Emerging Critics: Summer Reading from Ismail Muhammad

by Ismail Muhammad | Aug-30-2017

We asked the first class of NBCC Emerging Critics to tell us what they've been reading this summer. Here's the third response:

The end of summer is always a little mournful for me, a time of foreclosed possibilities. That foreclosure applies to language, too: the prospect of teaching and dissertation writing catches me flatfooted, leaves me panicking, and makes my language feel claustrophobic. I’ve made reading poetry—as opposed to criticism and fiction—at summer’s end a graduate school ritual. This summer I’m finding solace in a handful of Bay Area poets. Claire Marie Stancek’s Mouths and Jane Gregory’s My Enemies are gorgeous and playful in a way that leave me thinking, Oh, you can do those things with language?

I haven’t completely abandoned prose, though. I just finished Jesmyn Ward’s hypnotizing new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, which sent me back to her 2011 National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones. Sing highlights her singular strengths as a novelist, especially when it comes to writing about black women; seeing her expand her ambition and embrace magical realism as a way of exploring blackness is quite a treat. Jarret Kobek’s The Future Won’t Be Long is fantastic, a return to the soft prose that characterized BTW, as opposed to the abrasive humor of I Hate the Internet. Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian’s anthology of New Narrative, Writers Who Love Too Much is a striking collection of writing, a prehistory to the metafiction and nonfiction of writers like Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner, and Brian Blanchfield. In a moment where we have no shortage of great nonfiction to read, Killian and Bellamy’s anthology reminds us that poetry’s luxuries don’t belong solely to poetry.

Ismail Muhammad is a Ph.D. candidate in English at U.C. Berkeley, a staff writer at The Millions, and Contributing Editor at ZYZZYVA. He lives in Oakland, where it nearly always feels like summer. He's a member of the NBCC's inaugural group of Emerging Critics.

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