Photo: Mister G.C.

Women We Read This Week

Jenny Qi’s “A Heart Filled with Love, Not Stuff” in The New York Times

I have long been obsessed with getting rid of things, with deleting emails, with the feeling of lightness that comes with throwing away material and virtual objects. In this Modern Love column Jenny Qi writes about the emotional weight of objects. Qi attempts to follow the “Keep only things that inspire joy” mantra, but many of the objects in her life either belonged to her mother or are things that she began to make or collect after her mother’s death. They don’t inspire joy, but they exert an emotional pull on Qi. And collecting things made Qi feel better in some way because she remembered a childhood in which she had so little. During the last year of her mother’s life, she folded her college thesis into 500 paper cranes. Those tiny birds held the weight of sorrow, and eventually she decided to burn them and watched as “their charred wings flicker orange in the fading blue dusk.”

Mariah Blake’s “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” in Huffington Post Highline

Who knew that HuffPo published investigative journalism? In July of last year they launched Highline, a platform that only publishes “cover stories—big, ambitious pieces intended to change the way you see the world or influence the course of policy.”

In August they ran Mariah Blake’s “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia,” a devastating story about the local DuPont plant that poisoned the water and its workers with the chemical C8. It’s been listed as a finalist for a National Magazine Award. And no wonder–it’s thoroughly reported and powerfully written. Plus Blake’s text is accompanied by beautifully shot short videos that give the place and characters a voice of their own.

Throughout the piece I was both horrified for the people in Parkersburg and our country as a whole. “Only a handful of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety—meaning that we are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment,” Blake writes. It probably wasn’t smart to read this the same week I watched The Big Short. They made me feel angry and sad and disillusioned. This would be a great time for someone to recommend a story that will remind me that life is also beautiful and lovely and people are inherently good.

Jesmyn Ward’s “In Beyoncé’s ‘Formation,’ A Glorification Of ‘Bama’ Blackness” in NPR

I never thought I’d be suggesting an essay about Beyoncé, as I’m not really into pop music, but honestly, this one is not to be missed. Between her new music video, her Super Bowl halftime performance, and her donations to Flint and the Black Lives Matter movement, Beyoncé has solidified herself as both a musical and political force to be reckoned with. It’s really refreshing to see activism returning to popular music—and not from just any popular musician, from a woman who’s arguably the reigning queen of pop. In this beautiful essay in NPR’s Code Switch column, author and National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward explains why Beyoncé’s new single and accompanying music video is so important to young black women like her who grew up in the Deep South. Her writing is simultaneously lyrical and to-the-point: beautiful and direct.

She sings to those of us who grew up black in the American South, who swam through Hurricane Katrina, who watched the world sink, who starved for two weeks after the eye passed, who left our dead floating in our houses. She sings to those of us who were displaced, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Hartford, who lived for months or years or still live in those other places, when the living heart of us is bound so tight with oak and pine we can barely breathe.



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