forthcoming Keen--a chapter of which was published in Isele. You can read and hear some of her work at erinstalcup.xyz.   


Dennis Mugaa is a writer from Meru, Kenya. He was longlisted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jalada, Lolwe, Isele and Washington Square Review. He is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia where he is a Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship recipient. 


Roseline Mgbodichinma is a Nigerian writer, poet and blogger who is passionate about documenting women’s stories. She is currently pursuing a law degree and actively freelancing. She is a Contributing fiction editor for barren Magazine, a Nairobi fiction writing workshop (NF2W) scholarship recipient, and a SprinNG alumna. She won the audience favourite award for the Okada books and union bank campus writing challenge, she is the third prize winner for the PIN food poetry contest. Her work has been published on IseleNative SkinDown River RoadAmplifyJFA Human Rights MagBlue Marble ReviewKalahari ReviewIndianapolis Review, the Hellebore, and elsewhere. You can reach her on her blog at www.mgbodichi.com where she writes about art, issues, and lifestyle.


Dr. Nora Ekeanya is a board-certified adult psychiatrist, storyteller, poet, wife, and mother. Born of Nigerian immigrant parents in Tallahassee, FL, she was raised in the United States and Nigeria, though calling Jacksonville, FL, her hometown.  She is a practicing physician in Kansas, where she currently resides, and writes under the alias Nora Nneka.


Sylvia K. Ilahuka is a Tanzanian writer currently living in Uganda. In addition to Isele, her work has been published in LolweDoek!, the Aké ReviewIskanchi Press, and Bandcamp Daily. An alumna of Wellesley College, she is currently working on a Goethe-Institut art project about everyday African feminisms.


Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is a poet and essayist from Nigeria, whose work has appeared on Isele MagazinePopulaAke ReviewLolweJalada Africa, and elsewhere. She’s a 2018 Fellow of Ebedi Writers Residency, and is the nonfiction editor at Agbowo. Her chapbook of poetry “Sister” was published this year by Akashic Books in collaboration with the African Poetry Book Fund. She’s also a lawyer, and currently works as a specialized reporter at HumAngle


Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, Canada. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems and the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021) and Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021). He is the winner of the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism.


Sarah Rebecca Kersley is a poet, translator and editor, originally from the UK and based in Brazil for nearly two decades. She is the author of two books published in Brazil: Tipografia oceânica [‘Ocean typography’] (poetry, 2017) and Sábado [‘Saturday’] (memoir/biography/creative non-fiction, 2018). In English, her work has appeared in places such as The Critical FlameWashington Square ReviewIsele Magazine, and elsewhere. She co-runs Livraria Boto-cor-de-rosa/ Paralelo13S, an independent bookshop and small press focused on contemporary literature, in the city of Salvador, Bahia, where she is based.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” will be featured on Goddard’s “Bon Mot” Radio Program on 91.1 / 91.7 FM Vermont – February 28, 2021, 5-6:30 pm EST

Rita Banerjee will be be featured on Goddard College’s “Bon Mot” radio program from 5-6:30 pm EST on Sunday, February 28, 2021.  The radio program will air on 91.1 and 91.7 FM Vermont. The show is hosted by Rick Argan, and Banerjee will be be reading from her poetry collection Echo in Four Beats and her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction manuscript on race, sex, politics, and cool.  The show can be live-streamed here: http://www.wgdr.org/ or listened to via podcast archive here: http://archive.wgdr.org/

Check our her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction book on Hunger Mountain here: https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

Iterant 2 feat. Rita Banerjee’s Poetry & Flash Essay Launches


The Ruth Stone Foundation just launched its second issue of Iterant,  an interactive multi-media poetry and prose journal.  The October 2020 issue of Iterant, “But We Keep Fighting” features the poetry, prose, audio recordings, and art of Anne Carson,  Matthew Zapruder, Timothy Liu, Sharon Olds, Dara Weir, Charles Mason III, and Rita Banerjee among other poets and artists.

Rita Banerjee’s poems “String Theory” and “Sunlight over Reyjkavík” and her essay “Of Delight” are featured in the new issue of Iterant. Check out her writing here, and check out the audio recordings of her poems and prose here.

Here’s is a short excerpt from the poem “String Theory”:

… but like a child learning to speak
or a visitor in a foreign language, I blended the sounds
of their names together. Each hue was a mirage—

a trick of light, a fascination. Each fired
an unpredictable rhythm of cones and cylinders
in the eye. If color was biological, automatic,
mechanical, what sense could the eye hold?

Read more here.

Many thanks to Walter and Bianca Stone for their incredible editorial support and curation of this new issue of Iterant.

Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: A Conversation with David Shields & Rita Banerjee feat. on The Nervous Breakdown

The Nervous Breakdown recently published a conversation between David Shields and Rita Banerjee on Shields’s book Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump.  During their discussion, David and Rita unpack Trump’s complicated family and personal psychology, what makes the president tick, Trump’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, & how to disrupt Trump this fall!  Take a listen to their live recorded interview on The Nervous Breakcast.  A selection of the written interview follows below:

Rita:    You quote several of Trump’s tweets, interviews, off-air conversations, and “witticisms” throughout the book. What was it like to allow Donald Trump’s ethos, his words, his violence, his misogyny, his racism, and his nonsense to inhabit your body and your psyche, as you’re writing this book? Do his words become part of how one could maybe reason or rationalize him?

David:    I certainly worry about that… It’s a book I wrote a couple of years ago, and now it’s a year and a half later. I’d write the book differently now, though I’m proud of it, and I think it holds up well. Any other approach seemed, to me, dead on arrival. To me, standing on a high moral promontory and wagging a finger at the  armies down below is not an approach that interests me. You’re just preaching to the proverbial choir. That doesn’t interest me;it has no animating energy for me as a writer and thinker. A politically left friend of mine was telling me about how he watched the news. He happens to be in a wheelchair, and he couldn’t get to the remote on his TV. When Hillary was talking, he knew what Hillary was going to say and so he didn’t bother to wheel over to the remote because her words were so predictable and so vetted that he didn’t really care what she was saying. Instead, he found himself wheeling over to hear what Trump had said. That is what I wanted to unpack. If I find myself weirdly riveted by Trump, then I can try to understand those 50,000,000 voters who actually voted for Trump. Regarding your question, maybe the book will get us into uncomfortable territory. Trump does have quite serious performative skills. He’s basically an old-fashioned Catskills insult comedian, and for a variety of reasons, it works or has worked so far. There’s this quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The way to write is to throw your body at the target when all your arrows are spent.” I tried to do that, to throw my body at the target, which is Trump. I was boring everybody with my “Oh my God, can you believe what’s happening?” But in this book I say, what’s scarily riveting about him? In this journal, I’m going to be real. For decades, Republican strategists have learned to go to the very essence of someone’s strength. You go after the unassailable, and the whole edifice falls down. Trump went after McCain, who was this canonized figure, and just said “I like heroes who aren’t captured.” That’s verbally brilliant. On every level, that’s politics, that’s warfare. There’s this line that I quote, too, from Seneca: “Life is warfare.” Trump gets that. Like I say in the book, quoting a friend, the Democrats are playing badminton and Trump is playing ice hockey. It ain’t working. So how about if in this book, I try and play some ice hockey?

Rita:    Follow-up question–throughout the book we get a portrait of Trump’s interior psychology. What is his relationship to emotion, and do you see echoes of Trump’s relationship to his emotion within yourself, or within American culture at large?

David:    I think that’s one of the huge hidden topics of the book. I do talk a lot about that: we’re numb,  we’re broken, in a postmodern, hyper-mediated, and hyper-digitalized culture. In contemporary, culture, we’re walking dead people. It’s my own thesis, and again I can only speak from my experience. Maybe this is my condition, which I’m unfairly projecting onto the populace. But all these 19th century feelings that Hilary Clinton pretends that we still have, people just know that’s completely dead. In some ways, Trump is a very contemporary person, probably because he has Attention Deficit Disorder and might be on the  spectrum.. I think he is in touch with his reptilian self, and he knows how to access it. Yes, he is a racist and has been from a very early age (stemming from his father’s real estate dealings), but what Trump does quite consciously is extend his personality to reach a larger base. Not long ago, he was a pro-business, pro-choice, pro-gay, centrist Republican. He’s taken his incipient racism and performs it extensively to see how far it can go. If it’s slightly too far, he just dials it back slightly. It has to do with art, with understanding that politics is performance art. It’s theater, it’s symbolic theater. When the Democrats are droning on about something, it’s not working. Part of my argument about art is that it does go forward. Art, like science, progresses; you can’t rewind the clock. Additionally, this kind of demagoguery seems to play better on the right. If someone like Elizabeth Warren started acting very demagogice, we would say, “Stop that.” “The left tends to valorize discourse and intellection, and demagoguery tends to be a strategy of the right. The left is now confused because how you can have riveting political theater when the whole rhetoric of the left is that they’re smarter than you, or they’re more thoughtful, more empathetic? I do think a real key to Trump’s success is that I think he’s a really quite serious nihilist. Through a lot of the lines in the book, he sounds like he’s straight out of “Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky’s novella about the underground man. Trump has no belief in any transcendental signifier. He has no belief in love and religion, in art, in history, in the continuation of culture. He’s obsessed with the fact of death, he’s terrified of death, as most people are, but most people find some kind of solace or consolation. Trump is a seriously nowhere man. I would argue we all, as 21st century people, struggle with a kind of numbness. In Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner talks about being in a museum in Madrid and how the only thing that moves him about being in a museum is that he’s moved by his own incapacity to feel anything. I think that’s a real insight into contemporary culture. You may not agree; t might be the super male or white or privileged point of view, but that’s Trump’s point of view as well. I think his numbness is absolutely crucial. People will do anything to feel a little bit of rage about their numbness. Hillary is an easy battering ram or a punching bag because she’s such an obvious perfect foil for Trump. She’s earnest in the way that he’s cynical. You think of the great anti-heroes of literature, whether it’s Petronius’ Satyricon all the way up to Camus’s The Fall, and that character is our worst self realized. We see a reflection of our own numbness in Trump, and I think that connects to Trump’s rage. He’s expressing the rage that people feel, that life is absolutely meaningless in a post-God, post-literate culture. That is absolute political theater. That’s how I mean the Democrats are playing badminton: “Here’s our policy suggestion which might improve things ever so slightly.” Trump is not playing that game, he’s playing existential theater. And it has sort of worked so far. That’s really the core of the book, that we’re broken, we’re dead, we’re numb, we’re the walking dead. Watch me at least express an insane rage, which feels better than feeling numb.

You can read the whole conversation on The Nervous Breakdown here.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” on 9/11 and a generation coming of age and keeping its cool debuts in Hunger Mountain

18 years and 12 hours ago, Rita Banerjee was in the middle of a generation coming of age and witnessing 9/11. Her essay “Birth of Cool” captures how a generation of young people watched 9/11 and kept their cool.

An excerpt from “Birth of Cool,” which debuts in Hunger Mountain (Issue 23: Silence & Power) follows below:

Lauren played her Gibson on the phone for me. Voodoo Child. Learning Hendrix one blistered finger at a time. Stairway to Heaven. A poster of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant hung on her bedroom wall. Plant made love to the microphone in his too-tight jeans and denim jacket. His threads hadn’t been washed in decades. Neither had he. His hair was a total mess: wastrel, lion, drunken boat. His stance suggested everything hot and sticky and full of sweat. Plant sang as if his life depended on it. As if Page were a living siren: all dark curls and velvet. Soft everywhere. And cool where it mattered. Who was the devil and who the angel here? Their hair, their dishabille, their guitar riffs, their primal screams. What were Plant and Page selling to us, neo-nostalgic teens of the ’90s? Was it sex or something else? A taste of barely contained passion or total apathy? Whatever it was, it became the object of our attraction, our envy. Could a woman ever be so decadent? So illustrious? So free?

Lauren bent over her guitar and strummed, as if she were searching for an answer, as if the metallic edge of her Gibson could vibrate to the right pitch of cool. Her mom had immigrated from Hong Kong and her dad came from nowhere Zen, New Jersey. They spoke Cantonese on the phone together when they wanted to keep their secrets secret. But Lauren, always listening when she shouldn’t have, found out that her mother was pregnant anyway. Her father played in garage bands. He was born with an electric guitar. And so was she. When our history teacher went around the class and asked what kind of music do you listen to? I said, “Garbage,” and Lauren, “Hendrix.”

At her sweet sixteen, we sang “Landslide,” in an improvised, acoustic harmony. Her living room, surrounded by turn-of-the-century Qing chests and miniature lacquered paintings, felt like a recording studio that afternoon. Red cushions, low lights, and dark walnut furniture. A makeshift cabaret for a bunch of girls, barely legal. Gillian with her dark hair and half-smile, belting out the lyrics louder than anyone else. As if she were Stevie Nicks, herself, and knew the truth about pain. Her parents had divorced. Ours just seemed to fight all the time. So Gillian held the honor of being part mystic, part witch in our tribe.

At another sweet sixteen, Maddy sang, “I Will Survive,” and we girls danced primitive, like women, as if our lives depended on it. What heartaches had we experienced? What did we know about life at sixteen? Most of us hadn’t seriously been in love yet. With a man or a woman. We were just beginning to learn what it meant to come of age. To gaze into the future. To gaze back, an old crone, towards all the mistakes and milestones of our life. And what we saw, at sixteen, frightened us. We were experienced. We sang Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin together in Lauren’s living room, as if classic rock could keep the future at bay. As if these staged rebels in their infinite costumes, postures, and expressions of cool could save us. Save us from becoming adults. Save us from becoming women. Save us from a million taboos and stigmas and haunting forms of socialization.

“Darling go make it happen,” Lauren’s voice picked up tempo on the phone, “take the world in a love embrace.” Her guitar kept up the song’s dirty rhythm and twanged just when it mattered. I tried to impress her by playing back Joplin, Brubeck, Bach, Beethoven, Yann Tiersen, different time signatures, and chord progressions on the piano. In the ’90s, we spent so many afternoons like that. On the second line just for us: chatterboxes, klutzes, not yet agents of our lives. Girls. Our songs fused and interrogated one another. They hardly made sense. But that’s how we were. She and me. Latchkey kids. Part-time musicians. Like a true nature’s child. Our jams short-circuited every style in history.

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