It’s just one of the tough truths of being an artist that you can publish 17 books and dozens of short stories—in both the big commercial magazines and the beloved literary journals—and wind up, two decades after your death, a footnote. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a renaissance. The posthumous salvation of our literary foremothers seems to happen regularly these days: Jean Stafford, Lucia Berlin, Bette Howland. Now it’s Alice Adams’s turn.
Rupi Kaur has published two books: 2015’s Milk and Honey, 2017’s The Sun and Her Flowers. Her epigrammatic verse is spare, the offspring of classical aphorism (if you’re feeling generous) and the language of self-help. The poems have a confessional, earnest manner; disarmingly full of feeling, they can be easy to dismiss. Nevertheless, Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet who is not yet 30 years old, is the writer of the decade.
Warnings of a crisis of liberalism have become commonplace, as it is assailed by an illiberal right on the one side and a socialist left on the other. The situation is plain, and it is at least partially self-inflicted. Liberalism has missed opportunity after opportunity. It is not merely the tepid response to the financial crisis.
Whenever I find myself in my sons’ school, taking in the crayon scribbles that line the hallway, I think of this, from John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation:
When the kids were little, we went to a parents’ meeting at their school and I asked the teacher why all her students were geniuses in the second grade? Look at the first grade. Blotches of green and black. Look at third grade. Camouflage. But the second grade—your grade.
Henry Noll was one of the most famous workers in American history, though not by his own choice and not under his own name. Employed at Bethlehem Steel for $1.15 a day, and known among workmates for his physical vigor and thriftiness, Noll was—as the somewhat embellished story goes—selected by an ambitious young management consultant named Frederick Winslow Taylor for an experiment in 1899.
There’s a scene in The Golden Girls (hear me out) where the sardonic Dorothy, teaching a professional development class, encounters a bunch of adult slackers, save one: a Mr. Tanaka. He tells her that he’s done all the work assigned and an extra credit project to boot. “We’re never going to beat you people, are we?” she asks wryly.
Earlier this year, at a party in Brooklyn, I had a conversation with a young woman who had recently moved to the area. She was young, tall, pretty, quirky, white, an artist. She really did like the neighborhood, she was telling a group of people, although, she said, there was a lot of crime. There were attempted robberies all the time. Just the other day, there was a face-slashing in the park.