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A memoir-as-mixtape, an art exhibit of book illustrations, and new prose poems about the healing arts

Khoa Le's illustration for "The Most Beautiful Thing" by Kao Kalia Yang (Carolrhoda Books) is part of a new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.Courtesy of the artist. © 2020 Khoa Le

A rich cultural mix

G’Ra Asim sees in his little brother a shadow of his former self, a kid struggling “to envision a future in which a person such as he can fit comfortably into a ruthlessly competitive, anti-intellectual, anti-black society.” As a form of “sibling-to-sibling pep talk,” Asim addresses his brother Gyasi, 14 years his junior, in his warm and wide-ranging debut “Boyz n the Void: a mixtape to my brother” (Beacon). With each chapter grounded to a particular song, the book is an electric and illuminating blend of critical and cultural theory, memoir, and music enthusiasm, as he guides his brother about race, power, masculinity, creativity, and resistance. Raised by a writer and a playwright, Asim describes his household growing up as a “fecund micro-bohemia situated incongruously within a warzone,” and he finds that “punk’s snarling skepticism activated, empowered, and validated me.” The book swoops fluidly between Didion, Ellison, Emerson, Anti-Flag and Operative Ivy; between Hegel, Arendt, Minor Threat, and The Bachelorette. The result is the welcome feeling of the older brother’s arm around you, asking, have you heard this song? Have you read this book? Which is another way of saying: I know what you’re going through, let me show you what helped.


AAPI book art

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art launched its third virtual picturebook exhibition last week, this one in celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. “Asians, Everyday,” curated by author and illustrator Grace Lin, includes illustrations from 26 picture books, including Jason Chin’s watercolors for “Watercress,” Julie Kim’s “Where’s Halmoni?” about an adventure through Korean culture, Meenal Patel’s “Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala,” and Melissa Iwai’s “Dumplings for Lili.” Each illustration is paired with a statement from the artist. Many mention the braiding together of identities, the sharing of cultures, and the celebration of diversity in the United States. Anti-Asian hate and violence are not new in this country, Lin points out, and she argues that one way to combat it “is by replacing those stories of Asians as perpetual foreigners with real stories of Asians who share our common thread of humanity.” Lin aimed her attention on books that highlight Asian Americans engaged in everyday life: eating, playing, going to school, adventuring. As Yangsook Choi, artist of “The Name Jar” writes, “Identity is not just who we are but also who we are called to be.” To look at the exhibition, visit (Eric Carle, the museum’s founder and children’s book legend, died May 23 at 91.)


Verses of healing

Vermont-based writer Peter Snow, who immigrated from Scotland in 2017, worked as a teacher, a bartender, a goatherd, and a psychiatric nurse. It’s that last role that informs his chapbook, “Recoveries” (Finishing Line). In Snow’s prose poems, a doctor peers through his glasses at his parade of patients as all of them, doctor and patient alike, navigate and negotiate their realities, engage in the ongoing, and possibly futile search for meaning and sense. “And that is the true object of desire: a universe of meaning that cannot be explored in one night, even though such an exploration might require no words.” Snow distills moments of connection and insight, and captures the precarity of treading the line between real and imagined. In this haunting posthumous collection, pondering war, the natural world, the way we are weaved together as fibers, Snow asks the major question: “Our life in this world, / what is it like?”


Coming out

Walking on Cowrie Shellsby Nana Nkweti (Graywolf)

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witchby Rivka Galchen (FSG)

Bewildernessby Karen Tucker (Catapult)

Pick of the week

Emma Ramadan at Riffraff Bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island, recommends “The Love Story of the Century” by Märta Tikkanen, translated from the Swedish by Stina Katchadourian (Deep Vellum): “A devastating but completely gorgeous novel in verse about a woman’s torturous marriage to an alcoholic, and reconciling deep love with unbearable pain.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at