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Birchbark Blog

Where We Are Now

Louise Erdrich - Saturday, June 13, 2020
This year will always be a year of befores and afters. Here we are now, in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing. Here at Birchbark Books, we grieve with George Floyd's family. We stand with the protesters and are among the protesters. We are heartsick and furious. Our task now is to provide information that will help deepen understanding that will lead to real, true, change. However it is worded -- defund, dismantle, abolish -- we have to fix policing. A movement to do this has started here in Minneapolis and reverberated throughout the world. What we do now will help lead the way for others.

There are reasons that reform hasn't worked since Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and countless others were killed by police. Ricardo Lopez, Senior Political Reporter for The Minnesota Reformer, wrote an article addressing systemic racism in Minneapolis-St.Paul and why it persists in our police force. I can't say it better than Mr. Lopez: "Minnesota's Decades Long Failure to Confront Police Abuse"

Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution to create a "Future of Community Safety Work Group". This group will study modes of public safety and seek experts who can help keep ALL citizens safe without resorting to harassment, intimidation, and violence. The result of Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective, citizen activism, and this study by the City Council is likely to be a policing initiative on the ballot next November. We need to know the issues and get out the vote.

When I first saw signs demanding Abolish The Police, I was confused. How could such a thing happen? I turned to The End of Policing by Alex Vitale. This  matter-of-fact book has helped me understand what an initiative next fall could look like. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Let's not lose the momentum that we have, let's not stop creatively coming together and growing, let's not be a city that allows things to go back to the way they were before. I want to be part of a true after.  

We have a few copies of The End of Policing now and will be getting many more soon from Verso Press. Please call and reserve a copy of this book. The word essential has gotten a lot of use lately, but when I say this book is essential I truly mean it. 

While you are waiting for The End of Policing, I also recommend White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson -- a book that brings clarity to history and sheds light on where we are now. At present, I'm reading From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. I'm not done with this book yet, but Taylor is a formidable analyst and a brilliant writer. 

Shock, rage, sorrow and protest open a lot of hearts. Let's keep our hearts open to one another and make real change happen right here. 

Love and Justice,

Louise

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Undocumented Americans. Early on in this brilliant, vivid, tender, furious work, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio tells the reader that she is crazy.  But I've not met a saner person on the page.  Brave, yes, outrageous and honest, yes, but far from crazy, although Villavicencio shows how being crazy is often the sane response of an undocumented person to life in the United States.

Villavicencio interviews undocumented workers who rushed toward the burning towers on 9/11, cleaned up afterward, ruining their health, people who saved other American lives during Hurricane Sandy.  In every crisis, including this pandemic, undocumented workers are on the front lines caring for the vulnerable, cleaning hospitals, delivering food, working hard in an array of punishing jobs that often put them in danger.  These jobs are essential.  Just look at recent newspaper headlines, "Don't Deport Health Care Workers", "Undocumented Farmworkers, Still Deportable, Are 'Essential'. 

I've dogeared half pages of this book, not only because the information is so vital, but because Villavicencio has remarkable descriptive gifts.  She describes her father's feet, "small and fat, like mine, so you can't tell they're swollen.  After a few years, my dad's feet would hurt so much that he walked like he was on hot coals . . . "  She talks about his life, measured in deliveries, "a raisin bagel with cream cheese and coffee with hazelnut creamer.  A blueberry muffin and black coffee; two cranberry scones . . ." There is Julieta, "a big woman with the cheerful, paranoid manner of a debutante with a secret."  And Theodoro, "a lonely, ancient man, but he says he is fifty-six.  He is a tree.  His mouth is curved downward, wrinkled set deep like bark grooves . . . our conversations feel like dark, hardened sap."

What can I say.  This book.  I read it in gulps, late at night.  I couldn't stop, because I was meeting so many funny, philosophical, courageous and intriguing people, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio included.  I hope you read this book! ( I would press it into your hands if I didn't have to stay 6 feet away from you.)

Postcolonial Love Poem

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Dear Friends,

When people say "this has never happened to our country before" I want to say, "yes it has." Indigenous people suffered wave after wave of European borne epidemic diseases, which killed 9 of every 10 people. The trauma continued through the Flu of 1918 and the scourge of tuberculosis. When treaties were made it was thought that Native people were going to vanish, but no. We are still here. In her torrential book of poetry, Postcolonial Love Poem, Natalie Diaz addresses these losses. With tenacious wit, ardor, and something I can only call magnificence, Diaz speaks of the consuming need we have for one another. This is a book for any time, but especially a book for this time. These days, and who knows for how long, we can only touch a trusted small number of people. Diaz brings depth and resonance to the fact that this has always been so. Be prepared to journey down a wild river.

Yours for books,

Louise 


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