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Shakespeare in the Age of the Tyrant


Stephen Greenblatt's new book, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, is a timely tome. As Greenblatt well knows, we're living in an age of ruthless strongmen. The world's recent and lamentable swing to the right is embodied by all-powerful authoritarians.
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Human Flow: a film by Ai WeiWei


For a film with ‘flow’ in its title, the only surprise in this superlative documentary is that the most powerful images are those of stillness. An old refugee woman sits incongruously on a bench in the middle of nowhere. A young man stares out at us, daring us to enter his life. The implacable sea, the perfect symbol of Man’s voyaging and Nature’s complete indifference to us, begins and ends the film not with the appearance of flow but of stasis.
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Review of "Extracting Profit: Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the New Scramble for Africa" by Lee Wengraf


Here's a quote from the Berlin Conference of 1885, in which the European powers set out their goals for Africa:

"... all the powers bind themselves to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being."

If an African read that today, she'd die laughing. By "preservation of the native tribes", what the European powers really meant was "the rape of the land and resources." By "care for the improvement of the conditions ..." they meant "murder the natives if they resist."


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PEN America announces Writing for Justice Fellowship


PEN America has run a prison writing program for over forty years. The program provides mentors, free resources and an audience for the incarcerated. This program benefits the prisoners, who get a chance to reflect on their lives through the written word and to express themselves in new ways. But the program also benefits society. Why? Because it results in less recidivism and because it humanizes those who, perhaps through circumstances beyond their control, are largely seen as statistics.
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Ankara, Turkey: Trash Collectors Salvage Books, Open Library


Trash collectors in Ankara, Turkey, salvaged so many discarded books that they decided to open a library.
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Review of "In the Wake: On Blackness and Being" by Christina Sharpe


Part memoir, part thesis, and part lyrical examination of what it means to be black in the 21st century, In The Wake is simply a great, great book. It bridges so many fields - social justice, poetry, fiction, Critical Race Theory, semiotics, semantics - yet retains complete coherence. It is beautiful, ingenious and tragic.
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"Hatred and Pity": James Baldwin in "I Am Not Your Negro"


Anyone interested in race and civil rights needs to see this film. It's based on thirty pages of notes compiled by James Baldwin for a book about the most famous of the slain martyrs of the Civil Rights movement: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. The book was never written.
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"I don't give refunds." Eye-popping interviews with writers: PEN America Journal 2017


Being black in America ...

Walter Mosley: "It's hard to feel nostalgic, being black in America. It's not that you don't like it, or remember it, it's just hard to feel nostalgic for it. "I miss those times when they used to lynch us," and "Those cotton fields were so much fun. I liked going to the special toilets that were made for only me."


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RIP Liu Xiaobo, 1955-2017


Chinese poet, essayist and activist Liu Xiaobo has died while in custody. Xiaobo was President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, and in this role he supported writers all over the world in their struggles against tyranny. His death from cancer, which he contracted while in prison, is a terrible indictment of China’s human rights failures.
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"Rad Women Worldwide" - by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl


I'm reading Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History with my 8-year-old son, who won it in a raffle. It's awesome.
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