Open to everyone over the age of 18. International entries welcome. You and your entry do not need to be associated with New Mexico, we publish a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction globally. You can find a list of past winners right here.
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Deadline: July 20th, 2017.
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First time here? What’s this all about? Since 2000, the SFWP Literary Awards Program has recognized excellence in writing, judged by National Book Critics Circle Award-winner and NBA finalist Jayne Anne Phillips, two-time NEA fellow and Hemingway Award finalist Richard Currey, Granta “best novelist under 40″ and Guggenheim fellow Chris Offutt, Pulitzer prize-winner Robert Olen Butler, NPR’s “Voice of Books” Alan Cheuse, the “Queen of the Zines,” Pagan Kennedy, the “Father of Rambo,” David Morrell, the “Godfather of Creative Nonfiction,” Lee Gutkind, and award-winning author Emily St. John Mandel. (And, no, you do not have to live in Santa Fe. The program is open to everyone, everywhere in the world.)
Benjamin Percy is the author of three novels, the most recent among them The Dead Lands (Grand Central/Hachette, 2015), a post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark saga. He is also the author of Red Moon (Grand Central/Hachette, 2013), and The Wilding(Graywolf Press, 2010), as well as two books of short stories, Refresh, Refresh (Graywolf Press, 2007) and The Language of Elk (Grand Central/Hachette, 2012; Carnegie Mellon UP, 2006).
His craft book, Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, will be published by Graywolf Press in October 2016. His next novel, The Dark Net, is due out in 2017 with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
His fiction and nonfiction have been read on NPR, performed at Symphony Space, and published by Esquire, GQ, Time, Men’s Journal, and many more. He also writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titans series at DC Comics.
KOKOROKO are a young, London based, Afrobeat 7-Piece. We play music we love, we grew up with and our parents got funky to. Inspired by Fela Kuti, Ebo Taylor, Tony Allen and the great sounds that have come out of West Africa, we put on a performance to honour the masters that taught us.
Most of us are London Jazz school kids who met playing in South London. We noticed a void in people like us playing Afrobeat and KOKOROKO – with an all female horn section and proper London fire – was born.
● Tracklist: - Who Needs Love - Talkin Loud - Deep Waters - N.O.T. - When the Sun Comes Down - Colibri - Step Aside - Reach Out - Nights over Egypt - Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing - Everyday - I Hear Your Name - Always There ● Personnel: - JEAN PAUL “BLUEY” MAUNICK – guitar, vocals, band leader - IMAANI – vocals - TONY MOMRELLE – vocals - JOY ROSE – vocals - FRANCIS HYLTON – bass - MATT COOPER – keyboards - TREVOR MIRES – trombone - SID GAULD – trumpet - FINN PETERS – sax, flute - PETE RAY BIGGIN – drums ● 29. Leverkusener Jazztage, 01. November 2008, Germany
which is more important: life or what we can create with technology?
that’s a trick question. ultimately, there is no binary dualism of technology opposed to life—technology is nothing but the how of human interaction with our material and social environment.
we should not let the specter of failure or wrong-doing discourage us, nor should the obvious environmental destruction wrought by western society be accepted as justification not to use technology.
do not be afraid to confront and change the world. to be human means to change the world.
as long as we use technology to facilitate the representation of our humanity and the preservation of our environment, rather than to repress our humanity or to despoil our environment, we have nothing to fear. regardless of the technology, yesterday, today and tomorrow, our problem is with the makers and users of technology and not with technology itself.
yes, there is some cachet to the notion that humans are too weak, too shortsighted, too corrupt to handle higher technology. however, regardless of human inability to wisely use technological developments, we are at a serious disadvantage in improving our lives if we do not embrace the use of technology.
during the 20th century from the fifties to the seventies, political struggle was the worldwide trend. back then it was pick up the gun—arm yourself or harm yourself. at the beginning of the 21st century, the revolution is technological. today it is pick up the computer and go online—arm yourself with knowledge or harm yourself with ignorance.
i would much rather have technology and decide how best to use it, than avoid technology because i am fearful of its misuse. moreover, as history demonstrates time and time again, what you don’t control will be used against you. while i accept the limitations of humanity, i do not accept ignorance.
today’s liberation struggle must be a global struggle to acquire and disseminate information and resources across and within national boundaries. nationalism and racial essentialism are not the answer. we must globalize our struggle. every nation state we people of african descent inhabit is a nation state that was created and either politically or economically controlled and/or exploited by non-africans. moreover, regardless of our emotional identities, all of we people of the african diaspora are mixed. we are mixed biologically but also culturally, especially with regard to language, and we are mixed in terms of our consciousness, especially how we actually identify with africa in word and deed.
indeed, if the definition of our blackness embraces all of us, that definition must be one of great inclusiveness rather than one of exclusivity or racial purity. in the final analysis our blackness is more cultural than racial, and certainly more a case of conscious identification rather than simply the result of the accident of birth.
moreover, while we affirm that our growth and development is contingent on organizing around our own broadly defined self interests, at the same time we understand that to do this we must be able to communicate our realities and aspirations to each other and to the world.
there is a phrase: technicians of the sacred. technicians of the sacred refers to those of us who are proficient at articulating social and individual reality, a reality of the here and now, but also a reality composed of the been here and gone, as well as the hoped for soon come. additionally, and of irreducible importance, our reality also includes our interrelations with the planet: the sea, the soil, the atmosphere and everything therein, thereon and there over.
one key to our future is building community, is reaching out to each other, sharing resources and dreams, telling each other about both our hard times and our joys. another key is realizing that what we create is not simply for ourselves alone, but is also a gift to the world. we must be prepared to become citizens of the world and not restrict our self definition to national or racial specifics.
there has been a massive democratization of technology. computers and software enable us to produce our words, our music, our art on a par with multinational corporations. through access to the internet we can obtain information and data previously beyond our grasp, and we can communicate with each other almost instantly regardless of where we are. all that is required is a willingness to engage reality, a willingness to acquire and use technology.
some may feel i am preaching to the choir. my response is “yes” and “no.” yes, most of you have computers and email, but even so, we all need encouragement and inspiration to continue forward. “no” in the sense that few of us are using the technology we have to organize and to produce at exponentially higher levels. i am arguing that technology is not just a convenience or a way to advance our careers. technology can also be a tool of struggle. we need to be techno-warriors.
what are you looking at, what are you listening to? right now. this is not kalamu ya salaam. you do not see me. you do not hear me. you see an image, you hear vibrations presented in such a way they lead you to believe you are having a human interaction. most of us are acculturated to respond to technology—to be consumers. but how many of us are ready to respond to technology as producers? to consume and not produce is to be a slave to capitalism.
come, let us leave the plantation of mindless consumption. yes, we can make music and movies, books and artwork, but we can also organize and mobilize, heal and develop, we can lift ourselves using the lever of technology—or should i say the elevator, the mothership, the computer chip, the laser light of technology.
right now i am somewhere in the world different from where you are. we need to link up. i want to know you, feel you. i want you to know me, feel me. we need to know we. we need to feel we. the wise use of technology can bring us together.
engage the world with any and all resources available to you. there is no future in ignorance. as a technician of the sacred, learn what you don’t know, teach what you do. may the future be black!
Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was a civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer, and author. She was also the first black woman ordained an Episcopal priest. Born in Baltimore, she later moved to New York and obtained a degree in English in 1933. In 1940 she was arrested for violating Virginia’s segregation laws on a bus. This incident, along with her involvement in the socialist Workers Defense League to free a Black sharecropper from execution for killing his white landlord, led her to become a civil rights lawyer. She enrolled at Howard University’s law school where she, along with James Farmer and Bayard Rustin co-founded C.O.R.E. (Congress for Racial Equality) in 1942.
While at Howard, she became conscious of sexism, or “Jane Crow” as she called it. As one of the few women law students there, she found herself the object not of hostility but of ridicule. On her first day of classes she was shocked to hear her professor announce that he didn’t know why women went to law school, but that since they were there, he guessed the men would have to put up with them. She responded with steely silence. “The professor didn’t know it,” she later wrote, “but he had just guaranteed that I would be the top student in his class.”
After passing the California bar exam in 1945, Murray became the state’s first black deputy attorney general. It would be Murray’s 1950 book States’ Laws on Race and Color that NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall would hail as the “bible” of the civil rights movement, directly contributing to the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision. Respect for her mind did not improve her treatment by men in the movement however. In 1963, she became one of the first to criticize the sexism of the civil rights movement. In a letter to civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, among other grievances, she criticized the fact in the 1963 March on Washington no women were invited to make one of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House:
I have been increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grassroots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions. It is indefensible to call a national march on Washington and send out a call which contains the name of not a single woman leader.[x]
Murray lived in Ghana from 1960–61, serving on the faculty of the Ghana School of Law. She then returned to the US and studied at Yale Law School, becoming the first African-American to receive a J.S.D. from the school in 1965. Murray co-wrote the critical position papers on the E.R.A., Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the American Civil Liberties Union brief for the White v. Crook case, which successfully challenged all-white, all-male juries in Lowndes County, Alabama. In 1966 she was one of the founding members of NOW (National Organization for Women), but resigned when the white women of the organization failed to incorporate analysis of racial oppression into their activism.
[I’ve begun to] reassess my entire relationship to the women’s movement and to ponder how I can remain effective without exposing myself to humiliation, for it is humiliating to be deliberately excluded from participation in an area to which one has devoted many years of one’s life.[x]
In 1973, Murray left law and academia for the Episcopal Church, becoming a priest, and was the first Black woman named an Episcopal saint in 2012.
I’m a little surprised this left out Pauli Murray’s sexuality and gender identity. Murray didn’t identify as gay so much as said she had an “inverted sex instinct” that made her feel like a man attracted to women. She relationships with women whom she described as “extremely feminine and heterosexual.” Even the shortening of her first name (Pauline) was more or less in order to androgynify it.
I left it out because I wasn’t able to do her sex/gender identity justice, I especially didn’t want to speak for her using current terms of gay or transgender that she may not have used to describe herself. Folks read more about Paulie Murray from an array of prob better and more extensive sources if they like.
The wager was ten dollars. It was 1944, and the law students of Howard University were discussing how best to bring an end to Jim Crow. In the half century since Plessy v. Ferguson, lawyers had been chipping away at segregation by questioning the “equal” part of the “separate but equal” doctrine—arguing that, say, a specific black school was not truly equivalent to its white counterpart. Fed up with the limited and incremental results, one student in the class proposed a radical alternative: why not challenge the “separate” part instead?
That student’s name was Pauli Murray. Her law-school peers were accustomed to being startled by her—she was the only woman among them and first in the class—but that day they laughed out loud. Her idea was both impractical and reckless, they told her; any challenge to Plessy would result in the Supreme Court affirming it instead. Undeterred, Murray told them they were wrong. Then, with the whole class as her witness, she made a bet with her professor, a man named Spottswood Robinson: ten bucks said Plessy would be overturned within twenty-five years.
Murray was right. Plessy was overturned in a decade—and, when it was, Robinson owed her a lot more than ten dollars. In her final law-school paper, Murray had formalized the idea she’d hatched in class that day, arguing that segregation violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Some years later, when Robinson joined with Thurgood Marshall and others to try to end Jim Crow, he remembered Murray’s paper, fished it out of his files, and presented it to his colleagues—the team that, in 1954, successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education.
By the time Murray learned of her contribution, she was nearing fifty, two-thirds of the way through a life as remarkable for its range as for its influence. A poet, writer, activist, labor organizer, legal theorist, and Episcopal priest, Murray palled around in her youth with Langston Hughes, joined James Baldwin at the MacDowell Colony the first year it admitted African-Americans, maintained a twenty-three-year friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, and helped Betty Friedan found the National Organization for Women. Along the way, she articulated the intellectual foundations of two of the most important social-justice movements of the twentieth century: first, when she made her argument for overturning Plessy, and, later, when she co-wrote a law-review article subsequently used by a rising star at the A.C.L.U.—one Ruth Bader Ginsburg—to convince the Supreme Court that the Equal Protection Clause applies to women.
This was Murray’s lifelong fate: to be both ahead of her time and behind the scenes. Two decades before the civil-rights movement of the nineteen-sixties, Murray was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Richmond, Virginia; organized sit-ins that successfully desegregated restaurants in Washington, D.C.; and, anticipating the Freedom Summer, urged her Howard classmates to head south to fight for civil rights and wondered how to “attract young white graduates of the great universities to come down and join with us.” And, four decades before another legal scholar, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, coined the term “intersectionality,” Murray insisted on the indivisibility of her identity and experience as an African-American, a worker, and a woman.
Despite all this, Murray’s name is not well known today, especially among white Americans. The past few years, however, have seen a burst of interest in her life and work. She’s been sainted by the Episcopal Church, had a residential college named after her at Yale, where she was the first African-American to earn a doctorate of jurisprudence, and had her childhood home designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior. Last year, Patricia Bell-Scott published “The Firebrand and the First Lady” (Knopf), an account of Murray’s relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, and next month sees the publication of “Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray” (Oxford), by the Barnard historian Rosalind Rosenberg.
All this attention has not come about by chance. Historical figures aren’t human flotsam, swirling into public awareness at random intervals. Instead, they are almost always borne back to us on the current of our own times. In Murray’s case, it’s not simply that her public struggles on behalf of women, minorities, and the working class suddenly seem more relevant than ever. It’s that her private struggles—documented for the first time in all their fullness by Rosenberg—have recently become our public ones.
Pauli Murray was born Anna Pauline Murray, on November 20, 1910. It was the year that the National Urban League was founded, and the year after the creation of the N.A.A.C.P.; “my life and development paralleled the existence of the two major continuous civil rights organizations in the United States,” she observed in a posthumously published memoir, “Song in a Weary Throat.” Given Murray’s later achievements, that way of placing herself in context makes sense. But it also reflects the gap in her life where autobiography would normally begin. “The most significant fact of my childhood,” Murray once said, “was that I was an orphan.”
When Murray was three years old, her mother suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the family staircase and died on the spot. Pauli’s father, left alone with his grief and six children under the age of ten, sent her to live with a maternal aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald, after whom she was named. Three years later, ravaged by anxiety, poverty, and illness, Pauli’s father was committed to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Insane—where, in 1922, a white guard taunted him with racist epithets, dragged him to the basement, and beat him to death with a baseball bat. Pauli, then twelve years old, travelled alone to Baltimore for the funeral, where she acquired her second and final memory of her father: laid out in an open casket, his skull “split open like a melon and sewed together loosely with jagged stitches.”
Fortunately for Murray, she had, by then, a strong, if complicated, sense of family elsewhere. She lived with her Aunt Pauline in Durham, North Carolina, at the home of her maternal grandparents, Cornelia and Robert Fitzgerald. Cornelia was born in bondage; her mother was a part-Cherokee slave named Harriet, her father the owner’s son and Harriet’s frequent rapist. Robert, by contrast, was raised in Pennsylvania, attended anti-slavery meetings with Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and fought for the Union in the Civil War. Together, they formed part of a large and close-knit family whose members ranged from Episcopalians to Quakers, impoverished to wealthy, fair-skinned and blue-eyed to dark-skinned and curly-haired. When they all got together, Murray wrote, it looked “like a United Nations in miniature.”
Amid all this, Murray grew up, in her own words, “a thin, wiry, ravenous child,” exceedingly willful yet eager to please. She taught herself to read by the age of five, and, from then on, devoured both books and food indiscriminately: biscuits, molasses, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, beefsteaks, “The Bobbsey Twins,” Zane Grey, “Dying Testimonies of the Saved and Unsaved,” Chambers’s Encyclopedia, the collected works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Up from Slavery.” In school, she vexed her teachers with her pinball energy, but impressed them with her aptitude and ambition. By the time she graduated, at fifteen, she was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the president of the literary society, class secretary, a member of the debate club, the top student, and a forward on the basketball team.
With that résumé, Murray could have easily earned a spot at the North Carolina College for Negroes, but she declined to go, because, to date, her whole life had been constrained by segregation. Around the time of her birth, North Carolina had begun rolling back the gains of Reconstruction and using Jim Crow laws to viciously restrict the lives of African-Americans. From the moment Murray understood the system, she actively resisted it. Even as a child, she walked everywhere rather than ride in segregated streetcars, and boycotted movie theatres rather than sit in the balconies reserved for African-Americans. Since the age of ten, she had been looking north. When the time came to pick a college, she set her sights on Columbia, and insisted that Pauline take her up to visit.
It was in New York that Murray realized her life was constrained by more factors than race. Columbia, she learned, did not accept women; Barnard did, but she couldn’t afford the tuition. She could attend Hunter College for free if she became a New York City resident—but not with her current transcript, because black high schools in North Carolina ended at eleventh grade and didn’t offer all the classes she needed to matriculate. Dismayed but determined, Murray petitioned her family to let her live with a cousin in Queens, then enrolled in Richmond Hill High School, the only African-American among four thousand students.
Two years later, Murray entered Hunter—which, at the time, was a women’s college, a fact that Murray initially resented as another form of segregation but soon came to appreciate. Not long afterward, she swapped her cousin’s place in Queens for a room at the Harlem Y.W.C.A. In Harlem, Murray befriended Langston Hughes, met W. E. B. Du Bois, attended lectures by the civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, and paid twenty-five cents at the Apollo Theatre to hear the likes of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. Eighteen, enrolled in college, living in New York, planning to become a writer—she was, it seemed, living the life she’d always dreamed of.
Then came October 29, 1929. Murray, who was supporting herself by waitressing, lost, in quick succession, most of her customers, most of her tips, and her job. She looked for work, but everyone was looking for work. By the end of her sophomore year, in the reverse of today’s joke about college, she had lost fifteen pounds and was suffering from malnutrition. She took time off from school, took odd jobs, took shared rooms in tenement buildings. She graduated in 1933—possibly the worst year in U.S. history to enter the job market. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was twenty-five per cent. In Harlem, it was greater than fifty.
For the next five years, Murray drifted in and out of jobs—among them, a stint at the W.P.A.’s Workers Education Project and the National Urban League—and in and out of poverty. She learned about the labor movement, stood in her first picket line, joined a faction of the Communist Party U.S.A., then resigned a year later because “she found party discipline irksome.” Meanwhile, her relatives in North Carolina were pressuring her to return home. In 1938, worried about their health and lacking any job prospects, she decided to apply to the graduate program in sociology at the University of North Carolina—which, like the rest of the university, did not accept African-Americans.
Murray knew that, but she also knew her own history. Two of her slave-owning relatives had attended the school, another had served on its board of trustees, and yet another had created a permanent scholarship for its students. Surely, Murray reasoned, she had a right to be among them. On December 8, 1938, she mailed off her application. Six days later, she got a reply. “Dear Miss Murray,” it read, “I write to state that . . . members of your race are not admitted to the University.”
Thanks to an accident of timing, that letter made Murray briefly famous. Two days earlier, in the first serious blow to segregation, the Supreme Court had ruled that graduate programs at public universities had to admit qualified African-Americans if the state had no equivalent black institution. Determined not to integrate, yet bound by that decision and facing intense public scrutiny after news broke of Murray’s application, the North Carolina legislature promised to set up a graduate school at the North Carolina College for Negroes. Instead, it slashed that college’s budget by a third, then adjourned for two years.
Murray hoped to sue, and asked the N.A.A.C.P. to represent her, but lawyers there felt her status as a New York resident would imperil the case. Murray countered that any university that accepted out-of-state white students should have to accept out-of-state black ones, too, but she couldn’t persuade them. Nor was she ever admitted to U.N.C. Soon enough, though, she did get into two other notable American institutions: jail and law school.
In March of 1940, Murray boarded a southbound bus in New York, reluctantly. She had brought along a good friend and was looking forward to spending Easter with her family in Durham, but, of all the segregated institutions in the South, she hated the bus the most. The intimacy of the space, she wrote, “permitted the public humiliation of black people to be carried out in the presence of privileged white spectators, who witnessed our shame in silence or indifference.”
Murray and her friend changed buses in Richmond, Virginia. Since the available seats in the back were broken, they sat down closer toward the front. Some time earlier, they had discussed Gandhi and nonviolent resistance, and so, without premeditation, when the bus driver asked them to move they politely refused. The driver called the cops, a confrontation ensued, and they were thrown in jail.
This time, the N.A.A.C.P. was interested; lawyers there hoped to use the arrest to challenge the constitutionality of segregated interstate travel. But the state of Virginia, steering clear of that powder keg, charged Murray and her friend only with disorderly conduct. They were found guilty, fined forty-three dollars they didn’t have, and sent back to jail. When Murray was released some days later, she swore she’d never set foot in Virginia again.
That vow did not last six months. Back in New York, the Workers Defense League asked Murray to help raise money on behalf of an imprisoned Virginia sharecropper named Odell Waller. Waller had been sentenced to death for shooting the white man whose land he farmed: in self-defense, he claimed; in cold blood, according to the all-white jury that convicted him. His case, which became something of a cause célèbre, helped cement the friendship between Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt, who had grown interested in Waller’s plight. (As Bell-Scott documents, that friendship had begun two years earlier, after Murray wrote an angry letter to F.D.R., accusing him of caring more about Fascism abroad than white supremacy at home. Eleanor responded, unperturbed, and later invited her to tea—the first of countless such visits, and the beginning of a productively contentious, mutually joyful decades-long relationship.)
To Murray’s dismay, the Workers Defense League asked her to begin her fund-raising efforts in Richmond. While there, she gave a speech that reduced the audience to tears—an audience that, by chance, included Thurgood Marshall and the Howard law professor Leon Ransom. Later that day, Murray ran into the two men in town; Ransom, who had admired her speech, suggested that she apply to Howard. Murray replied that she would if she could afford it. Ransom told her that if she got in he’d see to it that she got a scholarship.
Murray applied. Marshall wrote her a recommendation. Ransom kept his word. By the time Odell Waller’s final appeal was denied and he died in the electric chair, she had enrolled at Howard, with “the single-minded intention of destroying Jim Crow.”
At Howard, Murray’s race ceased to be an issue, but her gender abruptly became one. Everyone else was male—all the faculty, all her classmates. On the first day, one of her professors announced to his class that he didn’t know why a woman would want to go to law school, a comment that both humiliated Murray and guaranteed, as she recalled, “that I would become the top student.” She termed this form of degradation “Jane Crow,” and spent much of the rest of her life working to end it.
Murray’s final triumph was to become the first African-American woman vested as an Episcopal priest. Photograph from AP
Her initial efforts were dispiriting. Upon earning her J.D. from Howard, Murray applied to Harvard for graduate work—only to get the Jane Crow version of the letter she’d once received from U.N.C.: “You are not of the sex entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School.” Murray, outraged, wrote a memorable rejoinder:
Gentlemen, I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds on this subject. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?
Apparently so. Neither Murray’s own efforts nor F.D.R.’s intercession persuaded Harvard. She went to Berkeley instead, then returned to New York to find work.
This proved challenging. At the time, only around a hundred African-American women practiced law in the entire United States, and very few firms were inclined to hire them. For several years, Murray scraped by on low-paying jobs; then, in 1948, the women’s division of the Methodist Church approached her with a problem. They opposed segregation and wanted to know, for all thirty-one states where the Church had parishes, when they were legally obliged to adhere to it and when it was merely custom. If they paid her for her time, they wondered, would she write up an explanation of segregation laws in America?
What the Methodist Church had in mind was basically a pamphlet. What Murray produced was a seven-hundred-and-forty-six-page book, “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” that exposed both the extent and the insanity of American segregation. The A.C.L.U. distributed copies to law libraries, black colleges, and human-rights organizations. Thurgood Marshall, who kept stacks of it around the N.A.A.C.P. offices, called it “the bible” of Brown v. Board of Education. In this way, to Murray’s immense gratification, the book ultimately helped render itself obsolete.
Completing this project left Murray low on work again, until, in 1956, she was hired by the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. It was a storied place, lucrative and relatively progressive, but Murray never felt entirely at home there, partly because, of its sixty-some attorneys, she was the only African-American and one of just three women. (Two soon left, although a fourth briefly appeared: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a summer associate with whom Murray crossed paths.) In 1960, frustrated both by her isolation and by corporate litigation, she took an overseas job at the recently opened Ghana School of Law. When she arrived, she learned that, back home, a group of students had staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in North Carolina. It was the first time Murray had ever left her country. Now, five thousand miles away, the modern civil-rights movement was beginning.
When Murray returned (sooner than expected, since Ghana’s nascent democracy soon slid toward dictatorship), the civil-rights movement was in full swing. The women’s movement, however, was just beginning. For the next ten years, Murray spent much of her time trying to advance it in every way she could, from arguing sex-discrimination cases to serving on President Kennedy’s newly created Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.
In 1965, frustrated with how little progress she and others were making, she proposed, during a speech in New York, that women organize a march on Washington. That suggestion was covered with raised eyebrows in the press and earned Murray a phone call from Betty Friedan, by then the most famous feminist in the country. Murray told Friedan that she believed the time had come to organize an N.A.A.C.P. for women. In June of 1966, during a conference on women’s rights in Washington, D.C., Murray and a dozen or so others convened in Friedan’s hotel room and launched the National Organization for Women.
In retrospect, Murray was a curious figure to help found such an organization. All her life, she had encountered and combatted sex discrimination; all her life, she had been hailed as the first woman to integrate such-and-such a venue, hold such-and-such a role, achieve such-and-such a distinction. Yet, when she told the Harvard Law School faculty that she would gladly change her sex if someone would show her how, she wasn’t just making a point. She was telling the truth. Although few people knew it during her lifetime, Murray, the passionate advocate for women’s rights, identified as a man.
In 1930, when Murray was twenty years old and living in Harlem, she met a young man named William Wynn. Billy, as he was known, was also twenty, and also impoverished, uprooted, and lonely. After a brief courtship, the two married in secret, then spent an awkward two-day honeymoon at a cheap hotel. Almost immediately, Murray realized she had made “a dreadful mistake.” Emotionally, the marriage didn’t outlast the weekend; some years later, they had it annulled.
This entire adventure occupies two paragraphs in Murray’s autobiography—the only paragraphs, in four hundred and thirty-five pages, in which she addresses her love life at all. That elision, which proves to be enormous, is obligingly corrected by Rosenberg, who documents Murray’s lifelong struggle with gender identity and her sexual attraction to women. (Following Murray’s own cue, Rosenberg uses female pronouns to refer to her subject, as have I.) The result is two strikingly different takes on one life: a scholarly and methodical biography that is built, occasionally too obviously, from one hundred and thirty-five boxes of archival material; and a swift and gripping memoir that is inspiring to read and selectively but staggeringly insincere.
“Why is it when men try to make love to me, something in me fights?” Murray wrote in her diary after ending her marriage. In pursuit of an answer, she went to the New York Public Library and read her way through its holdings on so-called sexual deviance. She identified most with Havelock Ellis’s work on “pseudo-hermaphrodites,” his term for people who saw themselves as members of the opposite gender from the one assigned to them at birth. Through Ellis, Murray became convinced that she had either “secreted male genitals” or an excess of testosterone. She wondered, as Rosenberg put it, “why someone who believed she was internally male could not become more so by taking male hormones” and, for two decades, tried to find a way to do so.
Although this biological framework was new to Murray, the awareness of being different was not. From early childhood, she had seemed like, in the words of her wonderfully unfazed Aunt Pauline, a “little boy-girl.” She favored boy’s clothes and boy’s chores, evinced no attraction to her male peers, and, at fifteen, adopted the nickname Paul. She later auditioned others, including Pete and Dude, then began using Pauli while at Hunter and never referred to herself as Anna again.
Sometimes, Murray seemed to regard herself as a mixture of genders. “Maybe two got fused into one with parts of each sex,” she mused at one point, “male head and brain (?), female-ish body, mixed emotional characteristics.” More often, though, she identified as fundamentally male: “one of nature’s experiments; a girl who should have been a boy.” That description also helped her make sense of her desires, which she didn’t like to characterize as lesbian. Instead, she regarded her “very natural falling in love with the female sex” as a manifestation of her inner maleness.
Rosenberg mostly takes Murray at her word, though she also adds a new one: transgender. Such retroactive labelling can be troubling, but the choice seems appropriate here, given how explicitly Murray identified as male, and how much her quest for medical intervention mirrors one variety of trans experience today. Still, Murray’s disinclination to identify as a lesbian rested partly on a misprision of what lesbianism means. By way of explaining why she believed she was a heterosexual man, Murray noted that she didn’t like to go to bars, wanted a monogamous relationship, and was attracted exclusively to “extremely feminine” women. All of that is less a convincing case for her convoluted heterosexuality than for her culture’s harsh assessment of the possibilities of lesbianism.
According to Rosenberg, Murray had just two significant romantic relationships in her life, both with white women. The first, a brief one, was with a counsellor at a W.P.A. camp that Murray attended in 1934. The second, with a woman named Irene Barlow, whom she met at Paul, Weiss, lasted nearly a quarter of a century. Rosenberg describes Barlow as Murray’s “life partner,” although the pair never lived in the same house, only occasionally lived in the same city, and left behind no correspondence, since Murray, otherwise a pack rat, destroyed Barlow’s letters. She says little about the relationship in her memoir, and only when Barlow is dying, of a brain tumor in 1973, does she even describe her as “my closest friend.”
By leaving her gender identity and romantic history out of her autobiography, Murray necessarily leaves out something else as well: the lifetime of emotional distress they caused. From the time she was nineteen, Murray suffered breakdowns almost annually, some of them culminating in hospitalizations, all of them triggered either by feeling as if she were a man or by having feelings for a woman. Aside from making her miserable, those breakdowns, like her race and her perceived gender, hindered her professional life. “This conflict rises up to knock me down at every apex I reach in my career,” she confessed to her diary. To a doctor, she wrote, “Anything you can do to help me will be gratefully appreciated, because my life is somewhat unbearable in its present phase.”
Such help was not forthcoming. Well into middle age, Murray tried without success to obtain hormone therapy—a treatment that scarcely existed before the mid-nineteen-sixties, and even then was seldom made available to women who identified as men. When she did manage to persuade medical professionals to take her seriously, the results were disappointing. In 1938, she prevailed on a doctor to test her endocrine levels, only to learn that her female-hormone results were regular, while her male ones were low, even for a woman. Later, while undergoing an appendectomy, she asked the surgeon to check her abdominal cavity and reproductive system for evidence of male genitalia. He did so and, to her dismay, reported afterward that she was “normal.”
When Murray died, in 1985, she had nearly completed the autobiography that omits this entire history. That omission is not, of course, entirely surprising. Murray had lived long enough to know about the Stonewall riots and the election and assassination of Harvey Milk, but not long enough to see a black President embrace gay rights, the Supreme Court invoke the precedent of Loving v. Virginia to rule that lesbian and gay couples can marry, or her home state of North Carolina play a starring role in the turbulent rise of the transgender movement. Still, Murray’s silence about her gender and sexuality is striking, because she otherwise spent a lifetime insisting that her identity, like her nation, must be fully integrated. She hated, she wrote, “to be fragmented into Negro at one time, woman at another, or worker at another.”
Yet every movement to which Murray ever belonged vivisected her in exactly those ways. On the weekend of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—often regarded as the high-water mark of the civil-rights movement—the labor activist A. Philip Randolph gave a speech at the National Press Club, an all-male organization that, during events, confined women in attendance to the balcony. (Murray, who had never forgotten the segregated movie theatres of her childhood, was outraged.) Worse, no women were included in that weekend’s meeting between movement leaders and President Kennedy, and none were in the major speaking lineup for the march—not Fannie Lou Hamer, not Diane Nash, not Rosa Parks, not Ella Baker.
As the civil-rights movement was sidelining women, the women’s movement was sidelining minorities and poor people. After stepping away from now to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Murray returned and discovered that, in Rosenberg’s words, her “NAACP for women had become an NAACP for professional, white women.” As a black activist who increasingly believed true equality was contingent on economic justice, Murray was left both angry and saddened. She was also left—together with millions of people like her—without an obvious home in the social-justice movement.
It might have been this frustration that prompted Murray’s next move. Then, too, it might have been Irene Barlow’s death, her own advancing age, or the same restlessness that she had displayed since childhood. Or it might have been, as she later came to believe, something that had simmered in her for a lifetime. Whatever it was, it came as a shock to everyone when, having achieved the most stable and lucrative job of her life—a tenured professorship at Brandeis, in the American Studies department she herself helped pioneer—Murray resigned her post and entered New York’s General Theological Seminary to become an Episcopal priest.
In classic Murray fashion, the position she sought was officially unavailable to her: the Episcopal Church did not ordain women. For once, though, Murray’s timing was perfect. While she was in divinity school, the Church’s General Convention voted to change that policy, effective January 1, 1977—three weeks after she would complete her course work. On January 8th, in a ceremony in the National Cathedral, Murray became the first African-American woman to be vested as an Episcopal priest. A month later, she administered her first Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross—the little church in North Carolina where, more than a century earlier, a priest had baptized her grandmother Cornelia, then still a baby, and still a slave.
It was the last of Murray’s many firsts. She was by then nearing seventy, just a few years from the mandatory retirement age for Episcopal priests. Never having received a permanent call, she took a few part-time positions and did a smattering of supply preaching, for twenty-five dollars a sermon. She held four advanced degrees, had friends on the Supreme Court and in the White House, had spent six decades sharing her life and mind with some of the nation’s most powerful individuals and institutions. Yet she died as she lived, a stone’s throw from penury.
It is easy to wonder, in the context of the rest of Murray’s life, if she joined the priesthood chiefly because she was told she couldn’t. There was a very fine line in her between ambition and self-sabotage; highly motivated by barriers, she often struggled most after toppling them. It’s impossible to know what goals she might have formed for herself in the absence of so many impediments, or what else she might have achieved.
Murray herself felt she didn’t accomplish all that she might have in a more egalitarian society. “If anyone should ask a Negro woman in America what has been her greatest achievement,” she wrote in 1970, “her honest answer would be, ‘I survived!’ ” But, characteristically, she broke that low and tragic barrier, too, making her own life harder so that, eventually, other people’s lives would be easier. Perhaps, in the end, she was drawn to the Church simply because of the claim made in Galatians, the one denied by it and by every other community she ever found, the one she spent her whole life trying to affirm: that, for purposes of human worth, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.” ♦
It’s been 2 years since Cynthia Cherotich witnessed 147 of her classmates killed by Al-Shabaab militants at Garissa University in northern Kenya. She survived the massacre by hiding in a cupboard under a pile of clothes—only emerging two days after the attack. Today, Cherotich is completing her studies at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia in Italy and considering a career in Kenyan politics.
The 21 year old student was one of 25 Kenyan students given the opportunity to study in Italy after the Garissa attack—part of a partnership between the Kenyan Government and Italian Embassy in Kenya.
The attack was the deadliest since Al-Qaeda’s bombing of the United States embassy in Kenya 1998, which killed 213 people. It also came a year and half after Al-Shabaab terrorists targeted a Nairobi mall killing 67.
OkayAfrica spoke with multiple survivors who were not ready to go on the record about their ordeal. Cherotich, though still fearful, felt that it was her duty to tell the world her story as a way to advocate for nonviolence. We reached her in Florence.
Placide Magambo for Okayafrica: Tell me about your memories of the day your school was attacked?
It is like yesterday. It was the worst day of my life that I’m always trying to forget. Unfortunately it always comes back in my mind or through nightmares even if I avoid thinking about it. Whenever I talk to my colleagues who were there that day we try to avoid talking about it but it is something that cannot change. We have no choice but to face the consequences of what we went through.
How do you feel since moving to Italy?
When I was still in Kenya it was not easy—I was always afraid that it could happen anytime again. Since I moved to Italy I felt like I am away from the danger. I am trying to recover from those bad memories. I try to smile with my friends, but of course I miss home and my family and my colleagues at Garissa.
Garissa memorial. Image courtesy of Cynthia Cherotich
Did you feel like you wanted to go back to Garissa University when it reopened?
No, fortunately I was already here in Italy and I didn’t feel the courage to go back to Garissa. Neither did my colleagues who survived Garissa. We were all traumatized by what happened to us but they had no choice—they had to go back. I feel sorry for them. I know how all of us were afraid to get back there.
How did you commemorate the second anniversary of the terror attacks at your school?
I got together with my colleagues to remember, and we kept in touch with our colleagues at Garissa during the memorial ceremonies. I am glad that our principal Ahmed Warfa mentioned that the security measures have been strengthen to protect the students and the staff. It is not easy to forget and the wounds on our hearts and bad memories are still fresh but I hope that with time we will recover. I wish that my colleagues that survived the attack would get the same opportunities like I did so that they focus on their studies without fear of another Al-Shabaab terror attack. Let’s hope that it will not happen again.
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Cherotich
Do you face a lot of challenges starting new life in Italy?
Yes I do, especially at school learning in another language that I never knew before but I am adapting quickly to the change and I am glad that I am improving well, as I am studying literature and languages here. I love that challenge of learning as many languages as I can. Beside the school it was really difficult to get used to the food here, but mostly I cook for myself —Kenyan food—even if it is not easy to get the ingredients.
What is your dream of the future after you finish your studies?
I could go back to Kenya, but I haven’t yet decided what I will do. I am interested in politics—I feel like there is a lot that I can contribute so that our countries can stop conflict. There are unnecessary conflicts based on politics and religions that kill lots of people. I would be happy to see our families living together as one regardless of our differences. I remember when I was a little girl how we were threatened by the post-election conflict in our country when so many people lost their lives. The same story is still happening in neighboring countries whenever elections happen. The youth should refuse to get involved in these kind of conflicts. I experienced that horrific situation when Al-Shabaab attacked my school and it is because of the propaganda based on wrong politics and beliefs that the youth get manipulated and involved in terrorist groups with bad intentions. Again, the victims of that terror attack were the youth. It is time to change our mind and work hard for peace and stop the violence.
Fans of British award-winning singer-songwriter Laura Mvula will likely be intimately familiar with her anxiety disorder, which she’s talked openly and publicly about on numerous occasions, hoping to shed light on and “shatter taboos” about a mental health issue that the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says affects tens-of-millions of people around the world (40 million alone here in the USA); and it’s not just a “white people problem,” as you may have some in the black community refer to matters of mental health.
Mvula has used her social media accounts to talk about her anxiety disorder, something that her fans appreciate – especially those who are also afflicted. A year ago, she gave an interview to The Guardian (UK), which was widely shared and quoted, in which she spoke intimately about how panic attacks negatively affected her life, including destroying her marriage, and almost ruining her music career.
An ailment she says she fully discovered she had in her mid-20s, when she learned that her parents were getting a divorce, Mvula called that period of her life “a turning upside down,” adding, “It felt like 25 years of being lied to. My way of dealing with it was not dealing with it.”
It was soon after, that she began to exhibit symptoms of acute anxiety, experiencing panic attacks. “At first it was the shortness of breath… Dizziness.. Why do I want to run out of the house naked right now?” Things got progressively worse, as the attacks “began to manifest in different ways,” she said; “My body starts spasming, I think I’m going to collapse… Difficulty swallowing sometimes… A feeling of struggling to stay in your skin.”
You can read the full piece here; and/or you can watch the below short film that Mvula stars in, and shared this afternoon on Twitter.
“Woman’s Hour” is a BBC program broadcast that consist of reports, interviews and debates on health, education, cultural and political topics aimed at women and mothers specifically. In the below affecting and inspiring documentary for the series, titled “Laura Mvula: Generation Anxiety,” the singer examines anxiety disorders and looks at why those who are 35 and under are more prone to experiencing it.
Saffiyah Khan staring down English Defence League protester Ian Crossland during a demonstration in Birmingham. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA
Shows of strength and defiance aren’t in short supply at your average protest – demonstrating, by its nature, requires a level of commitment that weeds out the bystanders, the unimpressively apathetic. But what is it that makes the money shot? The protest photo that goes viral? Well, for one, women. Or, more accurately, one woman. Often a striking, beautiful-looking woman. But mostly, a woman who looks like a badass without seeming to do anything much that is dramatic at all.
For anyone trying to work out the Venn diagram of iconic protest imagery, three tropes will immediately jump to the fore: the quiet dignity of said woman; the battle-hungry paraphernalia of male authority (your shields and batons and chunky uniforms); and the dramatic flip of power that clash presents.
A demonstrator faces down a riot policeman during a protest marking the country’s 1973 military coup in Santiago, Chile on 11 September 2016. Photograph: Carlos Vera/Reuters
No matter how many times history serves us mirrors of the same image, there is something irresistible about seeing a perfectly framed shot in which brute aggressive force is upturned and subverted by a simple and graceful gesture: a young protester casually using a policeman’s shield as a mirror to apply her lipstick; an elderly woman sitting cross-legged and smiling in front of a wall of soldiers; another eye-to-eye with lines of policemen and simply holding her hand out. In moments of fierce heat and aggression, these are audacious, determined moves. There was nothing accidental about Saffiyah Khan’s easy nonchalance, grinning through the spitting rage of Ian Crossland at the EDL rally in Birmingham city centre at the weekend; Ieshia Evans knew there was more power in calm when she approached the police in Baton Rouge last summer.
These images capture us, the viewers, because, yes, they expose and ridicule authority – this is the visual language of the underdog, fighting the power in the most deliberately banal way possible. Of course, they are not always “truthful” representations of that particular moment on that particular day but for the most lasting images, it almost becomes irrelevant; these shots aren’t grounded in the dirty, messy reality of a demo, they more accurately reflect our optimism as an audience.
We want to believe in these absurd moments and sentimentalise the spirit they contain because it gives us hope that protest can work, and that there is strength in simple acts of humanity.
A lone woman stands up to uniformed demonstrators in a Nazi demonstration in Borlänge, Sweden on 1 May 2015. Photograph: David Lagerlöf/TT News Agency/PA
A woman sits in front of riot police blocking the road to protect protesters during an anti-government march on 24 April 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Jasmina Golubovska does her lipstick in the shield of a policeman in front of a government building in Skopje, Macedonia, on 5 May 2015. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters
A woman argues with Belarus police officers blocking a street during an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, on 25 March 2017. Photograph: Sergei Grits/AP
A woman stands in front of police officers as they block access to a street during a protest against proposed labour reforms in Paris on 14 June 2016. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
Ieshia Evans and riot police during a protest against police brutality at the Baton Rouge police department in Louisiana on 9 July 2016. Photograph: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Olsen was born in 1912 on a tenant farm in Nebraska, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Early in her life, she began crusading for worker rights, jailed for organizing packinghouse workers and for participating in strikes. She continued working as an activist her entire life, especially in her San Francisco community. She and her partner Jack Olsen suffered under McCarthy’s witch hunt. Olsen died at the age of 95—a mother, grandmother, award-winning writer, feminist, and human rights and anti-war activist.
Olsen’s family has graciously given The Tishman Review permission to name our short story contest in honor of one of our heroes, Tillie Olsen.
Entries should consist of unpublished (including online and personal blogs) short stories not longer than 5,000 words in length. Manuscripts and file names must not contain any identifying information. Please double-space and paginate your entry. Please use only one space after a period. All entries must be received through Submittable with the $15.00 entry fee per story. Writers may enter as many stories as they wish, but each one must be entered separately and with the $15.00 fee. Entries will be accepted betweenFebruary 25th and April 30th of 2017. Simultaneous submissions are allowed—please withdraw your story immediately if it is accepted elsewhere for publication.
This contest is judged blind. Please ensure that no identifying information is on the manuscript or in the filename.
The final judge is Linda LeGarde Grover.
Linda LeGarde Grover is the author of The Dance Boots (University of Georgia Press, 2010) , which has received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction as well as the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Her novel The Road Back to Sweetgrass (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) received the Wordcraft Circle of Indigenous Writers and Storytellers 2015 Fiction Award, and her poetry collection The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives, the Red Mountain Press 2015 Editor’s Award. Linda is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. Her forthcoming essay collection Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year (University of Minnesota Press) is scheduled for release in September of 2017.
Please only include a cover letter in the Comments Section area on Submittable. In the cover letter, please identify your work with title, word count, and include a short third-person bio of no more than 50 words. Please make sure you submit your entry under the proper contest entry tab on our Submittable page. All entries received in the general submission boxes will be treated as such and NOT as a contest submission.
Contest winners will be announced on July 30th, 2017. The winner will receive $500.00 and publication in the July issue. All entries will be considered for publication.
All entrants will receive a one-year e-book subscription to The Tishman Review.
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