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
Rating:

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

  • David Melbie

    Wholeness. Well-being. Strength. Freedom. Escape. Rescue. Refuge. Spectacular! My favorite was the poem,

    by Neil Gaiman.

  • 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.

  • Jason Robinson

    A powerful and accessible anthology of short stories, essays, and art collected by and sponsored by the ACLU in response to the first complete year of the Trump Administration.

  • Jen

    So, I didn't read every page of this - I went through and looked at all of the art and appreciated it.

    I also read about 7 of the stories from my favorite authors. At that point I was so depressed I had to stop. I understand the purpose of this and it is a beautiful book both content and presentation. However, I am currently feeling like that cartoon that says I am balancing my staying informed and staying sane.

    I love that lots of artists are coming together and bringing their voices to the fore

    So, I didn't read every page of this - I went through and looked at all of the art and appreciated it.

    I also read about 7 of the stories from my favorite authors. At that point I was so depressed I had to stop. I understand the purpose of this and it is a beautiful book both content and presentation. However, I am currently feeling like that cartoon that says I am balancing my staying informed and staying sane.

    I love that lots of artists are coming together and bringing their voices to the forefront. That needs to happen especially now when there is such a push to silence everyone from the media to the talk show hosts to the artists.

  • Julia

    This is a collection of short stories, poetry, art, essays and graphic novel panels as a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. In just over three pages

    , who I don’t think I’ve ever read, writes about a 92 year- old veteran of World War II watching a Veterans Day parade and remembering his twin. So much character in so few words! “Intersection” by

    is about a criminal defense attorney defending a Dreamer from a hit and run. He did it; like his victim, he is a g

    This is a collection of short stories, poetry, art, essays and graphic novel panels as a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. In just over three pages

    , who I don’t think I’ve ever read, writes about a 92 year- old veteran of World War II watching a Veterans Day parade and remembering his twin. So much character in so few words! “Intersection” by

    is about a criminal defense attorney defending a Dreamer from a hit and run. He did it; like his victim, he is a good person and he admits it.

    ’s poem “Hate for Sale” has this stanza: “Hate for sale. You’ll feel superior./ Hate for sale. You’ll make the news./ Hate the families who come here fleeing war./ Hate the gay, the trans, the new, the Jews.” (143)

    and

    have written back- to- back dystopias set ten minutes into our future. But I cried while reading “If they Come in the Morning” by

    is about a Holocaust survivor who goes with her neighbors seventy years later to protest a Neo- Nazi march. “When I was a child growing up in middle Georgia, I thought all white men were like Donald Trump,” writes

    in the essay, ”Don’t Despair.” She goes on, “They too seemed petulant and spoiled, unhappy with everything they were not the center of, brutal towards the feelings of those beneath them and comfortable causing others to act pout of hate. How did we survive this?” (355) There are many submissions in the collection, I didn’t like them all, but I loved some of them. I borrowed this from my public library.

  • Ben Truong

    is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, essays, cartoonist, and graphic novelists edited by Jonathan Santlofer with a forward written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This anthology came about shortly after Donald Trump has taken the office of the President of the United States. His early policies had banded together America's leading writers and artist together to resist the current administration policies. The result is this anthology, publis

    is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, essays, cartoonist, and graphic novelists edited by Jonathan Santlofer with a forward written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This anthology came about shortly after Donald Trump has taken the office of the President of the United States. His early policies had banded together America's leading writers and artist together to resist the current administration policies. The result is this anthology, published a year into the Trump Administration.

    For the most part, I really like most of these contributions. The contributions I really enjoyed (listed in alphabetical order): Julia Alvarez (

    ), Bliss Broyard (

    ), Mary Higgins Clark (

    ), Neil Gaiman (

    ), Mark Di Ionno (

    ), Ha Jin (

    ), Elinor Lipman (

    ), Viet Thanh Nguyen's Introduction, Joyce Carol Oates (

    ), Sarah Paretsky (

    ), S.J. Rozan (

    ), Richard Russo (

    ), Paul Theroux (

    ), and Alice Walker (

    ).

    Like most anthologies there are weaker contributions, but there were few and far in-between that it didn't affect my enjoyment of the anthology and subconsciously thought of them as outliers. In reality, I think there were just one or two stories that I didn't enjoy or couldn't connect to.

    All in all, I think

    is a wonderful collection of short stories, poetry, art, essays, political cartoons, and comic panels in response to the very controversial polices of the Trump Administration and all for a good cause – American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

  • 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.

  • 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.  

  • kb

    Full disclosure: I did not listen to every story in this collection. I found myself dragging through around 20-30% into listening, and realized I didn't like one of the narrators. I started skipping through and listened to stories by authors I knew/was more interested in. Overall, this is a good collection of essays/stories/poems, with a really great thematic undertone/current events. I just couldn't really follow or get into it. I think it might have been more successful for me if I had read th

    Full disclosure: I did not listen to every story in this collection. I found myself dragging through around 20-30% into listening, and realized I didn't like one of the narrators. I started skipping through and listened to stories by authors I knew/was more interested in. Overall, this is a good collection of essays/stories/poems, with a really great thematic undertone/current events. I just couldn't really follow or get into it. I think it might have been more successful for me if I had read the printed version.

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