It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art

It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art

In time for the one-year anniversary of the Trump Inauguration and the Women’s March, this provocative, unprecedented anthology features original short stories from thirty bestselling and award-winning authors—including Alice Walker, Richard Russo, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Mary Higgins Clark, and Lee Child—with an in...

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Title:It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art
Author:Jonathan Santlofer
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It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art Reviews

  • Touchstone Books

    We are incredibly proud to be publishing this collection in support of the ACLU. For more information check out iamamericabook.com!

  • ems

    like most anthologies --- when it's good, it's very good & when it's bad, it's very bad. at least the proceeds to this one go to the ACLU.

  • Lee

    This is a collection of short stories and art by noted American writers and artists who donated their royalties to the ACLU.

    Some stories are strong and very timely commentaries about the turn our government has taken since 1/20/17, about challenges to the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color. Others didn't hold my interest, but with about 30 pieces, you can treat this book like a sampler and pick and choose at will.

    I found the art less accessible, although I really liked "It occurs

    This is a collection of short stories and art by noted American writers and artists who donated their royalties to the ACLU.

    Some stories are strong and very timely commentaries about the turn our government has taken since 1/20/17, about challenges to the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color. Others didn't hold my interest, but with about 30 pieces, you can treat this book like a sampler and pick and choose at will.

    I found the art less accessible, although I really liked "It occurs to me that our President is the Ugliest American (an alphabet)" and a graphic of the U.S. Constitution with most of the words redacted.

  • H. Dair Brown

    Full disclosure: I cherry-picked the authors I wanted to read in this one. It’s a nice mix of essays and fiction and art. Definitely on the bleak/frustrated side, but it’ll make you think and a low hum of hope can be heard under the words and images.

  • Charlie Shaw

    An anti-conservative and anti Trump collection of stories that are very eye-opening.

    Do read it if you are against most of the things that Trump is for. Trumperites - no.

  • Ella McCrystle

    This book is a direct result of the current President of the United States and the sheer terror that many feel since the election of 2016. The general idea seems to have been: gather up nearly every writer in the US, ask them to write short fiction, put it all in a big Coffee Table anthology, add visual art and cartoons from American artists, and do it all for a good cause. In this case the cause is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.)

    So, it's a fundraiser for an urgent cause, populated by

    This book is a direct result of the current President of the United States and the sheer terror that many feel since the election of 2016. The general idea seems to have been: gather up nearly every writer in the US, ask them to write short fiction, put it all in a big Coffee Table anthology, add visual art and cartoons from American artists, and do it all for a good cause. In this case the cause is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.)

    So, it's a fundraiser for an urgent cause, populated by an amazing array of diverse and celebrated authors. This should have been great. Everyone seems to have at least been invited. Only one spot is left awkwardly empty. There is very little about diversity of religion and very little about religion at all, actually. Beyond that, the participants alone are a fabulous tapestry of America and a reminder that we are a country held together by ideals rather than race, color or creed.

    An anthology will never be consistently awesome. It just doesn't work that way. That said, the overall feeling is a bit worrisome. Some felt a bit phoned in. Some writers didn't write fiction while others who are not known for fiction give us wonderful stories. Some great fiction writers (looking at you, Neil Gaiman) wrote short poems, and the best pieces were not the fiction but the Introduction by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a lovely essay from Louise Erdrich about her bookstore and the love of books (and how books and literature become more important as our freedoms are threatened,) and the final letter, which serves as an afterward, from the ACLU.

    My very favorite piece is nonfiction. An essay by Ha Jin, "Finally I am an American at Heart" about how, now that he's seen the courts and many others fight back against the Administration, he "gets" the ideal of America – so much so that he's ready to go into combat to defend it if necessary. It moved me to tears. A refugee from China circa Tiananmen Square shines a light on the fact that the most genuine and clear-eyed Americans are often the newest ones.

    One thing that may have helped would have been to allow nonfiction writers to write nonfiction rather than asking them all to write fiction, having most – but not all – of them try, and some fail. It's a missed opportunity, but this is a wonderful idea, much like our country, and it's important that every writer put her own spin on the richness of our values. They pulled this together fast; it's a pretty table book that should make for a lovely gift, so at least the ACLU will get lots of money. Everyone, including the publishers/printers/writers/artists... donated their fees, royalties and time.

    A few more highlights:

    The Forward by Viet Thanh Nguyen starts the whole thing off with the most patriotic and achingly beautiful prose. He talks about American identity, the importance of storytelling, taking refuge in the libraries of Harrisburg PA as a child, and the subtext of “Make America Great Again.” He quotes another of my recent favorites – Colson Whitehead saying, "Be kind to everybody, Make Art and Fight the Power." He makes lovely sentences like "Shared humanity and Inhumanity... We are all storytellers of our own lives." and the best line,

    "Rather than making America 'great' again, we should make America love again."

    Also, forgive me for going on, but his story of why naming his son reminds us of both the American literary family and how much literature is connected to liberty.

    Things stay on a high with Julia Alvarez's,“Speak, Speak” which is a play on a taunt heard in school by a young, new American, “Spick, Spick." Her story is a lovely reminder that the finally-expanding world of American literature means young children will now know Latino, Black, Asian, Native and all kinds of other American literature. The voices we would have missed if the table stayed closed to men and women of color and immigrants from places other than Europe is almost unimaginable. We have Langston Hughes' poem, "I Too," in a school book to thank for Alvarez realizing that she, too, could add to the American literary world.

    That little poem gave her “a lot of gasoline” and we've certainly seen the results.

    Bliss Broyard's story has a great metaphor for the way liberals dropped the ball during the Obama years. Without the story, the quote is impossible to situate, but it is well worth reading her story simply for the metaphor. You'll know it when you read it.

    Mark Di Ionno's "Intersections" is probably the very best story of the bunch – in terms of fiction that meets the challenge of American ideals. He chooses a tough and nuanced topic (undocumented immigrant who has committed a crime and will now be deported.) He does a fabulous job of shading everyone affected, and gets a nuanced and intellectually stimulating story out without ever preaching or devolving into pedagogy. He takes something we might think of as "just plain common sense" and adds all of the layers of real humans living real life. I'd welcome a novel, please.

    Joyce Carol Oates story “Good News” about a young girl's valedictory speech sometime in the very dystopian American future is freakishly scary and was another one where I just wanted the story to go on and on. It also reminded me that I need to read more of her in general.

    Oates is immediately followed by one other standout dystopian portrayal, this time by Sarah Paretsky ("Safety First.") She manages to give V.I. Warshawski an off-camera role.

    There are many other good stories and submissions. These were my favorites, but others may find they like a different flavor of patriotism. And that's exactly the point.

  • Susan Dunham

    I really wanted to like this, but just couldn’t. Some of the short stories were good, others just bad, and no cohesion woven among them. Missed the mark for me.

  • Andrea

    I wanted to like this book so bad.  I was so excited when it was released.  A collection of fiction and art themed around a liberal and timely political message?  Yes, please.  My high expectations were affirmed as I began reading an inspired introduction from Viet Thanh Nguyen, who remarks:

    "Rather than making America great again, we should help America love again."

    But as I continued reading, my expectations for enjoying each story decreased.  When I finally finished, I was shocked to find that

    I wanted to like this book so bad.  I was so excited when it was released.  A collection of fiction and art themed around a liberal and timely political message?  Yes, please.  My high expectations were affirmed as I began reading an inspired introduction from Viet Thanh Nguyen, who remarks:

    "Rather than making America great again, we should help America love again."

    But as I continued reading, my expectations for enjoying each story decreased.  When I finally finished, I was shocked to find that I hated a collection from such a distinguished group of authors, many of whom I already love.  There were a few shining exceptions, but most of the contributions felt gimicky. If pressed for a rating of the overall anthology, I would average them out to two stars.  Approximately 80% were 2-stars or less, 15% were 3-stars, and 5% were 4-stars. 

    Intersections by Mark Di Ionna stood out as my favorite.  I found this short story to be a very realistic humanization of immigration law from the perspective of a criminal defense attorney.  It’s a touching story of love and forgiveness, but the story raises important questions regarding the deportation of criminals – a policy that on its face seems uncontroversial.  What could be more justified than the deportation of individuals who do not follow the rules of our society?  In practice, the pain caused by such a broad and ill-advised policy is arbitrary.

    For me, the final straw was White Baby by James Hannaham. I am still angry about it a few days later and would give it NEGATIVE 5-stars. Without too much of a spoiler, it started out a very apt commentary about race featuring a black couple who had requested to adopt a white baby. The story concluded as one of the most unnecessarily grotesque things I have ever read. Cheap and insensitive. Like being tricked into watching a snuff video clip in the credits of an otherwise good film. Ugh.

    I am very disappointed to give this book a “no rec.”  I was so excited based on the theme.  There are a few excellent selections, but they are not worth perusing through the bulk of clichéd, attention-seeking, unoriginal tripe.  

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