'The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind,' ed. Claudia Rankine, Max King Cap, & Beth Loffreda


Collected over the past four or five years, this forum offers a wide, and usefully conflicting, set of short essays, mostly by poets, on how race figures in their work. Max King Cap curates a set of images by visual artists that speak both directly and obliquely, to the issues at hand; Cap provides short commentaries for each image. full intro and information on ordering the book from FENCE  here. 

from the introduction by Rankine &  Loffreda:

The Racial Imaginary found its start in a few intuitions. We are all, no matter how little we like it, the bearers of unwanted and often shunned memory, of a history whose infiltrations are at times so stealthy we can pretend otherwise, and at times so loud we can’t hear much of anything else. We’re still there-there differently than those before us, but  there,  otherwise known as here. And that matters for writers. That’s the first intuition. The second one is that it seems a lot of us here when asked to talk about race are most comfortable, or least uncomfortable, talking about it in the language of scandal. We’re all a little relieved by scandal. It’s so satisfying, so clear, so easy. The wronged. The evildoers. The undeserving. The shady. The good intentions and the cynical manipulations. The righteous side asking, the head shaking. Scandal is such a helpful, such a relieving distraction. There are times when scandal feels like the sun that race revolves around. And so it is hard to reel conversations about race back from the heavy gravitational pull of where we so often prefer them to be.

There are a few other common languages for race that we’d like to evade, too. One is the sentimental, which rather than polarize, as scandal does, smudges. The other is even simpler: the past tense. Because if we’re not scandalized or sentimental about race, we’re often jaded instead. This, again? Didn’t we wear this out already? Hasn’t enough been said, haven’t enough already said it? We don’t want to substitute the jaded for the shocked, nor the sentimental for the jaded. Especially when it comes to writing. This collection is founded on the idea that it’s worth trying to write about race, again – in  particular that something valuable happens when an individual writer reflects on race in the making of creative work. Writing could be said to rest on the faith that there is something of value in witnessing an individual mind speaking in and to its ordinary history. This never stops. And it’s not that the individual expression is, because of its individuality and expressiveness, sacred, beyond questioning. We’re all disagreeing in one way or another in this collection. As editors we’re not seeking agreement or consensus. But we believe in the beauty and importance of an individual writer speaking in and to her history with as helped us to see more clearly the literary moment the writing in this collection partially documents, and two intertwined things about that moment in particular. One is that in our moment, writing about race has its own set of literary and intellectual conventions that we writers sometimes use and sometimes struggle to reinvent. The other is that certain assumptions about craft and aesthetics can and do warp the conversation among writers about race. These two matters typically appear in a complex, troubled embrace.


Kate Clark, Pray (detail), 12, 
Introduction, Beth Loffreda and Claudia Rankine, 13, 
Floating Currency, Max King Cap, 23, 
Mark Peterson, from Political Theatre, 26, 
Kyungmi Shin, Chinoiserie, 27, 
(texist), The Wogs, 28, 
EJ Hill, This is an Imaginary Border, 29

Flibbertigibbet in a White Room / Competencies, Simone White, 33, 
What Do We See? What Do We Not See?, Ari Banias, 37, 
What We Could Do with Writing, Casey Llewellyn, 43, 
Race, Feminism, and Creative Spaces, Maryam Afaq, 49, 
Statement of Purpose, Jennifer Chang, 53, 
To Whom It May Concern, Jess Row, 60, 
Open Letter, Charles Bernstein, 64, 
Wendy Ewald, Queen, 66, 
Dread Scott, I Am Not a Man, 67, 
John Lucas, Tony & Everett, 68, 
Edgar Endress, The Mask of the Shoeshiner, 69, 
Jay Wolke, Steve's Bris, 70, 
Jeff Wall, Mimic, 71

How do we invent language of racial identity—that is not necessarily constructing the "scene of instruction" about race but create the linguistic material of racial speech/thought?, Ronaldo V. Wilson, 75, 
Response to Call for Writing about Writing about Race, Arielle Greenberg, 79, 
If I Tell These Stories: Notes on Racism and the White Imaginary, Helen Klonaris, 83, 
Open Letter, Isaac Myers, III, 91, 
Of Whiteness, Obama, and the So-Called Postracial, Tess Taylor, 95, 
Introduction, Zhou Xiaojing, 106, 
Alice Shaw, Opposite 3 (Left), 114, 
Alice Shaw, Opposite 2 (Right), 115, 
Nery Gabriel Lemus, Fade Away, 116, 
John Jota Leaños, San Francisco Historical Monument 1848-2, 117, 
Mark Peterson, from Acts of Charity, 118, 
Jay Wolke, Torah Reading-B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Congregation, 119

"There Are No Rats": Some Figuring on Race, Joshua Weiner, 123, 
From Circumstance to Constellation: Richard Pryor, Resistance, and the Racial Imaginary's Archive, Farid Matuk, 140, 
Open Letter, A. Van Jordan, 149, 
Open Letter, Dan Beachy-Quick, 152, 
Signing and Resigning, James Allen Hall, 155, 
Racing Stein: What Is Seen and Unseen in Taking a Hero Out for a Reread, Jill Magi, 159, 
Exempt, Implicated, Rachel Zucker, 170, 
And Here He Comes Smiling Intending No Harm: A Poetics of Invisible, Francisco Aragón*, 185, 
Charles McGill, Once Upon a Time in a Land Far Far Away, 196, 
Nery Gabriel Lemus, I Once Knew a Latino, 197, 
Amitis Motevalli, Looking for the Birds, 198, 
Edgar Endress, Street Photography, 199

Open Letter 11 March 2011, Kasey Johnson, 203, 
Feeling Colored, Diane Exavier, 205, 
Open Letter, Beth Loffreda, 208, 
Open Letter, Soraya Membreno, 212, 
Trespasses, Lacy M. Johnson, 214, 
Open Letter, Evie Shockley, 219, 
Liz Cohen, 1987 Trabantamino 607 Deluxe, 222, 
William Pope.L, White People Are A Desalination Plant in Puerto Rico, 223, 
Amitis Motevalli, The Last Centerfold, 224, 
Ian Weaver, Black Power Helmet, 225, 
Liz Cohen, Lowrider Builder and Child, 226, 
Todd Gray, Shaman 33, 227

Love the Masters, Jericho Brown, 231, 
An Abridged Version, Reginald Dwayne Betts, 235, 
Open Letter, Ira Sadoff, 238, 
Schizophrene: Texture Notes, Bhanu Kapil, 242, 
E-Racing Lingo ..., Tracie Morris, 244, 
A Slanty Kind of Racial(ized) Poetics, Tamiko Beyer, 245, 
On Politics and Art, the Writer in Society, Jane Lazarre, 248, 
"Negroes Make Me Hungry"— Some Notes on Race, R. Erica Doyle, 252, 
Open Letter, Sandra Lim, 254, 
Open Letter, Hossannah Asuncion, 256, 
Race and Erasure, Caitie Moore, 257, 
Open Letter, Kristin Palm, 260, 
Open Letter, Danielle Pafunda, 262, 
Writing about Race, Bettina Judd, 265, 
Who's Watching Anymore, Anyway?, Dawn Lundy Martin, 267, 
Jeremiah Barber, Tomoko as Octopus, 270

Writers' Biographies, 271, 
Artists' Biographies, 279